Gender identity in Georgia: college students lead fight for recognition

Tamar Quincey spent years lying about who she is.

The 26-year-old grew up surrounded by devout Christians, who taught her traditional views of sexuality and gender.

She told people she felt “called to celibacy,” or that she was waiting for God to send her someone to marry.

Then she told the truth.

Quincey first came out as gay in 2016. About a year later, she began transitioning from male to female after enrolling at the all-male Morehouse College. She has not changed her legal name and goes by Tamar Quincey to reflect her identity.

As a transgender female, she feels dehumanized when people reject her womanhood.

“I think that it is very hurtful when you have people who are not willing to acknowledge and respect who you are, because they would expect the same thing for [themselves],” she said.

Gender identity has emerged as a cultural flashpoint on many universities, spawning a new way of thinking and talking about once-taboo topics and igniting passionate advocacy in a generation of young adults.

Many millennials view gender in ways that are unrecognizable or untenable to some people, including religious conservatives. Fifty percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 describe gender as a spectrum and say some people fall outside strictly male and female categories, according to a 2015 survey by the media company Fusion.

The issue burst from a college campus to Atlanta’s kitchen table last month when Scout Schultz, the 21-year-old president of the Georgia Tech Pride Alliance, was killed by a campus police officer during a confrontation. Investigators said the student left three suicide notes.

Schultz identified as nonbinary, neither male nor female, and was born intersex, which describes someone whose biological or physiological characteristics aren’t fully male or female. The student used the gender-neutral pronoun “they,” rather than he or she, and many news articles — to the consternation of some— followed suit.

At a vigil to honor Schultz, friends praised the student for leading the campus organization that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and asexual students.

Protesters, whom the university president identified as mostly outside agitators, later disrupted the night. Two police officers were injured, a police car was set on fire and three people were arrested.

The Georgia Tech Progressive Student Alliance responded to Schultz’s death by calling for change — from police officer training to more support services for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

“Society is really thinking about this. We are grappling with this in a new way and, unfortunately, it’s punctuated by these tragedies,” said Eric Wright, chair of the sociology department at Georgia State University.

One side derides the youth driving the movement as snowflakes and social justice warriors, too sensitive and too politically correct. They contend the gender shift upends traditional and faith-based values.

Those on the flip side see gender as a deeply personal sense of being that should be respected. Some hurl stinging rebukes for using pronouns that differ from how individuals refer to themselves.

Not everyone understands the reasons why some insist on unconventional pronouns or describe themselves using gender terms that are unfamiliar to many.