Haasch: Transphobia on painted bridge panel mocks real social issues

Apathy towards pronouns is real, but University of Minnesota chapter of College Republican’s panel is just transphobic.

Palmer Haasch

The University of Minnesota College Republican’s bridge panel was vandalized this past Friday night or Saturday morning for the third year in a row. As a seasoned paint the bridge veteran and senior at the University, I am exactly the opposite of surprised. In the past three years — from basically the 2016 elections that made President Donald Trump the head of state onward — UMNCR has filled its panels with generally incendiary rhetoric. Rhetoric that has echoed Trump’s rally cry to “build the wall” in 2016 or calling themselves “the least popular minority group on campus” in 2017, which seems to beg backlash.

This year, UMNCR’s panel was steeped in transphobia, claiming: “The proposed pronoun policy mocks real social issues.” This references a policy proposed last March that would require University members to use an individual’s correct pronouns and name. In addition to that statement, UMNCR wrote “apathy towards pronouns” on another of its three panels. While the other statements on its panel are generally straightforward (it’s pretty hard to misunderstand what “Make the U Great Again” means), “apathy towards pronouns” left me confused.

Feeling apathetic toward pronouns is a real thing. Certain individuals are pronoun indifferent, meaning they don’t care what pronouns people use to refer to them. This doesn’t seem to be what UMNCR is referring to. In this case, it seems the use of “pronouns” doesn’t refer to the pronouns all of us, including those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, use.

This statement reinforces the notion that pronouns are specific to only trans individuals, which isn’t how the English language works. Furthermore, UMNCR directly expresses its disapproval against a policy that would enforce the use of individuals’ correct pronouns, which, by definition, is not apathy. The statements on the panel contradict themselves and the rhetoric is unclear: Is UMNCR apathetic toward the existence of pronouns in general? Are its members pronoun indifferent?

What is clear is that UMNCR’s statements on its panel are transphobic. This is generally in line with recent Republican party policy decisions, such as attempting to ban trans individuals from serving in the military or withdrawing guidelines that protect trans students. “Apathy towards pronouns” in this context isn’t pronoun indifference — it’s an insistence to not respect trans individuals and the pronouns they use.

Using someone’s correct pronouns is easy. It’s basic, bare-minimum respect. If you’re unfamiliar with the use of a certain pronoun, continue to consciously use it until it feels natural. If someone corrects you on their pronouns, switch. If you accidentally use the wrong pronouns, apologize, correct yourself and move on.

It’s no surprise UMNCR’s panel was vandalized with the words “Queer Power” spray painted over in black. A final statement on the panel asserts “All opinions are welcome here.” My opinion is that transphobia (and confusing transphobia, at that) has no place at our University.