UM Pride Network will celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility with a candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. tonight in the Lyceum Circle to honor those who have lost their lives because of their gender identity and to pay respect to those fighting for acceptance.
UM Pride Network and co-sponsor Queer People of Color organized the event to have impact beyond just the transgender community. In the past, UM Pride Network and other organizations have held events to raise awareness about the trans community, but not in coordination with an international event such as Transgender Day of Visibility.
“This time, UM Pride’s executive board wants to reach further than just our community,” Brenna Paola, UM Pride Network vice president, said. “We felt that the visibility aspect required the mainstream public.”
The lack of public outlets for transgender people outside of their own community can stem from their fear of being ridiculed, beaten and, in some cases, even killed.
“Lack of visibility comes from fear to be visible. There are dangers for trans people that cisgender people just don’t encounter,” Paola said.
These dangers are the reason UM Pride Network President Regan Willis, who identifies as transgender, organized the event.
“I put this event together with the intent of raising visibility about the transgender community, especially the physical harm that too many individuals face,” Willis said. “To end a human life because of opposing beliefs on gender identity isn’t right.”
UM Pride Network members believe raising awareness about what it means to be transgender, what language is most appropriate to use when referring to LGBTQ+ individuals and exercising what can be done to fully include them is the first step toward progress.
“The circulation of that language and inclusion depends on many entities outside of just UM Pride Network,” Paola said. “For improvement of awareness, we need allies. Allies can speak out for those with little voice in the dominant society.”
Like most other social movements, this push for increased awareness and equality requires the support of those outside the marginalized group to bring about widespread conversation and actual change, according to event organizers.
“We can’t make the difference alone,” Willis said. “It takes people who aren’t part of the community to learn that we are average human beings, just like everyone else.”
Jaime Harker, director of the Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies, said
though transgender people have gained more visibility in recent years, their fight for equality is not over.
“I think that there has been a lot more visibility of trans people in recent years in mainstream culture but not as much understanding and acceptance as I would like to see,” Harker said.
Harker cited the HB2 “bathroom bill” in North Carolina, one of the more prominent topics of discourse in transgender rights, as an example.
“The community struggles combating stereotypes of sexual deviance from lawmakers,” Paola said.
To break these stereotypes, Harker said people everywhere must be exposed to those who are different from them to realize that misconceptions and hate cause more division than identity differences do.
“In my experience, trans people are committed to living their lives honestly, even when that can come at great personal cost, and they simply want to live without harassment or threat,” Harker said.
Though this specific event pertains to transgender people and their struggle for equality, UM Pride also recognizes that the trans community isn’t the only community to struggle with gender identity. Paola said there are common misconceptions associated with agender and genderqueer people, too.
“Gender is a very fluid concept defined by a given culture within a certain time,” Paola said. “There are commonly held beliefs surrounding ‘womanhood’ and ‘manhood,’ which can cause discrimination toward anyone who is gender non-conforming, especially transgender people.”