At the University's Transgender Awareness Week’s kickoff event Monday, keynote speaker Tiq Milan shared his story and encouraged resistance in the face of hate on campus and nationally.
The gathering, sponsored by the Spectrum Center, drew 60 students, faculty and community members filled the Kuenzel Room in the Michigan Union.
Milan, an LGBTQ advocate and writer, described his experiences as a Black transgender man, how his family reacted to his transition and how current events such as the rules aiming to control use of bathrooms by transgender people and the election of Donald Trump as president impact transgender people. Milan said his advocacy work is possible because he is comfortable with his identity and through this work he hopes to educate others about the variety within the trans experience.
“I’ll stand up here, talk about my surgeries and hormones and my mother and all these things so that other guys don’t have to, so other guys can just have the space to live their life,” he said.
Speaking specifically to recent instances of hate on campus, including ethnic intimidation and threatening behavior, as well as the present political climate in the United States, he encouraged students to resist.
“I don’t have the answers and it’s killing me,” Milan said. “I don’t know what to say. All I can tell you to do is to resist. Resistance looks a lot of different ways. Sometimes resistance looks like organizing your people and fighting … Sometimes resistance is taking a step back and saying I don’t have to fight, I don’t have to do this.”
Spectrum Center Director Will Sherry said Trans Awareness week has existed for at least the nine years he has worked at center noting it was well established at the time he joined. Though he has noticed changes throughout the existence of Trans Awareness Week, Sherry said overall he appreciates the consistency of support the week offers to students who often feel marginalized.
“It’s an opportunity for people who share non-binary and trans identities, to come together and be in a community that can often feel small and come together in spaces where you don’t feel so small," he said. "That’s something I really appreciate personally and professionally about the week.”
LSA senior Felix Boratyn, co-chair of the student organization TransForm, which conducts activist and support work for transgender students on campus and helped organize the week, said Milan’s perspective on resistance resonated with him. He added that the election has made this week even more meaningful.
“This week has definitely become more important to me,” Boratyn said. “A lot of people are mourning right now the results of the election and knowing what those results are going to mean for a lot of people. Part of trans week is celebration but part of trans week is mourning trans women who have died and violence towards trans people, a combination of everything.”
LSA senior Ini Ubong, co-chair of TransForm, said they appreciated Milan’s discussion of how he defines his masculinity, and think it is a message of hope for other transgender students.
“It’s uplifting to hear he did it, he got here, to a point where he can come and be a speaker at our school so there’s still kind of hope, I guess,” they said. “It brings a message of hope and a feeling that I’m not alone in the way that I feel.”
Ubong said Trans Awareness Week aims to both support transgender students and educate non-transgender students, especially in light of the high number of murders of transgender women in 2016. To date, 20 transgender indviduals have been murdered in the United States according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“My hope is that it brings the trans community together and also it provides education for other people,” Ubong said. “My hope for Trans Awareness Week is that we focus on the transgender people that are most marginalized, I think that’s transgender Black women.”