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Gender-neutral housing debate restarts at UNC

The fight for gender-neutral housing began anew Tuesday night as about 15 students rallied in the Pit to restart the campaign.

This time, proponents have set their sights higher — on the entire UNC system — in an effort to shore up support.

They will also have to convince interested parties off campus of the merits of the housing proposal, which has received criticism from some alumni.

In February, Chancellor Holden Thorp rejected the initial proposal, which gained support from hundreds of students and a variety of campus groups, saying “stakeholders off campus” had not been properly educated.

The proposal would have allowed UNC students of the opposite gender to live together on campus. Proponents argue a gender-neutral option would help lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students feel more comfortable in their living environments.

In the March/April issue of the Carolina Alumni Review, three alumni wrote letters to the editor in response to an article about gender-neutral housing.

The letters expressed concern about increased pregnancy rates, underage sex and immorality.

Franklin Burris, class of 1955 and one of the proposal’s critics, said he thought the idea was “absurd” and conflicted with his religious beliefs.

“I don’t think I’d want to give another dime to the University,” he said in an interview.

Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Winston Crisp said administrators have heard similar complaints.

“One of the issues we have is a real lack of understanding amongst people about what the proposal is and what it isn’t,” he said. “If you go out and talk to any number of people, that becomes quickly evident.”

Despite the negative reactions, Crisp said at the rally Tuesday night that the administration is still committed to eventually getting the proposal passed.

“I’m going to be working to make this happen. The chancellor is going to be working to make this happen,” he said. “Stay at it. Keep going.”

Junior Jen Fredette, co-president of UNC’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Straight Alliance, said the rally represented dedication.

“We’re not stopping just because we lost one battle,” she said.

Sophomore Kevin Claybren, who led the initiative, said the coalition is going to focus its efforts on educating the stakeholders Thorp mentioned.

So far, the coalition has sent letters to the Board of Trustees, the Office of Student Affairs and UNC-system President Thomas Ross.

Jesse Zellner, national co-chairman of the Carolina Parents Council, which annually gives grants to UNC projects, said the issue has yet to be brought up in one of their meetings.

“It’s not an idea that’s outside our general conversation, it’s just that we’ve never really had it brought before us,” Zellner said.

He said that while the Parents Council is generally only approached with campus and community issues when a grant is needed, the gender-neutral initiative is not out of their field of interest.

“When the idea of a particular community is brought up under the general rubric that (students) don’t feel safe, then that is of interest to us,” he said.

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Terri Phoenix, director of UNC’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Center, said the movement’s new strategy is to work for system-wide support of gender-neutral housing, although none of the other schools have yet implemented it.

“We believe if other UNC-system schools were also pushing for this it would be more likely that it would happen,” Phoenix said. “We are in effect reaching out to the entire state.”

Claybren will present the new strategy to the UNC Association of Student Governments on Saturday.

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