Rob Todaro: A flawed campus for transgender students

Jared Leto’s Oscar win last night for Best Supporting Actor completed his sweep of the awards circuit for his role as a transgender woman battling AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club.” While it’s reassuring to see trans people portrayed in the media, his character, Rayon, is simply a caricature of a trans person, defined by her reckless behavior.

The portrayal by a straight male celebrity does more to perpetuate ignorance on trans issues, rather than signify progress. Leto has proven to be uninformed about the trans community when talking about Rayon, who he has referred to as a “beautiful creature” in interviews. He didn’t even acknowledge his character or say the word transgender in his Oscar acceptance speech.

This should push us all to reexamine whether our acceptance of trans people has gone as well in our own communities as we think.

In the past few years at GW, we’ve undoubtedly made strides for the lesbian, gay and bisexual segments of the “LGBT” acronym. But even at an LGBT-friendly university, the transgender population is often forgotten.

Forty-one percent of all people who identify as transgender or gender-nonconforming have attempted suicide. This is almost nine times the national average, according to a 2011 study.

The most trans-friendly colleges and universities in the country do a much better job at presenting their LGBT resources and ensuring that all campus policies are inclusive.

The first thing GW should look at is making its housing options more inclusive for trans students.

Students here have had a gender-neutral housing option for three years – but there is no random option in place. Unless students request someone else who has also selected the gender-neutral option, students are randomly housed with members of their designated gender.

This is not helpful for students, especially freshmen randomly placed with each other, who are either struggling with their gender identity, identify outside of the gender binary or are new to the University and do not know anyone with whom they could request to live.

Changing these restrictions isn’t completely unheard of. In fact, American and New York universities already have random gender-neutral housing options put into place. All their students need to do is opt in.

Installing more gender-neutral restrooms would be another step along these lines to improve the GW experience for queer students.

Something as routine as going to the restroom can be very nerve-wracking and discomforting for trans students if the proper resources are not put into place across campus. Kansas Essington, a sophomore who identifies as queer, said that going to the bathroom is “probably the most uncomfortable” part of his day.

“Twice in Gelman I had custodial workers remove me from the women’s room because they assumed I was in the wrong room,” Essington told me. “That was humiliating. I didn’t know if I had earned the right to go into the men’s room yet.”

University spokesman Dave Andrews confirmed that gender-neutral bathrooms will be included in the Law Learning Center, the Science and Engineering Hall, the School of Public Health and Health Services and the future “superdorm.”

This is definitely a step forward, but we can take it even further. There should be more open-gender, single-stall bathrooms installed across campus, especially in buildings that students frequent, such as the Marvin Center. That will make more trans students comfortable and won’t inconvenience other students.

There are other ways to help out trans students that won’t diminish the experiences of other students. Take, for example, legal documentation. On most forms, there only two options: male and female. But what if students don’t fit into either category? Or what if the category a student falls under changes over time?

Students should be allowed to change their campus records and personal documents more easily. University of Michigan was the first college in the nation to allow its trans students to easily change their legal first name on forms, according to The Advocate. This move is smart because it prevents students from being outed by campus records, like when a professor takes attendance.

These changes might seem small. But when taken together, they can truly benefit transgender people. After all, they deserve more than a questionable presence in a feature film or an award or two at the Oscars.

Rob Todaro, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer. He is also the treasurer of Allied in Pride.

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