Last week was rough for transgender people. On Oct. 21, the New York Times released a memo from the Trump administration detailing new definitions of sex and gender, which, if implemented, would initiate a massive rollback of federal protections for transgender and nonbinary Americans. This memo was followed by a number of other political attacks on trans rights. On Oct. 24, the Department of Justice told the Supreme Court that it ought to be lawful to discriminate against employees based on gender identity, and according to the Guardian, U.S officials are pushing to remove the word “gender” from United Nations human rights policy, in what they characterize as “vague and politically correct language.”
As a transgender person, I’m frankly horrified by these developments, but I’m not at all surprised. The federal government has always preyed on trans and nonbinary folks and the few political gains we’ve made in the past couple years were contingent upon Obama’s executive appointments. Unfortunately, Donald Trump really can execute these policies. With that being said, there are still plenty of opportunities to combat this egregious assault on trans and nonbinary folks, and we can start right here at home. According to Campus Pride, a nonprofit that scores colleges based on how LGBTQ+ inclusion, UNC Charlotte has only three out of five stars. We could drastically improve that score — and provide vital support for trans people — by making concrete commitments to the following demands:
Hire transgender and nonbinary people. According to a 2015 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, the rate of unemployment for transgender people is 3 times that of the general population. Trans people need jobs. If they’re academics, they need tenure, and trans students need mentors. The few trans faculty and staff I’ve met at UNC Charlotte have provided invaluable guidance to me and other students. They play an important role in a precarious but absolutely necessary support system that helps trans and nonbinary students realize that we can not only survive past our thirties, but become smart, successful individuals. As the old saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
Let people list their preferred pronouns, name and gender marker in the University system. The number of hoops trans people have to jump through in order to get called our actual names is ridiculous. Every semester, I have to send out a mass email to my professors telling them my name and my pronouns. Because I’m fairly open about my gender identity, this process is kind of frustrating for me, but for trans people who are not “out,” it can be unsafe. Furthermore, it’s confusing; people don’t understand why my email address gives one name, but my email signature gives another. It would be so much easier if we had the option of adding our preferred names, pronouns and gender markers to the University information systems. Trans people would no longer have to “out” themselves every day, and professors wouldn’t be scratching their heads wondering why the male grad assistant is registered as “Sarah” in Canvas.
Create better housing for trans and nonbinary people. Trans people should not be forced to live with the wrong gender. At best, it’s dehumanizing; at worst, it’s dangerous. I’ve been assigned roommates who asked me invasive questions about my genitals, who asked me to bleach the shower every time I use it, who screamed at me and called me “sinful” all because I’m a trans man. Most of the cisgender people I’ve roomed with are wonderful, but there are still plenty who’d put hand sanitizer in your milk on account of your identity. UNC Charlotte needs to have a comprehensive system that gives better housing options to trans and nonbinary people. Let trans people room with their actual gender or pair them with other trans folks.
Make restrooms more accessible. Do y’all know how much of my life revolves around bathrooms? Most days I have to walk ten minutes just to find a bathroom I can use — time better spent in class. There are far too few all-gender restrooms on campus, and those that do exist are still labeled “family” (even though there are definitely more trans folks on campus than “families”). It’s such a simple fix; all we need to do is get new signs for single-use restrooms. It would make a world of difference for trans and nonbinary people. Besides, everybody benefits from all-gender restrooms. Cisgender women would no longer need to sneak into the men’s toilet when the ladies’ room is occupied. Since both would be gender neutral, we can all just pee free.
Promote inclusive norms and behaviors. This one is for everybody, not just the administration. In addition to advocating for all of these causes, you can support transgender and nonbinary people by making small changes to your daily routine. Introduce yourself using your name and your pronouns. Get some cute pro-trans bumper stickers. Don’t make assumptions about other people’s identities. Call out transphobic behavior — not just with the religious protesters on our campus, but with your friends, your family and your coworkers. Go to inclusivity trainings, and for the love of God, donate. Trans folks, particularly trans people of color and young folks, are extremely vulnerable to homelessness and poverty; they need far more than just a supportive Tweet.
We live in a terrifying political moment, but we cannot let our fear lock us into inaction and indecision. The marginalized members of our community are counting on UNC Charlotte’s leaders to stand up for them when the nation’s leaders won’t. Because if we don’t take action, then who will?