Transgender rights and UMass

Resist erasure

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(Will Katcher/Daily Collegian)

By Sophia Corsetti, Collegian Columnist

“YOU MEAN TRANSGENDER.”

The voice from the back of my lecture hall pierced the air as it interrupted my Teaching Assistant. Well-intentioned but unconscious of the implications of his word choice, my TA stumbled to correct himself. A minute prior he had begun the lecture by going over the ballot questions for Massachusetts. When he got to Question 3, he made the unfortunate mistake of stating: “This bill concerns LGBT rights” and thus found himself unknowingly complicit in the all too common erasure of transgender individuals.

Because Question 3 isn’t about lesbian, gay and bisexual people at all. Or their rights. It is about important protections for transgender individuals that have been at stake for a while and remain at stake today. It is important that we make these distinctions with the recent news of a White House memo that would erase the transgender identity. This memo proposes that gender be defined as “an immutable biological condition determined by a person’s sex organs at birth.” This means that any dispute about one’s gender would have to be clarified through genetic testing.

This attack on the transgender community is an act of senseless cruelty. As Renee Graham, a columnist from the Boston Globe put it, “Certainly the intent here is as malicious as it is simple — if their existence is unrecognized, they don’t need federal civil rights protections.” Such a proposed bill will undo hard-won transgender rights and put trans people at even greater risk in society– a risk they should not be subject to. Completely erasing an entire group is reminiscent of horrible, fascist policies. It is a reality many of us do not want to imagine. But what would it mean for the University of Massachusetts?

On Wednesday, Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy responded to the news of the memo with a campus-wide email. Subbaswamy reiterated the University’s dedication to transgender rights and protections. Many of us cannot imagine and would not tolerate a campus climate that would be any different, but no one can predict the long-term effects of such a bill. So what are we to do now to ensure that our campus is safe for trans folx (a term used to denote politicization of identity and to promote inclusivity)?

An obvious answer is to continue the fight for transgender rights. We must resist these obscene policies fiercely and actively. Professor Laura Ciolkowski, of the Women and Gender Studies department, stated “Here at UMass, I think we need to take the Trump Administration’s attack on trans lives as yet another opportunity to stand together, challenge the often violent enforcement of gender categories and work to change the laws and policies that disproportionately harm trans and gender non-conforming people at UMass and beyond.” This resistance is essential to maintaining and progressing the hard work of the trans community thus far.

We have already seen anti-trans laws in action in 2018. The National Center for Transgender Equality stated: “Since the beginning of 2018, 10 states have introduced 21 anti-trans bills, and two states are considering anti-trans ballot initiatives.” Among these include health care bills, ID bills, restroom bills and others. These are small steps in a full-blown attack on the Transgender community. At UMass, we must retain our values and refuse to let these bills have any influence.

Transgender individuals are our friends, bosses, peers, teachers and much more. They cannot be erased by any idea or policy. During these trying times, we must protect and cherish individuality. There is no telling where proposed bills like the White House memo would take us. It could open the gates for various other legal forms of discrimination and harassment. We must prioritize the rights of trans folx as their’s are the most vulnerable right now. It is not enough to say that we stand by our trans friends. We must be active for their right to safely exist.

Of course, in all the darkness there is light. Trans folx around the country have rallied around the hashtag “#WontBeErased.” Protests have formed in recent days outside of the White House and in New York City. A bill that would erase the transgender identity will not go unchallenged. It will be met with resistance, courage and hope. It will be met with the knowledge that a law cannot determine an identity; only a person can do that.

Sophia Corsetti is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]