LGBT campaign focuses on transgender students

The Respect My Identity campaign officially kicked off in September with a program, “A Radically Candid View on Transgender Equality,” which featured Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality.

After advocating for transgender issues on campus for the past several years, Murray State’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Programming Office has chosen the focus of its annual campaign to be transgender issues.

With more programming scheduled throughout the year, Jody Cofer Randall, LGBT program coordinator, said the goal of the campaign is to better educate students, staff and faculty on the issues their transgender classmates and colleagues may be facing.

Cofer Randall said in surveys his office conducted in past years faculty and staff specifically identified wanting more information on gender identity and expression.

He said those surveyed wanted to learn how to better work with and be better equipped in dealing with situations transgender students may have.

Broader national issues for the transgender community have also been highlighted already during the course of the campaign.

Excerpts from a 2011 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce were distributed during the campaign’s first event.

The study provided data on employment and public accommodation discrimination as well as homelessness and suicide.

According to the report, of the 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming study participants, 41 percent reported attempting to commit suicide, 90 percent were discriminated against or harassed on the job and 53 percent have been disrespected or verbally harassed in a place of public accommodation, like a store or a restaurant.

Jo Bennett, founder of Eracer, a support group, said by now he is numb to statistics like these, but said people should pay attention to such high statistics.

“These statistics are a reality check,” he said. “A lot of people have been shocked that this discrimination takes place, especially in the U.S., but we too are falling short in terms of basic human rights which have been accepted by the national community.”

Eracer was founded in 2012 by Bennett and fellow Alliance officer Morgan Randall, who is now president.

While the organization has functioned for the past two years as an anonymous and secretive support group for transgender and gender non-conforming students, Bennett said they are going to begin focusing more on transgender activism in the Murray State community.

“Compared to some schools, we’re ahead (in terms of transgender acceptance and education), and compared to others, we’re catching up,” he said. “To me though, I feel we’re all still playing catch up.”

Eracer is disbanded for this semester and next while it is being restructured, but Bennett said he hopes the club will be active and fully functioning again by next year.

The LGBT Programming Office has led smaller successful campaigns prior to the Respect My Identity campaign, also aimed at making the University more transgender-friendly.

These movements have included allowing students to choose and be recognized by Murray State by their preferred first name in course rosters and on Canvas and the recent conversion and designation of several restrooms to gender-neutral.

Like these prior movements, the Respect My Identity campaign also contains an element of activism and policy change: the updating of the Murray State non-discrimination statement to include gender expression, identity or presentation.

While the statement does include sexual orientation, transgender identifying has yet to be added.

The campaign’s next event, a screening of the film “Microagressions: The New Face of Discrimination” is in partnership with the Women’s Center.

The screening will take place in November.

Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer