Building safer, stronger communities that honor and celebrate the transgender community.
November 20 marks the twenty-third anniversary of the first Transgender Day of Remembrance. Started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999, Transgender Day of Remembrance began as a tribute to Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in her apartment in 1998. Since then, the day has been observed with candlelit vigils, conversation circles and social events honoring the lives of trans individuals who have been killed by anti-trans violence.
One of Tacoma’s leading LGBTQ+ youth resources is Oasis Youth Center. Providing programs for youth 11 to 24 years old, the Oasis center focuses on providing a community space, facilitated by LGBTQ+ leaders, where youth can exist authentically while building community with their peers.
Matthew Wilson, whose pronouns are he/him, is the Executive Director of Oasis Youth Center. He explains how building safer, stronger communities to support trans individuals does not have to be complicated. He shared how seemingly simple actions to support trans individuals can have a profound impact.
Wilson suggests displaying a trans or LGBTQ+ flag in the workspace or outside your home, volunteering and partnering with local organizations who are already doing the work and putting pronouns in email signatures. This is in line with a 2020 National Survey done by The Trevor Project which found, LGBTQ+ youth who reported all or most of the people in their lives respected their pronouns were 50% less likely to attempt suicide than LGBTQ+ youth whose pronouns were not respected.
This is best represented in one of Wilson’s favorite quotes from an Oasis participant; “Your sexuality and gender identity are the most boring parts about you at Oasis.”
Wilson says this sentiment speaks to the heart of what it means to support and protect LGBTQ+ youth. Creating spaces that are visibly and identifiable as safe allows youth to show up authentically, and embrace the opportunity to explore all aspects of who they are and what they enjoy.
Wilson offers some other ideas on how the community can become stronger for Trans youth.
“We are always accepting volunteers here at Oasis. Making yourself both visibly and vocally a supportive person for people to come out to, and taking the responsibility to research and learn about what it means to be transgender are great ways to start,” Wilson said. “There is already information out there. A good way to be an ally is to learn that information for yourself.”
Challenging systems and institutions by asking questions is also a way to build safer spaces for trans individuals.
Wilson suggests “Ask things like ‘How are LGBTQ+ people supported here?’, ‘How are you thinking about LGBTQ+ people?’ and ‘How are you serving them?’”
These are questions that institutions, such as UWT, can use as a scope to evaluate their services and programming in an effort to better serve members of the LGBTQ+ community.
In 2015, 1,667 Washington state residents took part in the United States Transgender Survey. Of respondents who were out, or perceived to be out, in college or vocational school, 25% reported being specifically targeted for their gender identity as well as verbally, physically, or sexually harassed. Participants also reported being denied equitable care or service while experiencing verbal harassment, or physical attacks in many public spaces, such as retail stores, hotels and government offices.
Similar to other gender-based crimes, most hate crimes targeting transgender individuals go unreported. Although adults are often represented in anti-trans crime reporting, they are not the only demographic targeted by anti-trans violence.
The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network reports 16.2% of transgender students in schools report being physically assaulted because of their gender expression. 32.5% of transgender youth report being physically harassed in school.
Rey Ward, YWCA Pierce County Youth Advocate whose pronouns are they/them, says “One of the ways the community can support and protect trans people is, honestly, just showing up…I know there are kids that either aren’t out or are still questioning, and for them to be able to see the support of ‘trans people are legitimate, and they have a right to exist. And not only exist, but a right to thrive’ is so important.“
Ward mentions attending demonstrations, events and community gatherings that celebrate trans youth, as well as protecting trans rights when they are being targeted or threatened.
Many everyday roles offer opportunities to show up for trans youth in ways that communicate safety and inclusivity.
“There are a lot of youth workers, teachers and community members who are safe people. It’s important for those folks who are safe to make it known. Even before I came out as trans, or before I even knew, I was able to create safe spaces, and the students 100 percent gravitated towards that,” Ward said.
The 2015 United States Transgender Survey showed that 57% of participants who were out, or perceived as transgender, in grades K-12 reported being verbally harassed. Additionally, 26% reported being physically attacked, while 14% reported being sexually assaulted while attending a K–12 school. 21% of participants say they experienced such severe abuse as a transgender youth, that they were forced to leave their school to seek out alternative learning environments or drop out of school all together.
Creating safe spaces and environments where trans youth are celebrated is something quite familiar to Steph Caronna, a UWT junior whose pronouns are they/them and is studying to become a middle school educator.
“Such a huge part of trans folks’ mental health is just having people around them that will call them by their name and use their pronouns,” Caronna said.
Sharing about their years co-facilitating Queer Rock Camp in Southern California, Caronna believes that, for many queer youth, experiencing camp was the first time they were in community with other youth who identified similarly to them.
What had an additional impact was having adults running the camp who identified as Trans, Queer or LGBTQ+. Caronna explained, that after experiencing Queer Rock Camp, many of the youth participants told volunteers Queer Rock Camp was the first time they felt fully accepted.
Caronna explains, “Seeing that made me realize what a huge need that is.”
In talking about ways to better support and protect trans youth, Caronna said “There is no substitute for real-life community. That’s just something that is really kind of missing for a lot of trans people. In-person community is something that is huge for me, and I know for a lot of other trans people. Especially when we don’t have multiple people in our lives who are saying ‘you are you, and you are beautiful.’ It’s one thing to be accepting, but you also have to be actively supporting and actively fighting against the hate.”
Erin Cousins, UWT Program Support Supervisor in the Office of Equity and Inclusion whose pronouns are they/them, expresses a similar sentiment when speaking about the celebration and remembrance of Trans individuals.
“Even outside of a Trans specified day or week, making sure Trans people feel like they are a part of the community throughout the year is important. Not just on November 20 , but every day,” Cousins said.
They extend the UWT Center for Equity and Inclusion as an open and inclusive environment where everyone is welcome.
Sharing a similar goal of inclusivity, Kyle Vongkhamchanh, the Student Program Coordinator at the Center for Equity and Inclusion whose pronouns are he/him, says “If we don’t teach people about what’s happening to trans people, then it will keep going on. Spreading awareness is what I believe will help prevent Trans prejudice and Trans discrimination.”
In observance of Trans Day of Remembrance, Vongkhamchanh is hosting a UWT Real Talk event in the UWT Center for Equity and Inclusion on November 16, from 12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. in the Snoqualmie building room, SNO 150. This event will focus on community building while honoring and celebrating the trans community. All UWT students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend.
The Ledger honors and acknowledges those we have lost to transphobic violence.
The Ledger is committed to creating a safer, stronger UWT community, where transgender individuals are celebrated and protected.
Further Reading: To explore resources and learn more, visit: The Rainbow Center Tacoma www.rainbowcntr.org Oasis Youth Center Tacoma www.oasisyouthcenter.org National Center for Transgender Equality www.transequality.org Trans Women of Color Collective www.twocc.us GLAAD.org StonewallYouth.org (for WA state trans youth specific resources) PFLAG* Tacoma www.pflagtacoma.org *Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (supporting all LGBTQ+) Diversity Alliance of the Puget Sound www.diversityallianceofthepugetsound.org If you are a Trans individual in crisis or needing support, please call: Victim Support Services 24-hr Crisis Hotline: +1-800-346-7555 Pierce County 24-hr Crisis Hotline: +1-800-576-7764 Oasis Youth Center 24-hr Crisis Hotline: +1-253-988-2108 2022 Tacoma dates and events celebrating Transgender Awareness week and Day of Remembrance: November 8: Tacoma City Council acknowledges Transgender Day of Remembrance with a Proclamation November 12: Tacoma City Building raises Trans flag November 13th – 19th: Transgender Awareness Week November 16th: UWT Real Talk - Transgender Day of Remembrance and Celebration November 19th: Panel and candle light vigil @ Alma Mater 3-6pm November 20th: Transgender Day of Remembrance