Rowan University’s Office of Social Justice, Inclusion & Conflict Resolution (SJICR) closed out Transgender Awareness Week, from Nov. 12th to Nov. 16th, with a somber but moving memorial vigil in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, on Nov. 20th. Started by transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a worldwide observation of victims of trans-phobic violence. The purpose of the event was to pay tribute to and mourn the loss of the 25 transgender citizens who have lost their lives since the start of 2018, the majority of them being women of color.
Within the last several years, violence against the transgender community in the United States has reached an all-time high. According to an extensive 73-page report released by the Human Rights Campaign, there have been at least 128 documented cases of fatal violence against transgender citizens since 2013.
Nearly two dozen people attended the vigil. After a brief introduction and guest speakers, five volunteers took turns reading aloud from the biographies of the 25 victims. Every story was different, but they all had one thing in common: they were loved dearly by family and friends.
When the readings had concluded, Dr. JoAnna Murphy, assistant director of women’s and inclusion programs and interim assistant director of LGBTQIA+ inclusion programs, led a moment of silence lasting 25 seconds, to honor the 25 victims. Afterwards, the panelists began a discussion on how CIS-gender students can be better allies to their trans-identifying friends and classmates. CIS-gender is relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex. The topic of gender-neutral restrooms for transgender and gender nonconforming students on campus was brought up frequently during the open dialogue.
“[Transgender students] exist,” Murphy said. “They exist, and they’re here, and they want to be recognized and included in the conversation. They’re here, and Rowan has to acknowledge that in all the different ways that they would acknowledge any other group of students, and invite them into the conversation.”
One of the darker topics brought up at end of the panel was transgender people feeling like they were slowly being “erased.” The fear of erasure is nothing new, but the recent uproar from the LGBTQIA+ community and activists stems from the Health and Human Services Department’s decision to bar gender identity from sexual discrimination laws. A regulation like this would no longer recognize transgender and gender nonconforming citizens as the gender identity they claim, but rather however they were determined at birth. This sudden rollback of protection laws would directly affect 1.4 million transgender Americans. The explosive backlash from the LGBTQIA+ community sparked the hashtag #WontBeErased. This, along with the transgender military ban, has the community up in arms.
One of the five panelists was Hanna Dietrich, senior biomedical engineering major at Rowan University.
“[Transgender Awareness Week] is a week where we get to have people’s attention,” Dietrich said. “Typically, the whole week is centered around building up trans voices and bringing in allies, building activism, and that all culminates into Trans Day of Remembrance.”
Dietrich led the discussion on being a trans ally and gave advice for sympathizers to the cause.
“If you’re a potential ally to the trans community, know your place,” Dietrich said. “If you’re not really sure what to do, but you want to show up and help, maybe just ask around, but don’t ask frivolous questions because it’s hard enough navigating the world as a trans person. But also, don’t be afraid to be wrong at first. There is a growth that happens for allies, and you have to be familiar with a lot of things.”
To elaborate, these things typically include the history of the struggle of trans citizens, knowing certain gender identities, using the right pronouns, being familiar with statistics and much more.
The Chamberlain Student Center gave out free buttons with the transgender flag and the words “I Am With You” written in bold letters.
In addition, students were encouraged to write inspiring messages on index cards and hang them up for display in the student center. The SJICR had a large transgender flag made out of construction paper in the office for trans and gender nonconforming students to write their stories on.
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