Widgets Magazine

Transgender Awareness Week kicks off

Transgender Awareness Week 2011 kicked off yesterday with a Q&A panel led by transgender-identified Stanford students and “Trans 101,” an informational session featuring activist Jamison Green. Several other talks and performances will take place in the coming days.

Transgender Awareness Week seeks to “raise awareness of transgender issues and the idea that transgender issues are distinct from what most people think of as gay issues,” said Alok Vaid-Menon ’13, co-president of Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL).

This week’s planned events include a talk by Autumn Sandeen, a transgender-identified U.S. Navy veteran, on the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” this Friday. Discussions on transgender health and legal issues and a performance by local transgender-identified rapper Katastrophe are also set to take place.

Transgender Awareness Week 2011 kicked off yesterday with a Q&A panel. Above, Chris Bautista talks about his experiences as a transgender student at Stanford. (ZACK HOBERG/The Stanford Daily)

Holly Fetter ’13, co-president of SSQL, hopes the events will teach students about “what transgender means and what kind of identities are under the trans-umbrella.” She also hopes to “get students thinking about the fluidity of gender and put faces to the amorphous idea of ‘transgender.’”

Both Fetter and Vaid-Menon emphasized the importance of appealing to different segments of the Stanford community, from transgender-identified students to students with no background on transgender issues.

“We’re really looking forward to cultivating an ethos of inclusion…making sure that everyone understands the importance of transgender issues and is confident being able to identify as a trans-ally,” Vaid-Menon said.

However, awareness is not Transgender Awareness Week’s only goal. The organizers hope to catalyze change at the administrative level to make Stanford more transgender friendly.

These changes might include enabling transgender students to change their names and reflecting these changes on class rosters, at Vaden or on University IDs.

“We want to make administrators, professors and staff more aware of the unique needs of trans-identified students,” Fetter said.

Yesterday’s Q&A panelists, who spoke about their experiences as transgender Stanford students, articulated these needs. The panel featured Cristopher Bautista ’11, Leanna Keyes ’14 and doctoral student Charles Ledbetter.

Bautista, a Daily columnist, spoke about his personal circumstances.

“I had to e-mail professors [when I first came out as transgender] saying my legal name is this, but my preferred name is this, and I prefer male pronouns,” Bautista said. “It was very stressful.”

Bautista also talked about his struggle to change his SUID card.

“It was ridiculous; I had to really fight with them,” he said. “They eventually gave me a new ID, but it was such an inconvenience that I was on the verge of giving up.”

The panelists also cited treatment by fellow students as a challenge.

“One thing that I’ve noticed both in the queer community and the general community is that there’s a ‘transgender bubble’ both physically and emotionally,” Keyes said. “It’s disconcerting when you’re in a big lecture hall and there are people who are more comfortable sitting on the floor than being a little crammed next to you.”

Administrative figures attending the session emphasized the importance of transgender issues.

“It was really heartwarming to see the students feel so comfortable being so open,” said Kristina Lobo, director of student development and leadership programs at the Haas Center. “I felt like the whole thing made me feel closer to any student who’s in this [situation].”

The timing of Transgender Awareness Week coincides with the current debate on ROTC as well as the recent release of a national study on transgender discrimination. SSQL opposes ROTC’s return to campus due to the military’s exclusion of transgender individuals.

“Working on the ROTC campaign has shown us how unaware people are of transgender issues,” Fetter said.

Recent research on transgender discrimination, published by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce, found that the sample of transgender respondents studied was “nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population.” According to the study, “90 percent of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination” on the job.

“This is the first time we can articulate with statistics how disenfranchised transgender people are and bring those issues to the forefront of campus,” Vaid-Menon said.

Despite the serious issues facing the transgender community at Stanford and at large, Fetter stressed that the awareness week is not about “the sadness or the tragedy in transgender issues.”

“This week is about celebrating trans-identity,” she said. “We’re hoping to give the community a chance to celebrate the T in LGBT.”

Transgender Awareness Week 2011 is organized by Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) and co-sponsored by the ASSU Diversity Advisory Board, CAPS, Progressive Christians at Stanford and Stanford Democrats, among other campus organizations.

About Marwa Farag

Marwa Farag is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, she was the managing editor of news, managing editor of the former features section, a features desk editor and a news writer.