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After two transgender Santa Fe College students were heckled leaving a school bathroom, followed through campus to their car and chased to a nearby Publix grocery store this February, leading them to drop out of school, the incident ignited a flame that helped pass a protective measure for all students last week, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation.

Rule 2.8 was three years in the making and passed in the Career Service Council last Wednesday after being shot down in the same committee twice prior.

If approved by the college’s Board of Trustees this semester, the measure could defend students like the transgender couple against future cases of harassment and discrimination.

“The incident has put my school plans on the back burner,” one of the former students involved in the transgender harassment incident said. “It’s also motivated me to be more engaged with social justice issues.”

When the couple was initially catcalled, ridiculed and chased, the former student — who requested to remain anonymous — said they reported the incident to Santa Fe Police. But after officers first checked security footage and failed to find significant visual evidence, Police Chief Ed Book said the investigation came to a standstill.

Still, Student Government Senate President Jeremy Pierce, former SG Treasurer Kentucky Costellow and At-Large Sen. Wallace Mazon supported the students’ statements.

“I never went back to class after that day, and I dropped out,” the student said. “My partner never returned to campus.”

The Career Service Council passed the protection measure last week with about 63 percent of votes — a progressive move for the typically conservative council, said Nina Trombi, the council’s chair.

The council is a self-governing, self-supporting organization that represents the interests of Santa Fe, and Pierce said it has influence over different aspects of the college.

Trombi said she voted in favor of the amendment both times it previously failed but attributed its two initial failures to its wording rather than its implications.

“These people who voted against it were afraid of — say, someone was gender-fluid — that’s not necessarily something that’s specifically mentioned in any law or language, but if Santa Fe wanted to protect people who declared themselves gender-fluid, would people feel comfortable with that?” Trombi said. “And they said no because it’s not necessarily against the law to discriminate against those people.”

Trombi continued, adding that the council was leery about protecting a class of people that was not protected by the federal government.

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“Regardless of whether it’s right or wrong, they were looking more at the law because it can be different,” she said. “But now it’s protected under the law.”

Trombi added that the Career Service Council is now “very proud” the measure passed.

Pierce speculates that due to the nature of the measure, the reason the amendment was ultimately passed in the council is because “opinions evolve over time.”

“I feel like in the history, their opinions — as it relates to sexual orientation being part of the mission statement — hadn’t quite evolved,” Pierce said, “but obviously those opinions evolved, and I feel like (Santa Fe President Jackson) Sasser was a steward in helping evolve those opinions, reminding all governing branches that the college’s goal is to become preeminent and remain preeminent.”

Mazon, the senator who wrote Rule 2.8, said when he heard about the incident involving the transgender students, the 20-year-old Santa Fe philosophy sophomore decided to “keep shaking the bush” and pass the legislation.

Though it did pass and progressed to the board, Mazon still has his gripes.

“Santa Fe isn’t as progressive as I’d like it to be,” he said. “It’s kind of sad when politics get in the way of bettering the campus for students.”

Still, he said the Career Service Council’s most recent ruling was encouraging.

“Just seeing how this got passed makes me really happy that we’re taking the right footing to making this campus the best it can be,” he said.

Santa Fe wants to make sure the college will not tolerate any form of discrimination, including that against transgender students, Sasser said. 

While the measure has yet to be passed by the Board of Trustees, Sasser said, “I trust they will see the value of it and support it.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 10/27/2014]

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