Oakland college defends rights for transgender students

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After being turned away by one out-of-state university, Saly Entislia set her sights on a women's college with one of the most progressive admissions policies in the country. (KGO-TV)

This week, ABC is airing a powerful miniseries called "When We Rise," tracing the men and women who helped empower gay America as a political force. Those struggles continue in this generation, as you'll see when you meet a young freshman who's found a home at a Bay Area college.

When we first met Saly Entislia, she was learning to fight off attackers at a college self-defense class. But it turns out she's been fighting for her female identity since high school.

"It was for my first two years, no one knew I was trans. I kept it very like hush hush," remembers Entislia.

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While still in high school, she started a GoFundMe campaign, complete with a video of her story and offering to trade her own photography to raise money for the male to female gender reassignment surgery she still hopes to undergo. She also became politically active in her native New Mexico in the fight for equal access to public bathrooms.

"I feel like I'm part of a sense of a movement where we're basically trying to show what's going on, that people are trying to ignore on deny," Entislia believes.

But last year, Entislia began to fight for access of a different kind. After being turned away by one out-of-state university, she set her sights on a women's college with one of the most progressive admissions policies in the country -- Mills College in Oakland.

With roots dating back to the Gold Rush, it educates more than 800 female undergraduates. More than half identify as minority. While diverse, college president Dr. Beth Hillman says the students have one thing in common.

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"We do attract highly engaged students who are interested in politics, who are interested in changing the world," says Hillman.

With change mind, Mills drafted a policy in 2014 that officially opened admission to students who self-identify as female, a move that's since been followed by other major women's colleges across the country.
"This is not a single step where you make a big announcement and you're done with creating an inclusive community. It requires continual acts every day to recognize the difference of others and help people understand it," says Hillman.

She says the college began developing recommendations for faculty and administrators. "Because people pass as different genders, as different races, as different members of religious sects at different point in time," she believes.

And they say it has resulted in an environment that reflects the original mission at Mills -- of women empowering women, whether born that way or not.

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"And I instantly fell in love. People treated me as a group," says Entislia.

Written and produced by Tim Didion

On Friday at 9 p.m., ABC7 will be airing part four of the miniseries "When We Rise." The series traces the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in San Francisco and the rise of gay political power in response.

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