USU's Transgender Day of Visibility Fosters Awareness, Belonging
By Kat Webb |
Continuing its tradition of honoring diverse stories and experiences, Utah State University invites the community to join in celebrating the International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31.
"It is crucial to the success of our students that we create a culture of belonging," said USU President Noelle E. Cockett. "We value all Aggies, including our transgender students and employees, and we know that they often face unique challenges in our university community. To be clear, our university's non-discrimination policy covers the rights of transgender students and employees, and USU's principles of community challenge all of us to celebrate our differences, affirm the inherent dignity and value of every person and to create an inclusive campus."
This year’s event will begin with keynote speaker Jacey Thornton, the executive director of Project Rainbow Utah, at 11 a.m. in Room 222 of the Taggart Student Center. Jacey, who uses she/they pronouns, said events that raise visibility are crucial for both raising awareness and providing support for our transgender and gender-expansive communities.
“I love to hear other people’s stories and how we fit into the larger trans rights movement,” she added. “As a ’90s child, growing up, ‘transgender’ wasn’t a word. The phrase hadn’t come to fruition, so I may have known other trans people, but we didn’t know we were trans because we didn’t have that visibility.”
Erika-Danielle Lindström, the LGBT+ and Allies program coordinator at the Inclusion Center in the Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, added that awareness events are a key tenet of the university’s goals of fostering belonging, welcoming new students and creating a safe campus community.
“Not all students feel a sense of belonging at USU,” she said, “and with awareness days like Trans Day of Visibility, we can provide a safe space for awareness, education and advocacy which can start to help others feel like they actually belong and are needed at USU.”
Raising Visibility and Belonging
According to a 2021 study by The Trevor Project, 75% of LGBTQIA+ youth reported that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity at least once in their lifetime. This led the Utah System of Higher Education to take action for continued support affirming LGBTQIA+ communities throughout colleges in Utah.
Following USHE’s lead, USU has also reiterated its commitment to fostering a sense of belonging for all members of the community. This can be seen in the new strategic plan for the university, Aggie Action 2028, according to Latrisha Fall, a program coordinator in the Center for Intersectional Gender Studies and Research who helped organize the event.
“The President’s action plan states: Being an Aggie means thinking about how we can best serve our communities, caring about the impact we make in the world, and acting with courage,” she said. “What's more courageous than being trans in Utah, in the face of the multitude of anti-trans legislation and attitudes? In Pillar 4, the plan outlines our mission to champion an engaged, inclusive and ethical culture. This includes our trans and nonbinary Aggies.”
Increasing advocacy, including self-advocacy, is also critical for marginalized groups. To further this cause, the event will conclude with USU associate professor Avery Edenfield, the director of the Center for Intersectional Gender Studies and Research, addressing the legal issues and rights of transgender and nonbinary individuals in Utah.
“Not knowing your rights can make it easier to have those rights violated,” he said. “Sometimes oppression works in the shadows when people are not informed. Knowing what your rights are makes it harder for folks to step on them. It's not the whole picture, but knowing your rights is a good start.”
Another component of the event is a makeup workshop so that all members of the community can feel comfortable and confident expressing themselves.
Jacey added even the presence of resources and services, like those of the Inclusion Center, help ensure all students feel safe and comfortable in the community.
“There’s still more to be done, but these are the first steps we take in the direction of equity to give everyone opportunity to go to class and just excel as they’re accepted and part of the world,” she said. “Until we eliminate discrimination and stigma against our community, we have to be proactive.”
Resources and More
Jacey added rural areas are historically underserved in terms of resources and support for LGBTQIA+ communities, but Logan has a strong community.
“Queer resource centers, like Logan Pride and those at Utah State, are a vital part of survival,” she said. “It’s a vital part of refuge on campus, to know if you’re misgendered in classroom, or you face discrimination, you have the space to go and report, and get support.”
Lindström added that through the Inclusion Center, students are able to disclose discrimination and harassment, sexual assault or misconduct, and/or reach out anonymously to the social climate support team for resources after experiencing an incident of bias. Students and employees may also report a violation of USU’s non-discrimination policy through the Office of Equity.
Additionally, USU offers mental health resources — including transgender-specific support — through CAPS, SAAVI, and advocates in the Inclusion Center who can help students navigate the reporting process and answer questions. There’s an LGBTQIA+-specific support group that meets, and an online Trans Resources Guide to help students find gender inclusive restrooms, get help changing names, connecting with inclusive health care providers, and more.
“There are so many different opportunities to learn more,” Lindström said. “Keep checking the events calendar because there are so many different people doing the work. People who care.”
For example, she mentioned the Tanner Talks — a speaker series with this year’s theme centered around LGBTQIA+ health and history — whose guest next week, Susan Stryker, is a prominent transgender historian. In addition, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences hosts learning circles, and Stryker’s book, “Transgender History,” is one of the titles. The Lavender Graduation — a ceremony for all LGBTQIA+ community members — is also returning in-person this year, Lindström said.
These events are also open to all members of the public as opportunities for further education and growth. Lindström added USU’s ally training and trans-ally trainings are offered year-round, and the schedule can be found here.
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