By Nina Mendes
Assistant E&L Editor
Transgender: a person whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.
Gender Identity: the internalized, personal sense of gender inherent within every person. Gender identity covers all forms of gender expression.
Non-Binary/Genderqueer: people who have a combination of different gender expressions.
These were a few of the definitions printed in the educational handout given to audience members of the first Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) at FGCU.
On March 19 in the Cohen Center at 8 pm, the office of housing & residence life, prevention & wellness, and the multicultural & leadership development center partnered with junior, Kasey Fraize to bring his vision of inclusivity to life.
Fraize, the chair of the TDOV, began brainstorming ideas in April 2018 of how to enlighten FGCU students and staff on sensitive topics such as gender identity and sexuality.
He strived to organize an engaging event that effectively communicated the thoughts and feelings of LGBTQ+ people in a meaningful way, with a particular emphasis on transgender lives.
Identifying as a transgender man himself, Fraize believed the best way to inform the student body was to present them with personal stories from other transgender members of the SWFL community.
Alanis, Frances, Carrie, and Ray were the four courageous panelists that took the stage that evening. They each shared different stories of the lives they lived during pre-transition versus post-transition, as well as where they planned on heading in the future.
Agonizing heartache paired with anxiety-ridden depression were common themes discussed when panelists reflected on time before their transition.
Similarly, once each panelist became open and began to express their gender identity, they became optimistic and hopeful for a promising future.
Feeling comfortable in one’s skin is hard enough to manage as a cisgender male or female, and the challenge is even more difficult to overcome when another layer of gender identity crisis is added on top of all of that.
Fraize recognized this problem and decided he needed to do something about it.
“The goal of this event is to educate the FGCU and SWFL community about diversity in gender identity while facilitating a space for transgender people to vocalize their experiences and become visible to others,” said Fraize. “I feel like we met this goal and the panelists did a fantastic job explaining concepts while sharing personal stories.”
In addition to speaking about topics they wanted to tackle individually, the panelists also answered anonymous questions from the audience using a QR code displayed at the front of the room.
Questions ranged from as simple as the meaning behind the colors on the trans flag, to more complex which asked the first moment panelists knew something was different about themselves.
Vice president of FGCU’s Gender & Sexuality Alliance (GSA), Frances Elmore was one of four panelists that evening. He reached out to the organizers of the TDOV panel to express his interest in speaking at the event.
“It’s both exhausting and liberating to choose to be truly yourself, especially to an audience. I really hope trans students in the [crowd] knew that they’re not alone and that they can, and will, be able to live their lives genuinely,” said Elmore. “I hope that allies are empathetic to the glimpse that they’ve gotten into a few folks’ experiences as [living] trans and walk[ed] out with some knowledge that they didn’t have coming in.”
He also said that others need to be mindful and aware of the struggles trans people are facing daily.
Often times people are afraid to learn things they do not understand, and LGBTQ+ terminology and language can be tricky to grasp the first time around.
It’s estimated that 200 people attended the event that evening as open-minded, active listeners enabling these transgender speakers to have the platform they’ve been fighting for.
Free food was served to guests before and after the panelists spoke, which helped draw in a crowd and filled up seats in the ballroom.
“The support around this event is overwhelmingly beautiful, and we will definitely host this event again next year,” said Fraize. “Having people come out to listen to what these panelists have to say is ultimately what makes the work I do worth it.”
The event’s great success has shone a positive light upon the LGBTQ+ community here at FGCU, but this is only the beginning.
Towards the end of the night, the panelists spoke about what the next steps should be since we are headed in the right direction.
“Being a good ally is more than just using your trans friend’s name and pronouns correctly. It’s about actively helping to fight ignorance and transphobia in our society,” said freshman panelist, Carrie. “While there are some really amazing people at this school and on the faculty, I would like to see some strong support from the school as an institution.”
This event would not have been possible without the effort and dedication showcased by Fraize as well as his partnership with FGCU.
He looks forward to hosting this event again next year and he is currently searching for an underclassman to shadow him during the planning process to carry on the tradition after he graduates.
“The next step from here is expanding our resources at FGCU to better cater to transgender students. I strongly believe we need a centralized LGBTQ+ advocacy center here,” said Fraize. “Progress takes time. I have patience and faith that FGCU will continue to be a leader in social justice initiatives.”