OPINION: Oregonians strongly back equality for girls and women
Only a bare plurality of Oregonians (38%) are at least "somewhat familiar" with Title IX, the federal law that has become the foundation of gender-based equality and inclusion in education. But, by far greater numbers, Oregonians overwhelmingly support the law's effects — from the expanded participation of girls and women in school sports to the breadth of its responses to sexual discrimination and harassment in our classrooms and on our campuses.
Those are the findings of a survey by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center as we approach the 50th anniversary of the landmark law, signed by President Nixon on June 23, 1972. Title IX was just one portion of a larger set of "Education Amendments" enacted in a single piece of legislation that year, but its language has animated an expansion of rights for girls and women since its passage:
"No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance."
Oregonians, take note: that landmark language has more than a bit of our state's DNA in its origins, beginning with the advocacy of Congresswoman Edith Green of Oregon's Third Congressional district.
For years after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which, among other provisions, barred sex discrimination in employment, Green fought to extend that prohibition to education as well. But it wasn't until 1972, when legislation related to funding for higher education was up for renewal, that Green, together with Hawaii Representative Patsy Mink, found the vehicle to establish what has since become the foundation for the expansion of equal rights for girls and women in all aspects of our education system.
There was no mention of sports in Title IX, but its earliest implementation began on school playing fields and locker rooms, as the University of Oregon recounts in the story of Becky Sisley and her early efforts that led to the formation of the Women's Intercollegiate Association within six months after the law's passage.
Now, 50 years later, more than seven in 10 Oregonians familiar with Title IX credit the law as the main factor or a major factor for the growth in women's sports.
And, as the focus of Title IX's requirements for sports has shifted from colleges to high schools and elementary schools, equal access has become a settled matter. The only differences of opinion arise from how that's to be accomplished.
Nearly half of Oregonians support creating a girls' team for girls interested in sports traditionally limited to boys, like football (45%), or creating a boys' team for boys interested in sports traditionally limited to girls, like volleyball (48%).
Meanwhile more expansive views of participation are taking hold. Another 26% of Oregonians now say that "all school sports should be co-ed," while 19% say girls should be able to join boys' teams and 15% say the same about boys joining girls' teams.
Even greater numbers support the second pillar of Title IX's language — the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex, a standard that has grown to encompass sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Eighty-six percent of Oregonians support Title IX's protections from sex-based harassment (69% say definitely yes, 17% lean yes).
Seventy-six percent of Oregonians support Title IX's protections against exclusion or discrimination based on sexual orientation (57% say definitely yes, 19% lean yes).
Finally, 64% of Oregonians support Title IX's protections for students who are transgender (45% say definitely yes, 19% lean yes).
But, when it comes to gender identity, participation in sports has again become a contested issue. Oregonians are split on whether transgender students should be allowed to play on teams that match their "current gender identity" (41%) or teams that match their "birth gender" (39%).
To my mind, the survey's responses reflect the evolution of Title IX's application to expanding concepts of gender equality, both as a catalyst for change and as a touchstone to guide the larger effort of defining equality and equity, not just in our schools, but in our society.
The same Congress that enacted the Title IX legislation also advanced to the states the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that was ultimately stymied in the failed effort to win ratification by the states. But, with Title IX, Congresswomen Green and Patsy Mink managed to establish in American law a provision that has validated the fundamental principles of the ERA and has become its pathbreaking sister in advancing its goals.
The OVBC survey confirms that Oregonians support what Title IX stands for, even when they don't recognize it by its old name or by the name that Congress gave it in 2002 (The Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act) — or remember the now unnamed co-author of the legislation from our home state.
Tim Nesbitt is a former union leader in Oregon and served as an adviser to Govs. Ted Kulongoski and John Kitzhaber.
Add your voice to the conversation
To ensure all voices are represented in discussions of public policy, the nonprofit Oregon Values and Beliefs Center is recruiting a broad cross-section of Oregonians to participate in monthly surveys. Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, visit oregonvbc.org/about-the-panel/..
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.