Transgender Awareness Week honoured by Laurier’s Rainbow Centre

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The second week of November marks this year’s annual Transgender Awareness Week, with Nov. 20 being Transgender Day of Remembrance for those who have been victimized and lost due to acts of transphobic violence.

On Nov. 20, Laurier’s Rainbow Centre will be boothing in the concourse in honor of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The event will be in collaboration with the Laurier Centre for Women and Trans People, who will also be attending.

“The biggest is our trans day of remembrance [event], that’ll be on the 20th in the afternoon from 1:30 to 4, I believe,” William Gleeson, assistant coordinator at the Rainbow Centre said.

“We’re very excited about that; we’re gunna have some resources, we’re going to talk to people about, you know, trans things and just make sure that people are aware and participating as much as they feel able to.”

Members of the Rainbow Centre will also be participating in the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence as well as hosting several events promoting general awareness during Transgender Awareness Week.

The Rainbow Centre is a safe space for all students, staff, faculty and visitors at Laurier who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community or allies to this community. The centre itself is located in room 104 on the ground floor of the Mac house residence on the Waterloo campus.

“Our primary directive at the Rainbow Centre is creating a safe space, we like to open our doors for everybody but we strive to remove barriers, leave a legacy of positivity, belonging and queer harmony in our space and within the WLU community,” Gleeson said.

“We’re here to create safe spaces for people to learn, for people to advocate, for people to be themselves authentically.”

The Rainbow Centre operates on a walk-in basis and welcomes anyone with an open mind.

They offer people a sense of community and a variety of services and resources ranging from free sexual health and menstrual products to a public access gender-neutral washroom.

By breaking down social barriers and promoting the acceptance of all types of people, the Rainbow Centre aims to foster connections between people of all kinds at Laurier.

Our primary directive at the Rainbow Centre is creating a safe space, we like to open our doors for everybody but we strive to remove barriers, leave a legacy of positivity, belonging and queer harmony in our space and within the WLU community.

– William Gleeson, assistant coordinator at the Rainbow Centre

“We try to do a lot of socials for volunteers, we try to do on campus events regularly,” said Skylar Shelley, assistant coordinator at the Rainbow Centre. “The more people know about it is the key.”

“We’re very very happy to answer any questions that anyone has,” Gleeson said. “Please involve yourself in the community and don’t just insulate yourself away from something because you don’t understand it.”

Despite the progressive atmosphere at Laurier regarding the issues which LGBTQ+ community members face, there are still areas where it falls flat.

Transgender and non-binary identifying people at Laurier still face many challenges which are too often overlooked, the most common being misgendering and deadnaming.

Misgendering refers to the practice of referring to someone by their non-preferred gender identity, either purposefully or accidentally, and deadnaming refers to the practice of calling someone by their pre-transition name rather than their preferred name.

“This is just speaking from personal experience as a non-binary person, but I think it applies to a lot under the umbrella, you could say the usual, that is misgendering, by professors, by peers, people who just simply aren’t really tuned into that fact that, you know, you just ask,” Shelley said.

Rather than providing the infrastructure for students to use their preferred name as their primary name on their class lists and emails, students are only given the option to include a preferred name alongside their dead names.

“When you haven’t gone through a legal transition yet, your records will reflect that, so you can have a preferred name but you can only change your first name and both your dead name and your preferred name will be shown on class lists, our emails don’t even show our preferred names,” said Gleeson

“Names and pronoun flexibility, just giving more options to reveal preferred names and not revealing the dead names,” said Shelley.

“If we have a preferred name, make that the primary name on the email rather than just making it a preferred name that shows up on a separate list because that defeats the point of it,”

When it comes to addressing these challenges, information, inclusion, representation and empathy are the best ways to help.

“I think visibility and representation is important in terms of changing hearts and minds. We want to make sure people understand that we’re people too and we have needs, we have rights, and a lot of those needs and rights aren’t being addressed,” Gleeson said.

“Speaking personally, I think it’s incredibly important that trans folks are visible and represented in spaces like university spaces, in academia, in professional spaces, in legislature and medical communities.”

“It’s incredibly important to give people, anyone in any marginalized group, the space to speak for themselves and to advocate for their needs personally.”

On an individual level, asking questions, using gender inclusive language and doing your research is great place to start.

“This is going to sound really generic, but I think just adopting the mindset of not making assumptions and being comfortable to ask questions,” Shelley said.

“I can’t speak for every single trans person out there but in general I think it’s safe to say we’d prefer that you ask and it be a slightly awkward conversation than you not ask and it be a really awkward conversation, or a hurtful conversation.”

“It makes my day when someone comes into the community and asks for help being aware and understanding, I’d say being curious and you know just continuing to ask questions, don’t make assumptions, do your own research if you can, there’s so many resources out there for learning about the trans experience and how to be a good ally,” said Gleeson.

Creating opportunities in conversations to reveal preferred pronouns or including your pronouns in your email signature are simple yet effective ways to create an inclusive environment and normalize this type of behaviour in everyday conversation, rather than something that is exclusive to the trans or non-binary experience.

“It think normalizing the use of pronouns in email signatures in emails is a big one,” Shelley said. “I think that should just be a default.”

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