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Transgender equality awareness at GSU

GSU implements gender inclusive facilities

By Jonathan Bulthuis
On October 6, 2013

GSU kicked off LGBT History Month October 2 with a presentation by T.J. Jourian entitled "From Accessing to Shaping: Re-Thinking Trans Inclusion on College Campuses."

Jourian, a doctoral student at Loyola University, opened the presentation by referencing a sobering news article pertaining to the murder of Erica Morgan, a transgender woman who was slain in a Bishopville, South Carolina boarding house in May of 2008.  Morgan's death is only one of many in an increasing national trend of anti-transgender hate crimes.  According to Jourian, The National Coalition of Anti Violence Programs "documented 27 anti-LGBTQH murders in 2010... a 23 percent increase from the 22 people murdered in 2009."

Jourian referenced statistics from the National Center for Transgender Equality, stating that transgender persons face a significantly higher rate of homelessness, poverty, violence, harassment, and sexual assault than others; most disturbingly in the context of hate crimes. 

"Transgender persons experience disproportionate levels of violence, sexism, racism, and classism," said Jourian, indicating the consistent brutality associated with transgender related sexual violence.  "It is the bodies of transgender persons that are being perceived as so offensive."

Jourian stated that while murder rates for the general population average about 1 in 20,000, the prevalence of homicide in the transgender community is staggeringly high - as much as 1 in 16.

Jourian, a self-identified pansexual queer Middle Eastern Armenian transgender man, is eager to challenge spuriously held beliefs about transgender persons.  "Trans", derived from the Latin "beyond", is simply an umbrella term encompassing everyone with a gender identity in conflict with the gender assigned at birth.

"Trans is a term coming from the trans community, that applies to everyone in the community," said Jourian.  "Fifty folks that identify as lesbians... might not have the same conception of what that is."

Gender identity, according to Jourian, is as much a reflection of the host culture as it is a reflection of the chosen gender of an individual.  Crossing international boundaries, for example, can be all that is needed to change the social gender context for an individual.

"In one country, a transgender person will be read as masculine, and in another, read as feminine", said Jourian.  Social constructs from one culture to another, for example, interpret body language and expressive body movements as gender specific personality traits, even though these traits may be associated with a different gender in a different country or culture.  "We need to consider how we are defining our bodies, and how we are encouraging other people to find themselves."

Gender identity in our society creates an "individual rights framework that is flawed", stated Jourian.  Social gender norms, according to Jourian, "exclude more people, maintaining and extending a power structure that disconnects and disempowers people."

A broad range of gender specific processes exist in our society, from gender specific identity documents to sex segregated facilities.  Jourian identified four major aspects of genderism/sexism that come in the way of establishing and maintaining equality for the transgender community: "a forced social labeling process, social accountability for conforming to binary gender norms, marginalization of the transgender community, and invisibility and isolation of members of the community."

Social labeling processes constitute a constant social hurdle for transgender persons.  Gender identification for student and staff IDs, academic and occupational applications, surveys, and online academic forums are just a few of the mediums that rely on gender specific declarations for transgender persons.  Further, in the academic world, sex segregated facilities abound; residence halls, bathrooms, and locker rooms are just a few examples.

There is an abundance of ways that campuses and businesses can strive for equality for the transgender community.  "Conversations and forums are empowering in creating environments where trans students are talking to each other," said Jourian.  "Accessing and shaping the trans community is integral in creating programs, overcoming obstacles, and finding concrete ways to improve them." 

Jourian also referred students and faculty to a transgender accessibility worksheet that may be used to assist in providing trans-equal services and facilities in a variety of situations. 

"How we construct (gender identity) and the meaning we give to it is what makes it real," said Jourian.

Dean of Students and Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Aurélio Valente introduced the October 2ndpresentation, and later spoke optimistically about the application of Trans-equal policies and facilities at Governors State.  "Given the expansion of GSU to both a four-year and residential campus, we are in the process of reviewing and updating many policies; this program provided a reminder that we should consider how existing policies address, and more importantly support, all members in our community regardless of their gender expression and identity."

Valente verified the implementation of trans-equal facilities on campus.  "Recently we have introduced a "Gender Inclusive" bathroom in the C building, and will ensure that the residential facilities are gender inclusive also. In terms of policies, we are revising Policy 52, which addresses institutional Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policy and Compliance Procedures, and we will ensure that gender expression and identity is addressed."

"The kick-off event ... was well attended, and more importantly, well received," said Valente"TJ provided a great framework for contextualizing this topic and specific insights to how we can build our institutional capacity to support all students, but particularly those who belong to communities marginalized by society such as the Trans community." 

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