Transgender Maritime cadet says she thinks new grooming standards are hate speech

Sophie Scopazzi (Facebook)

Thomas Gase

Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.

Nov. 23—A Cal Maritime cadet’s mass letter to students and faculty concerning a resolution on new grooming standards at the campus has been met by outrage among cadets, including transgender student Sophie Scopazzi.

Scopazzi, a senior who is part of the Gender Equity Committee, voiced concern over different treatment students received based on perceived gender.

A new resolved proclamation written earlier this month from the Associated Students of CSU Maritime informed campus leaders — as outlined in Executive Order 1097 — of revised grooming standards to ensure the privacy of cadets and the removal of gender basis for hair length, earrings, as well as a skin tone basis for nail polish colors.

Meanwhile, a cadet’s mass letter to Cal Maritime students and faculty called on the need to “recognize the difference between things that are of good quality and those that are not.” The author writes that he “finds it’s sad that people these days are questioning themselves about who and what they are. As an example, a male castrated dog does not suddenly become a female dog because his reproductive organs were removed. A dog cannot even decide if they want to become something else.”

Scopazzi, who identifies as she/her and says she is one of the few transgender students on campus, is appalled at the response by leadership’s response to the letter. Scopazzi said that as a result, she feels “uncomfortable” spending time on campus. Over the years she has felt teased by many students on campus, including one incident where she claims she was called an alien from the film “Avatar” because she was wearing blue nail polish — against school standards calling for polish to be the same as a person’s skin.

“I’m tired of continually being discounted as a human on this planet,” Scopazzi said. “Day in, day out, being diminished as a person. There is absolutely no room for sexual harassment, assault, or anything of the kind in any industry — not just the maritime industry.

“There have recently been words and sentiments shared by members of my community that are inexcusable. I will not stand for being compared to a castrated dog. I will not stand for the hateful comments submitted to (csumstudentvoice.org) or expressed on campus, publicly or otherwise.”

Cal Maritime would not comment on if the student behind the “castrated dog” reference had been punished. Last week Cal Maritime President Thomas A. Cropper wrote in a letter to Cal Maritime students: “These deplorable incidents have spurred strong campus concern for our culture, concerns I share. The most recent incident is especially troubling because, while it occurred within constitutionally-protected free speech, which I will defend for everyone at our academy, it was disrespectful and denigrating to the very people who are part of our maritime campus community — human beings who are qualified, were selected and who belong here.

Scopazzi is angry over what she says is Cropper’s failure to take a complete stand against the language in the letter, saying she thought he was hiding behind the “constitutionally-protected free speech” comment. She is also unhappy with the lack of discipline for the person responsible for the “castrated dog” comment.

On Monday, Cropper responded to Scopazzi and the Times-Herald’s request for a statement, and an answer to what steps are being taken to assure the safety of LGBTQ students. Cropper wrote: “All cadets who attend Cal Maritime should feel safe and accepted. There is no higher priority for us. We are unable to comment on individual cadets as we need to protect their privacy. As our campus and the maritime industry work through multiple efforts to improve both safety and inclusivity, we’re asking everyone in our community to join us to help make those much-needed reforms. Change is already underway here. Cal Maritime is advancing a series of concrete steps to strengthen our ability to support all our cadets. These include increasing staffing so we can better hear, understand and address cadet concerns and complaints and protect their rights. We remain committed to recruiting and retaining LGBTQIA cadets, women, and under-represented minorities and supporting their success.”

Office of the Commandant Carrissa Lombardo wrote a letter to faculty and students last week showing her support for Scopazzi and the rest of the LGBTQ community. In the letter, she writes — with what she says is a “disappointed heart — that she is sad, angry and frustrated.”

“What was said in a group text with previous cadet leaders was absolutely unacceptable and came to me as a complete shock,” Lombardo wrote. “I didn’t have words when I first saw the screenshots and who said them … I did not and never will condone behavior of that nature. Those hateful words do not represent what I stand for as a human being and a commandant. Those hateful words do not represent what I risk as an American soldier — my life, and for that, I sincerely apologize.”

Since that letter, Lombardo has been suspended from her duties until Dec. 3.

“Lombardo tried to speak out and say what leaders need to say,” Scopazzi said. “All of the students I’ve talked to since then have said, ‘That’s what a leader needs to sound like.'”

Also this week, the school’s Corps Commander, Stats Allen, offered his resignation after a series of group chat messages that he said “sent the wrong signal in my role as a leader and I broke your trust.”

Scopazzi has about a year left until she graduates. Growing up in San Rafael, she learned to love the water at a young age and envisioned a job taking place around it. She said that hope, along with the support from some friends and teachers like Captain Tamara Burback, help her. Earlier this year Burback told Scopazzi, “In a couple years you can just BE Sophie and this won’t even be a thing. There are MANY people that already love Sophie.”

Meanwhile, Scopazzi said that she is “of course” afraid of retaliation and has felt “jumpy” on campus.

“I feel though that anything they do to me it looks terrible,” said Scopazzi. “They tried to silence Lombardo and it looks terrible. Of course I’m scared of that, but I just want to graduate. I don’t want to deal with this. One more year I have to keep dealing with this. That’s why I care so much about these grooming standards — they teach that it’s OK to treat people differently based on their appearance or their perceived gender. And that’s so wrong in a place of higher education.”

Scopazzi has often been called “brave” by classmates and faculty members, but she says that is not something she asked for or should be required.

“What I stand for is everyone like me. Everyone who finds all kinds of hate speech deplorable. I was that person afraid to be themselves,” Scopazzi said. “I stand for that person and I will do anything in my power to ensure no student has to go through what I continue to go through just to be myself in the world. Bravery should not be required to simply be yourself in the world.”

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