Being trans at Slippery Rock remains an uphill battle

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As we celebrate Pride Week here on campus, it is important that we consider the queer community beyond just people who identify as cisgender and gay. Transgender as well as gender nonconforming people have defined the LGBTQ+ movement since its’ formative days, from Christine Jorgensen’s groundbreaking decision to get sexual reassignment surgery in the 1950s; from the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot that precluded the Stonewall riots; to Marsha P. Johnson throwing the first brick at Stonewall; to Sandy Stone’s 1987 essay The Empire Strikes Back; to modern day figures like actors Chaz Bono and Laverne Cox, State Representatives Danica Roem and Brianna Titone and professional sports stars like Harrison Browne and Jessica Platt. Despite the prevalence of folks who identify as something other than cisgender all throughout queer history, the contributions of non-cis individuals have gone through decades of erasure, only undone much more recently by academics like Susan Stryker and the presence of non-cisgender individuals in the LGBTQ+ movement continues to be minimized, including in settings right here on campus.

Despite public efforts by the university to act in the interests of the LGBTQ+ community, what we see are more attempts like the pride-themed stairs in the Student Center instead of meaningful attempts at reforming policies to help transgender individuals. The university’s preferred name policy, implemented in its current form earlier this year, is an example of one of these meaningful changes, and the numerous gender neutral restrooms on campus is another one, however, for students like me, this is as far as it goes. 

Professors from all departments continue to neglect the needs of their trans students and push back on efforts to use their preferred names and pronouns; the major software vendor that the university uses to power mySRU refuses to allow preferred names in their databases; and generally any attempt to get anyone on campus, from students to professors to organizations, requires outing yourself, which can be a painfully embarrassing experience at best and an actual risk at worst.

Within organizations, being trans is also a complete minefield, even within organizations that are supposed to be allied with your interests. Any gender segregated organizations, including most fraternities, sororities and most sports (both club and division), are completely off limits from the beginning, unless you happen to be someone who can afford to hide the fact that you’re not a cisgender individual. Any overnight trip organized by any organization becomes a logistical nightmare with regards to sleeping arrangements to the point that most trans folks just opt to skip them entirely. Organizations that are even supposedly advocating for our causes have issues with little-to-no trans representation, holding problematic events and advocating for problematic and outright transphobic political figures, not doing anything to rebuke transphobic behavior that occurs within organizations and doing what can best be called “performative allyship” – giving lip service to trans folks and their struggles while doing very little to actually help or even include trans folks in discussions. This is not to say these organizations are actively transphobic! The majority of them have good intent, but are generally uneducated on how to do allyship. I actively encourage those organizations to use the many educational resources available – whether from online sources, or if they have a trans person who would be willing to educate (and not all of them will be willing!), or some other method that I haven’t mentioned here.

I also encourage other trans folks on campus to get more involved – the best way for trans people to gain more progress is simply for us to become more vocal about the things we go through. This is especially true for student government, as well. SGA is an important body that handles a lot of important issues and can easily be a vehicle through which to further trans rights on campus – especially with the advent of the SGA Social Justice Committee, which in its short existence of about a year and a half has already helped develop the preferred name policy discussed above.

So as we continue to celebrate Pride Week here on campus and have fun in the process, which I absolutely encourage and will certainly be doing myself, it is important to keep in mind the LGBTQ+ rights which we are still fighting for. To cisgender members of the queer community, reach out to your non-cisgender friends and ask them how to be a better ally. The more we fight as a community, the better our lives get.

Happy Pride Week. Here’s to a brighter future for the LGBTQ+ community.

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