One year in, leaders of a student group dedicated to community support for transgender and nonbinary students hosted almost a dozen events in collaboration with multicultural groups on campus.
Transgender and Non-binary Students of GW, a student organization formed last April as a supportive space for trans and nonbinary students, collaborated with more than 10 other organizations to educate students on issues important to the community like hormone replacement therapy. Executive board members said they plan to build on their first year’s efforts by keeping all of their events annual and expanding this year’s Transgender Awareness Week into a two-week LGBTQ celebration.
Junior Aedy Miller, the organization’s current director of marketing and public relations and president-elect, said TNBS members were “key” leaders in facilitating social and educational events for Transgender Awareness Week in mid-November. Miller said the group planned educational and speaker events aimed at creating an inclusionary space for students “of all identities,” like a workshop with Students Against Sexual Assault about sexual assault and survivorship in the trans community.
Trans Awareness Week this year encompassed 15 events intended to empower transgender and nonbinary students and educate students about the community and issues affecting it. Student leaders said the week’s events, like a spoken word mic night celebrating trans artists, will happen again at September’s LGBTQ celebration, which will also feature a mini-Pride event after June’s Pride festival was canceled.
“The way that we sought to build community was by thinking about those who weren’t in the rooms when we were planning meetings,” Miller said. “Always thinking about who can we work with too, like different organizations, different University departments, who can be worked with to create a welcoming and affirming space for students of all identities.”
Miller said the organization expanded its outreach into the D.C. community during Transgender Awareness week through a sticker fundraiser with the Organization of Latino American Students, which raised more than $700 for Casa Ruby – the only D.C. organization providing direct services, like housing, for low- or no-income queer individuals.
“The organization was founded to create a space dedicated specifically for trans and nonbinary students with a dual focus on empowering the community on campus, and also working in the queer community in D.C and not just being a social organization, but also an advocacy organization,” they said.
Miller said the organization had planned a postcard campaign directed at state legislatures enacting legislation blocking transgender youth from accessing hormones or participating in sports for International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31 before students were sent home for the semester because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
After the event was canceled amid the pandemic, TNBS members decided to use Discord, a virtual chat website similar to GroupMe, to allow students to continue communicating with each other and to offer support to each other after moving back home.
“Within the community there are some folks who just don’t even have a home to go back to,” Miller said. “On the flip side, if folks have a place to go back to, people either have to go back in the closet, are put into toxic or even like emotionally abusive situations where they’re constantly misgendered or don’t feel affirmed in their home and just not safe in their home.”
Harvey Tate, the group’s incoming vice president, said student leaders partnered with the Multicultural Student Services Center’s LGBTQIA Resource Center to augment resources available to students, like chest binders for students transitioning, as part of their goal to advocate for greater representation of trans and nonbinary students.
Tate said members have also met with Student Association and housing officials to discuss University policies about changing one’s name and about housing that does not represent trans and nonbinary students. He said the housing department currently assigns students rooms based on sex instead of gender, creating “problematic” situations for students who identify as gender-neutral or transgender who are then forced to chose a gender or are stuck in “potentially harmful” roommate situations.
“I’d rather fix the system than keep trying to Band-Aid patch it,” Tate said. “So the end goal is to fix the system. But that’s a long-term goal that we can’t necessarily get done in our first year, because we have to build those avenues of trust and work toward them.”
Tate said the organization partnered with the Division for Student Affairs in the spring to run two Engagement in Leadership Seminars, sessions all student organizations are required to attend aimed at advancing student leadership. He said the sessions walked students through common misconceptions on transitioning and answered questions students may otherwise have been uncomfortable asking outside of the workshop.
“A part of our goal as an organization is to educate as well as advocate, so the ELS sessions were an important part of that,” Tate said.
Freshman Sophia Packer, TNBS’s treasurer, said the organization earned an Excellence in Diversity award in April from DSA for demonstrating a significant commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence throughout the year. Packer said the organization has worked to include students of varying perspectives in events held throughout the year, like Transgiving, to build an inclusive space on campus.
“It was really a way to recognize how a lot of us don’t necessarily have the best home lives and a place for essentially a found family to come together and eat this delicious, enormous meal and just spend time feeling safe and comfortable,” Packer said.