Student representatives from UCSB participated in the fifth annual Transgender Leadership Summit and Advocacy Day at UC Davis this past weekend in an effort to promote recognition of transgender rights.
The conference, which featured prominent members of the transgender community, focused on strengthening transgender allies’ leadership skills. Participants also had the opportunity to meet with California legislators during the very first Transgender Advocacy Day yesterday in Sacramento.
Society for Accessible and Safe Spaces — a new UCSB student organization — organized the trip for two of their own members, Charlie O’Hara and Salvador Ramirez, to represent Santa Barbara county and UCSB at the summit. Keynote speakers included California State Senator Mark Leno, celebrity transgender activist Chaz Bono and long-time transgender rights activist Miss Major, who discussed the importance of leadership development.
Founder of S.A.S.S., Carina Ruiz-Aguilar, a third-year Spanish major, said there are select issues that need to be addressed in order to reach concrete goals.
“S.A.S.S. is a new organization on campus that strives to address the problems that heteronormativity and ableism create within our communities,” Aguilar said in an e-mail. “People who transgress the gender-binary and people labeled with disabilities are often cast out by physical, social and educational environments that are treated as neutral.”
Members of S.A.S.S. who attended the leadership summit addressed the issues of health care, employment rates and AB 1878 — a bill that would require the state to include questions regarding gender and orientation on state government forms. Additionally, SB 543 — a bill that would permit people between 12 and 13 years of age access to mental health care without parental permission — was a priority on the S.A.S.S. agenda.
O’Hara, a third-year biology major, said he found participation in the summit both rewarding and informative.
“For me it was important to learn about the diversity of the community and how different communities are more severely impacted,” O’Hara said. “For example, [members of the] transgender community [are] two times more likely to get a bachelor’s degree, but are also two times more likely to live below the poverty line.”
Ramirez, a fourth-year sociology and black studies major, also took part in the events and stressed the importance of increasing awareness of minority groups’ struggle for equality.
“Pushing for transgender rights is not an issue of separating the community,” Ramirez said. “It’s a matter of trying to integrate them into the greater community.”
According to Aguilar, S.A.S.S. hopes to foster a more accepting environment for transgender students at UCSB.
“We are working towards creating more gender-neutral facilities on our campus and are hoping to make changes to restroom signage this year in an effort to prevent violence and discrimination,” Aguilar said.
Ruiz-Aguilar also commended S.A.S.S. for catalyzing UCSB’s compliance with the California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000, which declared that all students and staff members have the right to a safe learning environment regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Ramirez said gaining acknowledgment is the first step towards transgender rights.
“I definitely feel that the small steps that are being taken will help out in the future and make it easier for people of the transgender community to feel comfortable,” Ramirez said. “If there is a gender neutral restroom either at school or in public buildings, it will start getting visibility out there.”