Transgender group prepares for year

The Transgender Commission works toward equality at the “U.”

by Andy Mannix

The University’s Transgender Commission held a social event Wednesday in the Nolte Center for Continuing Education to gear up for the new semester.

Ross Neely, a graduate student and Transgender Commission coordinator, helped organize the event.

Neely said the purpose of the gathering was to reconvene after the summer in a comfortable environment and get ready for the commission’s upcoming first official meeting of the semester. The first meeting will be Oct. 9 in Comstock Hall.

The event started out with member recruitment, adding seven new members. It then transitioned to casual fraternizing among transgender individuals and supporters, also known as “allies.”

“It’s really to bring people together in a safer space for all genders,” Neely said.

The Transgender Commission, established in March 2006, is made up of University students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members driven toward creating a better environment for transgendered individuals.

There are approximately 100 people involved with the commission, Neely said, 40 of whom actively contribute.

Neely, a transgender ally, said he got involved with the commission to help people whose lives have been more difficult than his because they haven’t conformed to conventional gender standards.

“I get so many privileges because no one questions my gender,” he said. “For most of my life I never realized what a privilege that was.”

Anne Phibbs, systemwide director of the GLBTA programs office, said defining “transgender” is difficult.

“It’s an umbrella term,” she said, “used by many people to describe someone in some way not conforming to a traditional gender identity.”

Phibbs said transgender equality is an issue many people didn’t recognize until recently. Now, a lot of people in the University community are starting to work toward it.

“We do a lot of things correctly and have a lot of allies on this campus,” she said.

The Lavender House, a living community in Comstock Hall designed for students with interests in gender identity and sexual orientation, is an example of the University moving in the right direction, Phibbs said.

However, the University still has a ways to go before reaching equality, she said.

Neely said one of the commission’s main goals is to achieve acceptance among the campus community for transgendered people.

Andria Strano, a graduate student, is also an ally in the transgender commission.

One of the issues that the commission will be working toward this year is providing more unisex bathrooms on campus to accommodate people whose gender identity doesn’t match their biological gender, she said.

“Having an opportunity to have a single stall bathroom that you can have access to, that’s just a basic human right,” she said.

Neely said the commission also wants to educate the community more about transgender and get gender non-conformant voices reflected in the curriculum.

Neely said everyone adheres to a gender role, and some people just express it differently from what is considered traditional.

“People should be able to accept their gender however they please,” Neely said.

“We should validate all these in the unique tapestry of our community.”