According to transgenderdor.org, 30 people worldwide were murdered this year as a result of their gender identity or gender expression. And in actuality this number is a gross underestimate, because the website only lists the deaths that have been reported.
In recognition of those victims and to increase awareness about gender expression on campus, the University’s Spectrum Center is currently hosting Transgender Awareness Week.
William Sherry, assistant director of the Spectrum Center, said the week — which occurs annually — is essential in educating the University community because gender expression is commonly misunderstood.
“A lot of people can say I know someone that’s gay or lesbian but when we go out and do presentations we get a lot of questions about gender identity,” Sherry said.
The week began on Monday Nov. 15 and continues through this coming Monday and features a variety of activities including sessions on transgender and gender-neutral language and film screenings about people who faced obstacles as a result of their gender identity.
In addition to the activities, volunteers visited Ann Arbor restaurants with gender-neutral bathrooms and gave them window decals that indicate the presence of those bathrooms.
“This way, when people are walking around looking for somewhere to eat they can know where there’s a restroom they can feel safe using,” Sherry said.
In addition to the Spectrum Center, LGBTQ student groups like OUTbreak — an organization that works to bridge the gap between the LGBTQ and School of Public Health communities — put on various events for the week.
“I think for this year our goal was to make sure that students are putting on the events that they want to see,” Sherry said. “We try to have a diverse group of people — people who identify as transgender, people who identify as allies, people with other varying identities — to get a multitude of perspectives.”
Sherry said overall, the group of participants has been very diverse.
“We had undergraduate students, graduate students, community members,” he said. “There really is a strong transgender community in Ann Arbor and we’re sort of capitalizing on the strength of that community.”
Students who hadn’t participated in LGBTQ community-sponsored events in previous years also took part in the week’s events.
LSA junior Garrett Descoteaux-Friday said he decided to attend a screening of the film “Transgeneration” as part of Transgender Awareness Week after hearing about it from his Sexuality in Western Culture professor.
“I was just hoping to learn more in general about the topic,” he said.
Tonight there will be a ceremony commemorating people who lost their lives because of their gender identities. The ceremony recognizes the International Transgender Day of Remembrance — an event that’s been taking place for 15 years.
This year marks the ninth time the University has commemorated the day. The names of those who died will be read at the ceremony, along with a brief description of what happened to them. Last year, 100 people attended the event.
The goal of the week, as well as an overall aim of the Spectrum Center, is to educate all students, regardless of their involvement with the LGBTQ community, Sherry said.
“We are a space where you can come and sort of admit what you don’t know,” he said, “and talk to someone whose job it is to help you to understand things that you may not have ever been exposed to.”