November 21, 2008

Campaign to raise transgender issues “not about being politically correct,” activists say

Students across campus celebrated the 10th-annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Thursday, part of a week-long series of events aimed at raising awareness for transgender concerns.

Jeremy Kisala, transgender liaison to the LGBTQ Programming Office, said students hoped to emphasize the threat of brutality to trans people and aimed to honor those killed this year.

Students chalked the outlines of 30 bodies across the middle of the quad with the words “12 Months, 30 Dead” to represent the 30 trans people murdered in the last 12 months.

On Thursday, despite freezing temperatures, over a dozen students gathered in the quad for a candlelight vigil commemorating the victims of transgender discriminatory violence. Students lit candles and recited the names of the 30 victims, holding a moment of silence for personal reflection.

“These events are intended not only to raise awareness of the violence, but to celebrate the lives of those who are still alive,” Kisala said.

In the spirit of celebration, the LGBTQ Programming Office and several student organizations held “Sing If You’re Glad to Be Trans” on Thursday evening at the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. S. Bear Bergman, an internationally renowned writer and theater artist and a frequent visitor at the University, spoke about the importance of celebration in the trans community.

“We can be fully human and fully present and real, and celebrate our unique, excellent qualities without being ‘just like you,’” Bergman said to an audience of more than 30 students and community members.

Bergman called the U of C “one of the more trans-friendly universities in the country” and delivered an artistic monologue focused on inspiring students to end the focus on negativity in the trans community and with a celebration of people’s identities.

“We need every single trans person alive,” Bergman said.

This event was a first step in the new visibility campaign launched by Queers and Associates (Q&A). Antonia Clifford, director of Q&A, said the group hopes to dismantle misconceptions of the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

“When transgender is brought up, the term is usually thrown around and wrongly defined by students and even by professors and other authoritative figures,” Clifford said.

For this reason, the Q&A Visibility Committee hopes to properly define the misused terms surrounding gender, Clifford said.

“We have hung over 300 fliers across campus featuring our own definitions of six terms we feel are most important to define correctly,” said Lucy Little, co-chair of the Q&A Visibility Committee. These six terms are gender, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex, transsexual, and transvestite.

“It is not even about being politically correct; it is about respecting people’s identities,” Little said.

The fliers contain the phrase “Think Before You Speak” in order to stop the problem of forcing people into gender classifications, according to Little.

The Visibility Committee will focus on taking the politics of issues facing the LGBTQ community and making them visible and accessible for the entire student body and outside community, Little said.

“Expression and visibility through art is our aim,” she said.