Carrying a simple white homemade banner reading “Transgender Day of Remembrance 2005” and chanting “Amend the bylaws,” members of the transgender community and their supporters rallied outside the Fleming Administration Building while the University Board of Regents met yesterday afternoon to commemorate the victims of gender identity-related hate crimes killed in the past year.
The protesters briefly marched through the Diag before returning to Regents’ Plaza, and continued to chant as they entered Fleming to draw the regents’ attention before ending the rally with speeches.
As protesters remembered and spoke out for the 27 killed because of their perceived or actual gender identification in the last year, the overall theme was courage.
“I am talking about the courage it took them to live,” said Denise Brosan, organizer and co-founder of Transforum. “Does it seem to you that you are expressing your gender when you use a public restroom? For many people of the transgender community, it is an act of courage.”
With the rally, members of the transgender community and supporters continued to pressure the regents to include the phrase “gender identity and expression” in the nondiscrimination clause of the University’s bylaws. Since last year when a University LGBT task force recommended the bylaws be changed to improve the campus climate, the transgender community and supporters have been urging the regents to act.
“The only way to take a clear stand is for the University to come out and say it will not accept any type of discrimination,” said Brian Hull, a former Michigan Student Assembly secretary who was at the rally.
The regents have delayed making the changes, saying the University’s policy on nondiscrimination already protects transgender individuals in its current language under the word “sex.” The LGBT groups deny that claim.
Speaker Kris Claphan of the Wolverine Coalition for Human Rights, who identified herself as an ally for the transgender community, also emphasized the need for support outside of the transgender community at the rally.
“A year ago it seemed natural to say, ‘I’m not one of them. We have different issues,'” she said. “Becoming an ally and understanding my expression has become a process.”
While acknowledging Ann Arbor’s reputation as a diverse city, the rally organizers urged onlookers to remember that hate crimes can happen anywhere.
Brosan briefly touched on the importance of eliminating not only open hate speechA-A-A-, but offensive references in casual conversation as well.
“We must not tolerate invidious discrimination at any level,” she said.
Public Policy graduate student Sebastian Colon-Otero, who read a poem titled “Remembering” that he wrote hours before about his experience as a transgender person, professed his pride in the University but added, “I am not sure the University is proud of me being here.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance began in 1999 and is sponsored locally by the Transgender Advocacy Project of the Washtenaw Rainbow Action Project, Transforum and the University’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs. The groups will also hold a “Remembering Our Dead” memorial Sunday in the Rackham Assembly Hall at 5:30 p.m.