The Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity hosted a virtual Trans Day of Visibility Community Panel on March 31 to highlight voices in UC Santa Barbara’s transgender community, and to provide a space for them to share their knowledge and experiences.
The event celebrated March 31’s Trans Day of Visibility, an annual holiday that celebrates transgender, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming individuals and their accomplishments, and raises awareness of the discrimination the community continues to face.
“Today raises awareness for discrimination that community faces, as well as the trans activism and activists that combat discrimination,” said Resource Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity (RCSGD) Interim Program Coordinator Marco Muñoz. “Today is an act of celebration and acknowledgement, which is particularly important now as we, the protestors, around the U.S. are taking a stand against discriminatory legislation that actively targets trans youth across the country and internationally.”
Muñoz began the webinar by introducing the panelists: RCSGD’s Graduate Student Assistant and second-year doctoral candidate in the sociology department Alex Eleazar, RCSGD’s Coordinator of the Office of Equity and Inclusion in Student Affairs Enn Burke, Basic Needs Coordinator for the Financial Aid office Natalie Armistead, Academic Achievement Counselor of the Office of Black Student Development Sai Isoke and Associate Professor in the department of feminist studies Matt Richardson.
The event then moved into questions for the panelists, beginning with, “What does being a visible trans, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming person at UCSB and in higher education mean to you?”
“Being visible in my role, to me, means that when I’m entering rooms with other staff members and other faculty, I am bringing my full self, nonbinary and all, to the room, and also just constantly reminding them that trans and nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people exist on this campus, not only as staff and faculty but as students,” Isoke said in response.
Burke echoed a similar sentiment, emphasizing the importance of being visible themself when tackling their work with social justice and equity.
“My note for myself is really just authenticity, and I think that is the way that I approach my work,” Burke said.
“If I can’t be my authentic self in my workplace, then I can’t do my work from an authentic place,” they continued. “In order to do any sort of social justice or equity work on campus, it’s important for me to be visible and to make my identities visible to folks, particularly my trans and nonbinary identities.”
Muñoz transitioned the webinar into the next question: “As our understanding of identity and society changes, how have you seen the community change in the past five years, and what do you think will or maybe should change in five or more years?”
“I think I’d love to see more solidarity and more growth in how we approach things,” Eleazar said in response. “Visibility is great, and I’m all for it, but what does it mean to have that visibility? How can we support people materially?”
“[There are] people who are barely surviving in our community, [and we must] make sure that we try to help where we can,” they continued. “I think we tend to be very centered in our politics of transness in the U.S., and what would it mean to really expand how we think about ourselves, and gender, and power, and all of these things?”
As the oldest person on the panel, Richardson then spoke on his experiences in the community from 30 years ago.
“I was there for the actual move between language like lesbian and gay, and the controversies over whether or not bisexuality should be even included, to the shift of queer,” he said. “And over this time, I’ve been seeing this constant opening up and people demanding to be seen and heard, and these shifts toward the expansion of people demanding inclusion.”
He then dove into LGBTQ+ history, speaking on politics — and backlash — around HIV and AIDS in the 1990s, as well as other anti-LGBTQ+ legislation throughout history in an effort to remind the audience of the importance of understanding the past to tackle present issues.
“I think it’s important for all of us to understand history and get a sense of connection,” Richardson said. “Whenever you have such wonderful activism and visibility and demands … it’s important to learn from how people dealt with the backlash in the past.”
The third question posed to the panelists asked what significant event or achievement they want to acknowledge amidst the trans justice movement and the community.
“The thing that really struck me was the advent of HIV medication,” Burke said in response. “I know that is not solely a trans specific issue — it’s an issue that a lot of people face but more significantly, the queer community, particularly queer communities of color.”
Speaking on the lack of medication for HIV and AIDS in the past, Burke said that the only narrative regarding queerness they had when growing up was seeing people pass away from HIV and AIDS.
“Because an entire generation of queer people were robbed of their queer elders, they didn’t see and they couldn’t imagine possibilities for themselves,” they said.
Richardson highlighted the March for Black Trans Lives in 2020, emphasizing how much of a turning point this movement was and still is for the Black transgender community.
“That was a crucial event and one that would have been unthinkable when I was younger and trying to figure out my life and self,” he said.
Muñoz then took the conversation to a personal level, asking the panelists what prompted them to tackle their social justice work.
Armistead said she “fell into” the line of work when conducting her graduate studies, speaking about working in the sexual violence support and education center at her university.
In her current role of generally serving underrepresented communities and keeping students at UCSB on path to graduate, Armistead expressed appreciation toward being able to be in this role.
“I’m really blessed to be able to do that work because I get to see people, who would otherwise have had to drop out, make it all the way through and become the next professor, the next person in their work environment,” she said. “The more people that get further, the better it’s going to be for the community as a whole.”
Muñoz closed the discussion with a final question: “What is some practical advice that you would give to someone that is either going through their own personal transitional journey or that is reflecting on how they would do this community support work, both in terms of trans social justice in and out of higher education?”
“Find the place where you can be yourself and find the people at that place that will support you at all times,” Burke said in response. “Recognize that organizations and places can be changed, but if you’re experiencing harm, that does not mean you need to stick around to make sure [the change] happens.”
Armistead added that support and “home” can be found outside of family as well.
“One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was that families don’t have to be blood,” Armistead said. “Your home is the place where you feel safe and where people care about you.”
Eleazor echoed and expanded on Armistead’s answer.
“Find the people that inspire you,” Eleazar said. “Find your community, find your people.”
Isoke closed the panel, stating that people should move according to their own timelines regardless of when they are transitioning.
“Your timeline is yours,” Isoke said. “Whatever occurs for you at that time is totally fine. You’re not too late, you’re not too early. It’s all good.”