Written by Leo Woods|
Featured Image via University of Queensland
Each year November hosts Transgender Awareness Week with the goal to promote visibility of transgender and gender non-conforming people and discuss issues that those communities face. The week leads up to Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20th), a day dedicated to the victims whose lives were lost due to transphobic violence. This year, the week took place from November 12th – 19th.
In a 2017 report by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, there are over 130,000 transgender students in the United States. Of these students, 75% felt unsafe at school due to their gender expression and/or gender identity. This is despite national laws protecting all students from discrimination, although only 13 states and Washington D.C. have laws explicitly protecting transgender student’s rights (Connecticut being one of them).
As a transgender student at Morgan, I try my best to bring awareness to transgender issues and promote positivity about transgender people. Through talking about my experiences with friends and in classes, I can make people more aware of the issues that transgender students face in high school. I am also the president of the GSA (Gender-Sexuality Alliance) which actively works to bring awareness of the struggles of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer) community through Ally Week and weeks like Transgender Awareness Week.
Morgan is one of the first places I was able to come out as transgender, with support from teachers, friends, and the GSA. I first came out freshman year and then continued to reach out to teachers and administration about my transition. All teachers have been supportive of my coming out and have offered any help that they could throughout the process. But there are still issues that I face every day that solidify my belief in the importance of Transgender Awareness Week.
When most people think of transgender issues, they typically think of bathroom policies, such as the “bathroom bills” proposed in South Carolina last year. These bills were proposed in order to prohibit transgender people from using the bathroom matching their identity and instead forcing them to use the bathroom of the gender they were assigned at birth. This bill and ones like it were vehemently opposed by LGBTQ citizens and allies, which led to the repeal of South Carolina’s bathroom bill in March 2017.
I have experienced my own opposition to which bathroom I use despite the regulations in Connecticut protecting transgender students’ right to use whichever bathroom they please. At the beginning of the 2018-19 school year, I began using the men’s bathroom at Morgan. After a group of students discovered this, they went to our Assistant Principal Tyler Webb and declared they would protest if the administration did not do anything about it. Mr. Webb upheld state policy by denying the students’ request, but it was still a harrowing experience for me.
The students’ argument was that they were uncomfortable with the fact that somebody who was physically female was using the men’s bathroom. This is an understandable concern, but speaking from experience, most people don’t want to make a huge scene in the bathroom. I know that I would not do anything to make any other people in the bathroom uncomfortable. But there is still a fear of the unknown when it comes to transgender people, as their existence has been hidden and demonized for centuries.
Transgender people are simply trying to live their lives as their true self, which is not something that anybody should be ashamed of. And yet, the violence and discrimination that transgender people face in their daily lives are staggering. According to the Human Rights Campaign, over half of transgender males (transitioning from female to male), 29.9% of transgender females (transitioning from male to female), and 41.8% of nonbinary (neither male nor female) youth have attempted suicide. These rates should help people understand why transgender awareness week is important and why we have transgender day of remembrance.
The opposition that transgender students like me face routinely brings further stress into their lives along with the regular stressors of friends and school. Understanding and listening to the problems that these students face is key in becoming an ally to transgender people and supporting them through their struggles.
But there are also minor things that can change a transgender person’s day for the better. Using their name and pronouns (he, she, they, etc.) can make an interaction a hundred times better. And when mistakes are made (as they often are) just correct yourself and move on. It is better to continue than to create a scene. It is a learning process for everyone involved and such an incredible experience overall. Seeing two different sides of society in two different perspectives is a unique experience that I am happy to experience.
If anybody has any questions, here are some resources regarding transgender people and Transgender Awareness Week:
1. GLAAD – Transgender Awareness Week
2. GLSEN – The Importance of Transgender Awareness Week