By Jefferson Hodge & Kaitlin Cottle–Recently, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer movement has gained astounding momentum across the nation and at home.
From the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” to the fall of Defense of Marriage Act, to the rapidly expanding membership of UTC’s queer student organization, Spectrum, the recent victories in gay rights are encouraging and worthy of celebration.
It is crucial, though, that we take a take a step back and consider exactly where we still stand as queer and ally students and citizens.
Our University’s LGBTQ population has been organized since 1992.
Since that year, our campus has been witness to several queer hopes and heartbreaks.
In 1998, we watched in horror when Matthew Shephard was tortured and murdered for being a gay man.
We watched in anxious hope when same-sex marriage was legalized in Massachusetts in 2004.
In 2010, we were directly active in changing UTC’s own discrimination policy to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The campus and our community have fought so hard for recognition and equality, achieving invaluable gains.
The LGBTQ support is obvious and the movement is undoubtedly pushing forward. But some of us have been left behind.
The campus, our community, and our country have been able to actualize several equalities for gays and lesbians, but have forgotten and silenced transgender persons.
UTC is an institution which actively discriminates against its queer students and faculty, but this is especially true for transgender and genderqueer students.
According to the Transgender Law Center, 89.5 percent of transgender students feel unsafe in their University environment, and they cannot be blamed for these feelings.
These students are absolutely right to feel unsafe when they attend a University which does not provide gender-inclusive housing options, easily accessible unisex rest rooms and locker-rooms, or trans-supportive programming.
A transgender student can often not even use a public restroom without their lives literally being put in danger by subjecting them to the possible violent harassment of peers who do not accept them, a glaring reminder that UTC has neglected to take their identities into any sort of consideration.
When one lives, as we do, in a nation where one in 12 transgender persons will be murdered and nearly half will attempt suicide, it is crucial to not take these criticisms lightly.
There is a problem with discrimination of transgender peoples nationally, but right here, at UTC, we can start to fix it.
In light of recent policies supported by the SGA at our sister school in Knoxville to create trans-inclusive housing spaces, it is important to turn our eyes toward our own campus.
Passage of similar legislation would safeguard our students and set UTC apart as a beacon of equality in the Southeast.
We, as students, can demand an equality that looks beyond sexual orientation or gender identity and to do that we must start with fixing these horribly discriminatory policies. The history can happen here.
Trans-inclusive policies save students and we can be the ones who refuse to allow them to suffer any further.