“FREE SPEECH DOES NOT MEAN HATE SPEECH!”
Cries of anguish, community, frustration, and most importantly love echoed across the North Green last Wednesday, October 26th, as a group of students and faculty gathered to advocate for the rights of transgender individuals at the University of Delaware. After an event on the 24th, where a certain speaker (dubbed by some as “He Who Must Not Be Named”) spouted hateful rhetoric against transgender women and transgender individuals as a whole, tensions grew until students could not simply wallow in their own emotions.
“TRANS RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS.”
This was the message of the event “Trans Students in Solidarity” that was organized by people that I have the privilege to call friends – four individuals from the All-Gender Housing group on North Campus who had decided that enough was enough. “We do not deserve to live in terror every single day. Stand in solidarity with trans students!” plead one of the organizers, who was one of many who confessed that they no longer felt safe on campus because of their identity and because of that week’s events.
The transgender students in the group voiced their concerns with the workings of the University and the campus environment. One issue is the lack of preferred names on the UD ONEcards – while UDSIS has a relatively accessible preferred name feature, which can be applied to students with nicknames or to transgender students, this function is not reflected in key aspects of university life, such as ID cards, ResLife’s system, and Sakai. Another issue is a lack of accessibility for transgender students using ResLife’s system – it is only through communication with the Registrar’s Office and ResLife that transgender students can ensure proper housing accommodations for themselves.
“WE ARE NOT HERE TO MEET YOUR DIVERSITY QUOTA!”
Students, both transgender and cisgender, gay and straight, quickly rallied as the event (which began with just four people, a banner that read “PROTECT TRANS STUDENTS!” and paper signs plastered around campus) evolved into well over twenty participants, innumerable signatures on the banner, posters, flags, and a speaker system. With a message of self-love and resistance of oppression, the amount of support was overwhelming, from faculty and administrative visits (I recall seeing Kristin and Kelsey from our very own Honors Program) to donations from a number of local businesses.
Being part of an activism event such as this was life-changing. To disclose, I am a transgender woman in addition to being a lesbian, so recent events have definitely been impactful to me – I keep the LGBT community in my heart and my thoughts, particularly the “T”. I was at the event for a good, exhausting chunk of my day, and was lucky enough to be of help throughout. From fetching poster-board and blankets, to making signs and waving a flag, I felt like I was rushing around, all while others were shouting statements, drawing with chalk, or talking to interested bystanders.
In activism, everyone has their gift. Not everybody is going to be the guy on the rock talking his head off about civil rights – although that guy definitely has a fun job, and plenty of us were loudly repeating what he shouted out. Some of us are poster-makers, some are people-talkers, and some of us add to the movement by just showing up and adding ourselves to the headcount. At the end of the day, it didn’t matter who did what, the only thing that mattered was if we made a difference. And judging by the number of signatures on that banner, and the people who came and spoke to us, I believe that we definitely made our voices heard and have initiated change at the University of Delaware.
Many people are unaware of transgender terminology. If that’s you, here’s a glossary of definitions, courtesy of http://www.glaad.org/reference/transgender :
Sex: The classification of a person as male or female. At birth, infants are assigned a sex, usually based on the appearance of their external anatomy.
Gender Identity: A person’s internal, deeply held sense of their gender. For transgender people, their own internal gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender Expression: External manifestations of gender, expressed through a person’s name, pronouns, clothing, haircut, behavior, voice, and/or body characteristics.
Sexual Orientation: Describes a person’s enduring physical, romantic, and/or emotional attraction to another person. Gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same. Transgender people may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or [any other orientation].
Transgender (adj.): An umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.
Transsexual (adj.): An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term.
Trans: Used as shorthand to mean transgender or transsexual – or sometimes to be inclusive of a wide variety of identities under the transgender umbrella.
Cisgender (adj.): A term used by some to describe people who are not transgender.
Gender Non-conforming: A term used to describe some people whose gender expression is different from conventional expectations of masculinity and femininity. Not all gender non-conforming people identify as transgender; nor are all transgender people gender non-conforming.
Non-binary and/or genderqueer: Terms used by some people who experience their gender identity and/or gender expression as falling outside the categories of man and woman. They may define their gender as falling somewhere in between man and woman, or they may define it as wholly different from these terms.
Transition: Altering one’s birth sex is not a one-step procedure; it is a complex process that occurs over a long period of time. Transition can include [a variety] of … personal, medical, and legal steps.
If you want to learn more about transgender issues, I’d suggest attending a LGBTQ+ 101 or Trans 101 training, sponsored by the LGBT Program Coordinator on campus, Rebekah Harless-Balmer. Or take a step further and enroll in a Sexualities and Gender Studies course next semester (WOMS200, anyone?).
If you want to be more involved in LGBT student life, there are two LGBT-oriented RSO’s, both open to any and all students – Haven, the University’s oldest LGBT RSO, and oSTEM, a group for LGBT issues in STEM fields.
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