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Eastern celebrates Transgender Awareness Week

Published on November 20, 2023

Eastern celebrates Transgender Awareness Week

Transgender Awareness WeekThe Pride Center at Eastern Connecticut State University, in support of gender-queer students, celebrated Transgender Awareness Week Nov. 13 – 19, culminating in the Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20.  

“Every individual deserves the right to express their true self without fear of discrimination or hostility,” said Nicole Potestivo, coordinator of the Pride Center. “The transgender community adds invaluable perspectives to our academic environment, fostering a richer and more vibrant community.” 

In recognition of Transgender Awareness Week, the Eastern clock tower was lit with the colors of the transgender flag — pink, white and blue — and the transgender flag was displayed in the Student Center. The Pride Center hosted a discussion, “Breaking the Binary: Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Identities.” There, students were able to learn about various gender identities and receive information surrounding gender-affirming practices and transition options.  

As of June 2022, 0.5% of U.S. adults identified as transgender, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA. While the percentage may seem small, it accounts for more than 1.3 million Americans. Many of these people experience gender dysphoria or clinically significant distress that arises when a person’s body does not align with their mental image of themself and impairs their quality of life. 

Because of this distress, many seek gender-affirming care. This can take the form of a person changing their name and pronouns or being prescribed treatment or surgery by a doctor. Rather than a single treatment, the discussion pointed out, gender-affirming care includes a range of services. 

Gender-affirming treatments are supported by every medical and psychological association in the United States. The National Institute of Health reports that fewer than 1% of patients receiving gender-affirming surgeries regret the procedure in comparison with 14% across all surgeries.  

Eastern Clock Tower
The Eastern clock tower was lit with the colors of the transgender flag — pink, white and blue.

Stigma surrounding discussions of transgender people leads to the spread of misinformation and the ongoing violence that gender-queer Americans face. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has reported the violent deaths of at least 26 transgender people in 2023. The HRC began tracking fatal transgender violence in 2013, with a record high of 59 fatalities in 2021. 

Additionally, the Williams Institute reports that “81% of transgender adults in the U.S. have thought about suicide (and) 42% of transgender adults have attempted it.” 

The Eastern Pride Center also hosted a clay body molding workshop and discussion about radical self-love and body positivity. While not explicitly centered on transgender people and their experiences, the event centered on body images. Images of diverse bodies — disabled bodies, those with vitiligo and acne and stretch marks, Black and Brown bodies, and representations of gender queerness and the like — lined the walls as students and faculty spoke about their experiences with their own bodies. 

“All of us have different connections with our bodies,” said guest speaker and  sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, highlighting the various systemic forces that can negatively impact self-view. These included white supremacy, gender ideology, diverse abilities, cultural fatphobia and cis normativity.  

“It’s important that we all learn to be thankful for our bodies,” said Asia Baskerville, student ambassador for the Pride Center. 

“All people deserve to find joy in their bodies and make decisions about their bodies that feel right to them, without intervention from politicians who want to restrict how we can live with and in our bodies,” Bergstrom-Lynch said. “This is particularly true for trans, gender-queer, and nonbinary people, who are often targets for these harmful policies.” 

The discussion highlighted the potential intersection many people face due to having multiple marginal identities. Transgender people of color face much higher rates of violence than their white counterparts. Of the transgender people killed in 2023, 88% were people of color and 54% were Black trans women, according to the HRC.  

Throughout the fall semester, the Pride Center has hosted numerous events centered around trans and gender nonconforming people. Additionally, the Pride Center makes space for transgender students to come together during its monthly meetings for “TRANScending,” Easterns trans community circle and the “For the Q'ulture” group, Eastern's queer, trans, Black, Indigenous and people of color community circle. 

“To create an atmosphere where everyone can thrive academically, personally and professionally,” Potestivo said, “we must continue to advocate for policies that prioritize the well-being and dignity of transgender individuals.” 

Transgender Awareness Week, and its celebration at Eastern, culminated in Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day began as a vigil for Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was murdered in 1998. Transgender Day of Remembrance now acts as a time to honor members of the trans community who have been killed and a reminder for allies to advocate for a world where transgender lives are not met with hate and violence. 

For more information on supporting transgender people, visit the Eastern Pride Center or the Human Rights Campaign website. 

Written by Marcus Grant