Memorial brings attention to transgendered students
Islan Nettles dreamed of a career in the fashion industry ever since she was a junior in high school when she hand-designed clothes for a runway show. She even interned earlier this year at Harlem, NY.-based design house Ay’Medici.
Nettles was killed before her dream became reality. On Aug. 17, she was beaten to death because she was a transgendered woman.
She was attacked on the streets of Harlem after enduring a slew of homophobic remarks, New York police told ABC News. Less than a week later, Nettles was pronounced brain-dead and taken off life support. She was 21 years old.
Just three months later, on Nov. 20, vigils are being held across the country in observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance. Florida Gulf Coast University Gay-Straight Alliance Co-President Robbie Lloyd and his organization observed this day on campus to shed light on violence and suicide in the transgender community.
Lloyd hopes the observance sends a message to trans students.
“I do know there are transgendered students on our campus, but they don’t come to our GSA meetings,” Lloyd said. “People might not know they’re there if they’re not willing to speak out on their own, which is a problem because if something does happen to them, nobody knows how to address it or why to address it because it’s not their issue. It’s not their problem and they think it’s not an issue at all. And so I just want to bring some visibility to that.”
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, there were 2,016 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence reported in the U.S in 2012, including 25 homicides. More than half of those killed were transgendered women. The NCAVP also claims transgendered people are three times more likely to experience police violence in comparison with non-transgendered persons.
Trans is defined as the umbrella term for a person who deviates from their assigned gender at birth, according to the International Spectrum at University of Michigan. An example of a transgendered person would be someone who is born physically as a man but identifies as a female. The body does not match the mind.
Students at FGCU have a variety of understandings about what it means to be a trans person.
Molly Honecker, a sophomore mathematics major, said she thinks it when a person switches from male to female or vice versa. Junior Austin Megna said he thinks it when someone has a sex change operation. Senior ice hockey forward Kevin Zipkin says everyone is entitled to be true to who they are. All three students said they do not have a problem with the lifestyle choice of trans people.
“Whatever someone has to do to feel comfortable in their own skin is fine in my eyes and should be in society’s also,” Zipkin said. “Everyone is entitled to their own style and should be able to feel normal in public.”
The term trans also includes transsexuals (someone who changes their body to match their internal identity), cross-dressers, drag kings (women who dress as men), drag queens (men who dress as women), and a vast number of other identities.
“Trans can mean anything,” Said Dee who is a trans man and a sophomore at FGCU. “Cisgendered people just say, ‘boom, there (is the label).’ It’s the easy way out. “
A cisgendered person is someone whose biological sex matches the sex they identify with.
Dee has known he was trans since the fifth grade but never considered the option of being a trans man. He says he thought it was just a tomboy phase that he would grow out of. About two years ago, Dee realized he could be a trans man.
“You don’t have to be the gender everyone tells you you have to be,” Dee said. “I didn’t just (put on the label) and say ‘here I am.’ I knew the prejudice that would come with it.
While Dee, who came out last summer, says he has been fortunate enough not to experience bigotry, he understands why trans students would be hesitant to attend GSA meetings and make their presence known.
“(Trans students don’t attend because) of fear,” Dee said. “Trans people usually get sexually assaulted and bullied. I don’t blame them (for not outing themselves). I don’t go around saying ‘I’m a trans boy,’ because that’s very dangerous. Not everyone is accepting of that.”
What Dee and Lloyd both agree on is that education is the only way to cure bigotry and prevent tragedies like the death of Nettles from occurring. Lloyd says he remembers a time he accidently misgendered an associate, unaware they were a trans person.
“I was really new to all of this and so we sat and talked and that was the best thing in the world,” Lloyd said. “There’s no shame in recognizing that you don’t understand something. It shows people an eagerness to learn. “
Dee says the best thing anyone can do is listen.
For FGCU’s Transgender day of Remembrance, Lloyd is hoping to show the trans students that there are people who care about them and a safe haven for them if they need it. He has asked a trans student and the mother of a trans child to speak for the vigil.
“Even if I, myself or the community doesn’t fully understand the issues they’re going through, I feel like it must be some small comfort to know people care,” Lloyd said.
The vigil will be held in Edwards Hall room 112 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
EN Photo/Logan Newell – Gay Straight Alliance Co-President Robbie Lloyd