Campus launches first-ever TransWeek
Center hopes to bring light to issues transgenders face through lecture, audio-visual exhibit
The Center for Social Justice Education and LGBT Communities’ first-ever TransWeek has planned a forum for the voices of transgender students who feel silenced because of their gender identity.
Zaneta Rago, assistant director of Social Justice Education, said she brought TransWeek to the University after previously working for the event at New York University.
“TransWeek is an initiative that I’m bringing here as a way to raise awareness for issues transgender people face,” she said. “I sort of just brought it here because I thought it was a really great initiative that not a lot of colleges are doing.”
School of Arts and Sciences junior Jordan Polack said from his perspective as a transgender man, TransWeek helps him feel less alone knowing that his identity is being appreciated in some capacity.
“The fact that Rutgers devotes an entire week to celebrating my identity in a society where me and my trans friends are marginalized and harassed helps to curtail the isolation that I constantly feel,” he said in a statement.
Polack said he feels less afraid every day despite hearing transphobic comments from students.
“When I first heard that Rutgers had a TransWeek, and not just a trans day, it really made me feel like my school was a safe place for me,” he said. “I am far more comfortable asserting my identity here than anywhere else.”
Trans issues are built into all of SJE’s programs throughout the year, Rago said.
“But the reason why we started a concentrated TransWeek in addition to all of the other trans programming we do throughout the year is because I really want it to have very visible community outreach,” she said.
Throughout the week, “(Un)Heard: Transmasculine People of Color Speak,” an audio and visual exhibit co-created by trans activist Asher Kolieboi is scheduled to be open in the center’s office in Tillett Hall on Livingston campus.
“(Un)Heard” seeks to educate the public about transgender people of color, as well as challenge existing stereotypes.
In addition, Janet Mock will share her experiences as a transgender woman tonight at the Douglass Campus Center. Jenny Kurtz, director of Diverse Community Affairs for SJE, said she recruited Mock to speak at the University.
“She wrote a really powerful piece featured in Marie Claire. ... At the time that she wrote it was when she first came across my attention,” she said.
After significant media attention, Mock has risen as a major trans activist who educates the public about LGBTQ rights and focuses on supporting trans women of color, Kurtz said.
Other student-run organizations will hold TransWeek events of their own, Rago said.
Rebecca Pero, co-president of the Queer Student Alliance of Rutgers University, said in an email that her group plans to host a fundraising coffeehouse Friday to raise money and awareness for the Ali Forney Center.
“The center is located in New York City and during Hurricane Sandy, they lost one of their main centers,” said Pero, a School Of Arts And Sciences junior.
Pero said the Ali Forney Center provides much-needed assistance to LGBTQ youth.
“Rutgers University students have used their facilities and have benefited from their program,” Pero said. “They cater to homeless LGBTQ youth in New York City and surrounding areas, the center that was destroyed provided HIV testing, counseling services, food services and housing for hundreds of youth.”
LLEGO, the LGBTQQIA People of Color Alliance, also plans to host a dinner on Tuesday Nov. 20, Rago said.
“It’s essentially a Thanksgiving dinner. What they’re also doing is bringing awareness about the violence that transgender nonconforming folks face,” she said.
The event is held on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which celebrates the lives of those who have been killed in transphobia-related hate crimes, Rago said.
“We’ll be having a moment of silence and talking a bit about the statistics that happen every year that are really shocking and alarming,” Rago said.
Kurtz said she hopes this week’s events will help strengthen the growing transgender community on campus.
“I hope it raises awareness and visibility about transgender issues across the whole campus,” she said. “I also hope that it is a way for transgendered students to find their community on campus and in our office.”
Rago said she believes that as a community, the University should draw attention to those who are marginalized.
“There are a lot of trans folks, there are a lot of folks who don’t necessarily understand trans issues,” Rago said. “For me, it’s really important to raise awareness for all of our community.”