By: Kayla Davis, Buccaneer Staff Writer
“Welcome! We’re happy you’re here!” PRIDE members waved signs saying this and other welcoming words around campus on November 22. This simple, friendly statement was more than just an act of courtesy, it was a sign that Barry is a safe place for people who are often not safe to be themselves in society.
“Every 72 hours, a transgender person is murdered,” stated Landon (LJ) Woolston at the event. Woolston, who himself identifies as transgender, is dedicated to helping LGBTQ youth through education and empowerment.
Names scrolled across a screen in the darkened Gato Gallery. Each name represented a transgender identifying person who had been reported murdered this year in the United States.
“I know people every single day who are harassed and greeted with violence,” said Diana O’Brien. “I know that number is higher. [That is] the tip of the iceberg.” O’Brien pointed out that the number of names fail to recognize trans-identifying people who have lost their lives due to suicide, AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, or due to lack of medical treatment because of their gender identity. O’Brien is a transgender woman who works as a community advocate and is a program coordinator for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
“Being forced to put on a pretty dress felt like having a ten gallon bucket of bugs let free to crawl all over my body,” informed Woolston. She also noted that being transgender was never a choice, nor is it for other trans-people. All of the trans-identifying speakers of the night noted the liberating experience of transitioning. They noted that even through the ignorance and prejudice of other people, it gave them a chance to finally be free to be their genuine self.
“Apparently what is so simple for me isn’t so simple for society,” commented Jack Jordan on gender transition. The 18 year old works as a youth gender identity educator in the community. Jordan considers himself to be lucky to be alive, although his life was never easy. “I survived the bullying, nagging, and thoughts of suicide. My mom still has three kids, except her daughter is a son now and she doesn’t love me any less.”
“For me, transitioning saved my life,” admitted speaker, author, and educator, Aryah Lester. Lester identifies as a transwoman. She herself disclosed that before her transition, she attempted suicide multiple times. “Finding the courage and the strength to actually be myself is what saved me from myself.”
The ceremony featured a candle-lighting vigil to memorialize those who had died due to trans-violence.
The event had over 50 attendees including community partners, professors and Barry University students.
“I feel regardless of what you identify as, man, woman, white, colored, gay, straight, we all get discriminated against at some point,” commented sophomore athletic training major and PRIDE member, Erica Alvarez. Alvarez herself was moved and impacted by the event.
The most important thing people can do to help the transgender community is show support.
“This is a children’s issue, this is a family issue, and most importantly, this is a human rights issue and it affects us all. It is absolutely imperative to honor one anothers expression of gender. Whether you identify as trans or not, we need all of you as allies,” Woolston urged. “We need your support to put an end to the bullying and to put an end to the systematic and institutional discrimination that trans-people face every day. And yes, we need your support to end hate crimes and the senseless loss of life.”
This story originally appeared in December 2013 edition of The Buccaneer.