UMN students reflect on Trans Day of Remembrance importance

While some LGBTQ students say they feel relatively safe on campus, some student activists say they feel the University of Minnesota has more work to do to create a positive environment for transgender people.

Student+activists+gathered+in+front+of+Northrop+to+call+attention+to+this+years+Trans+Day+of+Remembrance.+

Photo courtesy of Students for a Democratic Society

Student activists gathered in front of Northrop to call attention to this year’s Trans Day of Remembrance.

by Amelia Roessler

University of Minnesota student activists reflected on the struggles transgender people currently face after celebrating Trans Day of Remembrance in November.

Rita Hester, a Black transgender woman, was killed Nov. 20, 1998, when she was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. Since then, the anniversary of her murder has been recognized as Trans Day of Remembrance to remember those who have been killed because of prejudice and hate.

Members of the University’s Queer Student Cultural Center (QSCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) hosted events last month to remember those who’ve lost their lives due to transphobic violence.

While empowering the transgender community on campus was not a distinct part of their message that day, several students said they believe it is an important part of Trans Rememberance Day.

Transphobic violence and harm
In 2021, there were 50 violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people tracked by the Human Rights Campaign, which is the highest number on record. At least 34 violent killings of transgender people have been reported so far this year, though many more may go unreported.

On this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, two transgender people were killed in the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

Out of 71 homicides of transgender people between 2019 and 2020, almost two-thirds were transgender women of color, and more than half were Black trans women, according to research from Insider.

Gender, Women and Sexuality Studies professor Aren Aizura said he currently thinks many trans students feel unsafe around campus and in the community.

“Right-wing transphobia is at an all-time high: trans people are being accused of “grooming” children, and trans women especially are in the spotlight,” Aizura said. “Students are concerned with making the campus a space where trans and nonbinary people can live, study and create community without violence or ridicule.”

Dante Rocío is a non-binary, first-year University student from Poland, where he said many people still feel uncomfortable discussing LGBTQ issues, and transgender people often do not feel safe. He said since moving to the United States to attend the University, he feels fortunate not having to constantly fear using his name and pronouns.

“When I’m on campus in the University space, I don’t have any fears or problems,” Rocío said. “I don’t have to face discrimination or feat having to hid for safety or fair treatment.”

Rocío said back home, officially established transgender medical care is not available. He said being able to go to Boynton to discuss safe gender-affirming procedures and receive resources is “already paradise” to him.

Boynton provides services for gender care including hormone replacement therapy, referrals and support for gender-affirming surgeries, fertility preservation and family building and preoperative exams.

However, Luka Ludden, a transgender student at the University who participated in one of the Trans Day of Remembrance student events, said she thinks many doctors in the United States still don’t know how to handle transgender patients, which can result in mistreatment or other problems.

According to an article from Yale Medicine, one obstacle transgender patients face is that many health care providers still do not understand what being transgender means. About one-third of transgender people reported negative interactions with medical providers, according to the article.

“There’s a huge lacking in our medical system to support trans people because it’s a system designed for cisgender people,” Ludden said.

Misgendering and unenforced equity policies on Twin Cities campus
Some students said they feel the University still has work to do to create a safe and accepting environment for all transgender students.

University policy on gender identity and use of pronouns states that “University members and units are expected to use the names, gender identities, and pronouns specified to them by other University members, except as legally required.”

Ludden said in their experience, this policy feels solely symbolic, as in the past, University faculty insufficiently addressed student complaints about misgendering.

“My own personal experience is that misgendering still occurs; students and faculty still don’t respect gender identity as a whole,” Ludden said. “I would like to think that they’re just doing it by accident.”

She said she believes it is not that the faculty are not doing their job implementing University policy, but she thinks they can do better responding to students.

Cal Mergendahl, a transgender, nonbinary University graduate student, said they have felt alienated and uncomfortable as a trans student at the University.

“It’s really kind of a very isolated experience here,” Mergendahl said. “University policies not being effective or that well enforced really don’t help them.”

For their undergraduate degree, Mergendahl attended the University of Minnesota’s Morris campus and said they felt a stronger sense of community there than on the Twin Cities campus.

“There was a lot of very open, outward acceptance and that was really vocalized in a way that I don’t always see or experience here,” Mergendahl said. “Tolerance is not acceptance, and acceptance is not the same as community.”

Transgender Day of Remembrance events
While QSSC and SDS’ Nov. 16 demonstration was meant to be a die-in, where people lay on the ground in a public space to call attention to an issue, snow on the ground led to a change in plans. Students instead gathered in front of Northrop Auditorium to make speeches, chant and read off names of people who have been murdered or killed this year due to transgender violence.

“I believe, or at least hope … some people were at least in some way affected or mobilized [by our actions] to think about the subject,” Rocío said.

At an evening march at the Donhowe building in Dinkytown, demonstrators protested all legislative attacks on gender affirming education and health care, including Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which bans instruction or classroom discussion about LGBTQ issues for kindergarten through third grade.

Ludden attended the campus march and said she also celebrates Trans Day of Remembrance by initiating conversations with friends about the importance of transgender visibility and commemorating those killed because of their gender identity.

“We need to take time out of our own days and reflect on what the bigger picture means,” Ludden said. “A lot of the time in the trans community, we’re dehumanized and … it’s important to remember that we are human and we are people too.”

Rocío said the message of Trans Day of Remembrance shouldn’t be considered only one day a year. They said people should be working every day toward building stronger protections in place for transgender people.

“Things that I’m considering a luxury for myself, are actually not a privilege; it’s something that’s a basic right,”Rocío said. “I shouldn’t be afraid to ask for that.”

Visit Boynton’s website for information on LGBTQ-identifying student groups, how to change one’s name or pronouns and other LGBTQ-specific resources.

 

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Aren Aizura’s pronouns. Aizura uses he/him pronouns.