Students promote trans awareness through campaign

The new Trans* Awareness Project is an effort toward trans-inclusiveness.

Students promote trans awareness through campaign

Branden Largent

Gwen Carlson found support when she came out as trans last year, but she said challenges the community faces are still unacknowledged.

“… If we are not given a face, then we tend to disappear,” the University of Minnesota junior said.

To combat stereotypes and expose challenges facing the transgender and gender non-conforming community, University students have created a campaign called the Trans* Awareness Project.

The campaign uses “trans*” as an umbrella term to encompass a variety of gender identities and expressions.

University graduate student Kirsten Eid and gender, women and sexuality studies major Devyn Goetsch started the project in March.

The campaign uses posters spotlighting several trans-identified students, instructors, alumni and
local activists.

“There’s always been misrepresentations of trans communities in the media and popular culture,” Eid said. “We think that it’s really important to break down those stereotypes.”

University assistant professor Alex Iantaffi said he thought hard about modeling for the posters and that his spouse and his child were supportive.

“If I can’t be out in this way … who can be?“ Iantaffi said. “So I felt that it was really important.”

Iantaffi said he was prepared for any repercussions from the posters but has only received positive feedback.

Although the University has become more trans-friendly, students involved with the project said challenges remain.

Many trans-identified people don’t feel safe in restrooms labeled for strictly men or women, Carlson said.

The Transgender Commission and the GLBTA Programs Office partnered with Facilities Management to create more gender-neutral bathrooms across campus, but Carlson said these restrooms are still sparse, and trans individuals must remember where they are and plan their routes accordingly.

“It’s just an extra hassle,” Carlson said. “People who aren’t trans have no awareness of it.”

Carlson said the process of changing her gender markers through the University’s official records was bureaucracy-ridden and it should be more streamlined.

However, Iantaffi said changing that process would be challenging because the University outsources a lot of its systems.

“I think, at the moment, we’re a trans-friendly campus, but we’re not necessarily a trans-inclusive campus,” Iantaffi said.

The project was inspired by last year’s Transgender and Gender Identity Respect Campaign, and both campaigns have received national attention.

The Washington, D.C.-based campaign was the first government-funded promotional effort focusing on the betterment of transgender people, said Elliot Imse, policy and public affairs officer at the Office of Human Rights.

Students from other universities, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, have also expressed interest in starting similar campaigns, Imse said.

Trans awareness is important on college campuses because the trans community is still discriminated against regularly, Imse said, and employment discrimination based on gender identity is still legal in most states. The Minnesota Human Rights Act bans sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination employment.

“It’s really critical that universities lead the forefront in non-discrimination issues,” Imse said, “because all their students are going to take these ideas into the workplace with them.”

In the future, Eid said she’d like to establish a committee of people from different local communities to work on how the Trans* Awareness Project should expand.

“We do want this project to have a long-lasting effect on the community,” Eid said, “and not only just within the Twin Cities, but spread out as far as we can.”