Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender groups on campus kicked off the celebration of the sixth-annual Trans Awareness Week on Wednesday.
The seven-day event — the largest in the Trans Awareness Week’s history — will feature talks, receptions and performances aiming to educate the Yale community about issues facing transgender students and celebrate “nonconformist gender identities,” Trans Awareness Week organizer Rachel Schiff ’10 said.
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“The title is slightly misleading because it’s not an illness people need to be aware of, but rather a celebration of trans people,” Schiff said. “We want to create a space for people to think about their own gender identity.”
This year’s Trans Awareness Week features 11 events over eight days, spanning discussions, art exhibits and the annual Drag Ball. For the past two years, the week only encompassed four to five events, primarily talks. Part of the growth comes from additional resources and staffing: University-allocated funds for the week-long event increased from $1,000 last year to $3,000 this year, organizer and former LGBT Co-Op Coordinator Anna Wipfler ’09 said.
Although the University’s known transgender community is small, organizers of Trans Awareness Week said it is likely there are many transgendered students on campus who are questioning their gender identities. A 2003 study commissioned by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that as many as 4 percent of students on college campuses nationwide identify as transgender.
“There are not really any open trans undergrads; they’re not out,” Wipfler said. “In the University as a whole, there are a few graduate students but I wouldn’t say there’s a trans-centric community.”
During fall semester last year, an ad-hoc committee of administrators was convened to study the issue of gender-neutral housing for transgender students in response to student demand on the issue. But Dean of Administrative Affairs John Meeske told the News when the committee was announced that the body could only make recommendations and was not created to make policy.
The first Trans Awareness Week, held in 2002, had fewer events and lacked the central organization provided today by the LGBT Co-Op, Wipfler said. Three years ago, the LGBT Co-Op became the main coordinating body of Trans Awareness Week. Since, other groups — such as the cultural houses and the Yale Women’s Center — have joined on to sponsor events, Wipfler said.
Wednesday’s Trans Awareness Week events included a Silliman College Master’s Tea with Matt Richardson, a transgender English professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and performer in the drag king troupe Nappy Grooves. Richardson discussed the use of blackface in performance, arguing that white performers used blackface to subvert black culture.
“Blackface counts as one of the first American cultural creations,” Richardson said. “It is ingrained in what Americans think is funny.”
Silliman College Associate Master Ronald Krauss organized the tea with Richardson. He said he thinks Trans Awareness Week is important because people of transgender identity are “on Yale’s campus” and “need to be affirmed like any other group,” as he put it. Krauss has arranged teas for Trans Awareness Week in the past, including a popular event last year with YouTube transgender celebrity Love B. Scott.
Carol Te contributed reporting.