East coast college students discuss transgender rights and public awareness at this year's youth forum
Held at the New Brunswick High School, the fourth-annual daylong conference Trans Youth Forum 2018 discussed the transgender community and the experiences of its members, on Saturday.
The event ran from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and included a multitude of workshops, such as “Finding or Keeping Community When You Turn 18” and "Trans 101.” Many of these included educational and informational panels for parents of transgender children as well.
“People take comfort in knowing others share common experiences. It’s something to bond over. It’s a big scary world and having someone to lean on is incredibly important,” said Charlie Vitale, the president of RU Transmissions and a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior.
Many of the programs were geared toward middle and high-school students, but parents, educators and supporters in general were invited as well. The conference theme — which was decorated throughout the high school — was “United We Fight, Together We Rise: Empowerment Through Community.”
Educators and panels were spread throughout the school, and classrooms held different workshops and discussions. Attendees had enough time for three workshops altogether, with a keynote speaker after a brief lunch break.
The educators at the Trans Youth Forum were trained in LGBTQ-inclusive teaching and counseling. Among these educators included a mental-health professional with experience in the issues of transgender youth, and a panel of transgender and gender-expansive students and their parents, according to the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA).
Many transgender people are still met with a lot of resentment and disappointment from their friends, family and the public, Vitale said. It is becoming a little more acceptable to be gay, which is great for the LGBT+ community, but there is still little transgender exposure and visibility.
In one of its workshops, the event held a discussion about transgender visibility and the importance of cisgender allies — those whose gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned at birth — using their platform to aid the community.
It should not solely lie on the transgender or LGBT+ community to educate cisgender people, said Ruthanne Won, a first-year student at Princeton University. Cisgender allies owe it to the transgender community to educate those who are ignorant.
“Go home and do some independent research," she said. "It should not be up to your (transgender) friend to provide you with a full course in gender. It should not be up to (transgender people) to educate their friends and family. To all the parents and allies in the room, if you care about (transgender people), do not look to them for guidance all of the time. Do your own research as well.”
Events like these are incredibly important to the transgender community, Vitale said. In a world where it is scary to not only come out, but to also be hidden, it is comforting to know that people are willing to support the concerns and problems that transgender people have. Visibility helps immensely.
Jules Henson, a first-year student at the University of Delaware, said that the needs of transgender people are still not being met in many places — especially in schools. Buildings are being built with only binary bathrooms, which are bathrooms for only men and women.
Outside of schools, bathroom bills are still an issue. Henson used the 2016 Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act in North Carolina as an example, which restricted bathroom use so that people could only use government-run bathrooms that corresponded to the sex on their birth certificate.
New bills like the one above are still often passed in many states, they said.
“Individual and campus-wide movements for (the transgender community) are so important. The existence of grassroots organizations and events like Transmissions or the Trans Youth Forum are a definite step in the right direction,” Vitale said.
Vitale and the rest of Transmissions want current and future students to know that transgender people have a place in the Rutgers community. There are many LGBT+ organizations around the University that are willing to help and offer community to anyone in need, they said.
Transmissions meets weekly during the fall and spring semesters and offers a safe LGBT+ communal space that allows transgender people and allies to discuss and field resources.
“There’s something about being around people who are similar to you that’s very comforting," Vitale said. "It’s really important for everyone else to have that community and big sense of acceptance, even in a small portion of the world. You have that safe space to go to and really be yourself.”