So I was going to talk about something else today, but I found this fantastic article on my Facebook newsfeed last night:
Well, first I had to show you my awesome Pony-fied Facebook. Now let’s zoom in closer to that article:
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, you saw that right. We now have gender-neutral housing at SUNY New Paltz. It’s minimal, only a few rooms out of a whole campus, but this is only the start. After years of fighting for this fundamental, basic need for many students outside of the gender binary, for those whose gender does not match their biological sex, we have progress.
Many of you high school students might be wondering why this is so significant. I knew that’s what I would have thought in my junior year of high school. I only started discovering my sexuality in my sophomore year of HS; what would I know about anything outside of the girl/boy gender binary? I felt perfectly fine with my body, my sex, and the gender I was labeled since birth. I didn’t need to think about it.
Towards the end of my junior year in HS, I read this book (also pictured on the side) and learned about the transgender community, at least one perspective. I cannot tell you why I picked it up; it just felt like it would be important to me, somehow. Perhaps because it fit under my HS queer discoveries. Either way, I read it for a book report and detailed it to the class. Many students picked memoirs about famous people, or racial prejudice. I think I might have been the only one to report a memoir on LGBTQ struggle, nevertheless a transgender narrative.
The next year, I learned that two of my friends identified as transgender. In one way, it just didn’t matter to me. My friends were still the same. It’s not like they suddenly said “Welp, now my entire personality is different because I am not cisgender.” I still researched a good deal to be the best support I can, and I wrote a process-analysis essay, giving important tips about what to ask and what not to ask as your transgender friend discovers their identity. It really just boiled down to one thing: be a good person.
That’s how I handled such topics ever since. And when I came to New Paltz, a few of my friends got me to go to a Queer Action Coalition meeting towards the end of my first semester. I started attending meetings since, and soon joined their Executive Board as a Public Relations Liaison. The group offered a safe space for all LGBTQ individuals to express themselves on a variety of related topics, along with inviting allies to join in fights for LGBTQ rights. One of our interests was gender-neutral housing, but the fight proved to be an uphill battle for a single club on campus without much publicized support from the Student Senate and other large campus organizations. But this would not be the end for fair housing conditions for transgender individuals.
The next year, as I joined the Executive Board of the RHSA, I couldn’t handle QAC E-board responsibilities (and often couldn’t attend weekly meetings), but I watched from afar as the group did amazing things for LGBTQ rights. In particular, the president of QAC at the time (who is quoted in the above article numerous times) spoke on what to say and what not to say to a trans-identified individual at the beginning of Transaction, a large campus program on raising awareness about the transgender community, the violence and inequality frequently faced, and discuss solutions to the injustice to the community. (The link is for the second annual event, which takes place next week). On my end, RHSA talked with the administration and the Central office about making the newest residence hall, scheduled to be built and finished by 2015, to be gender-neutral. People on multiple ends started doing research on the best layout for gender-neutral accommodations. Then they announced “gender-mixed suites,” which were an unfortunate cop-out to the issue, since those of the same biological sex still were required to live together within the suite. Not a real gender-neutral option by any means.
Perhaps due to residence hall construction delays (at least what I heard through the grapevine), gender-neutral housing has come a lot sooner than expected. And I am entirely okay with this. While several advocates are hoping first priority will be given to transgender students, and that some spaces will be reserved for first years, those are steps only possible because of the latest progress. Only regret? Not staying an extra year to see these developments. But I got to graduate, and I can believe in progress, even when I don’t see it with my own eyes, no matter how long it takes.