In the midst of the pre-Thanksgiving break frenzy, a moment of silent peace was found Thursday night in Battell Chapel, where Trans/Gender Awareness Week came to its conclusion with a private vigil commemorating the Trans/Gender Day of Remembrance.
Maria Trumpler, director of the Office of LGBTQ Resources, said that Trans/Gender Awareness Week, which ran from Nov. 10 to Nov. 20, hoped to start conversations across campus about gender identity and gender expression and to create a community with New Haven and Connecticut residents of people who can share their experiences with each other. She said she also wanted to show Yale community members the opportunities for involvement in “trans” — a term which the LGBTQ community regards as an umbrella for a variety of definitions and not a specific designation, hence normally placing an asterisk after it — advocacy and activism, and to celebrate gender diversity.
“My biggest hope is that by having discussions about gender identity with large groups of students, that any student who is exploring their gender identity will find many sympathetic people to talk with,” Trumpler said.
The Office of LGBTQ Resources hosted a series of events throughout the week, including a panel called “Well-Being while Transitioning,” a discussion with Karma Lilola ’12 and a photography exhibit titled “Now You See Me.” Trumpler said each of the events was magical in their own way.
While Trans/Gender Awareness Week was overall considered an overwhelming success by organizers and attendees, students interviewed said that there are still many challenges for students at Yale who identify as transgender.
Gabe Murchison ’14, who coordinated Trans/Gender Awareness Week for two years while he was an undergraduate, said Yale struggles more than many of its peers in ensuring that trans and gender nonconforming students feel acknowledged and welcome. He added that Trans/Gender Awareness Week is an invaluable way to help those students.
Trumpler said the University policy creates a cumbersome process for students who are transitioning between genders. She said particular problems for these students include working with the registrar’s office to adapt computer programs that will allow students to change the first name and gender identity for all internal Yale systems and accessing coverage for hormones and surgery offered by Yale Health.
The primary problem that students interviewed acknowledged is gender-segregated housing. Yale does not currently offer mixed gender housing to underclassmen, with students only able to opt-in their junior year. In 2013, a report by the Yale College Council said that changing this policy to include sophomores drew widespread support, with 90 percent of respondents in the class of 2016 and 85 percent of class of 2015 respondents in support of or indifferent to the expansion of gender-neutral housing to the sophomore class.
Jack Taperell ’18 said he would have strongly considered the option of mixed gender housing because all-male suites can sometimes have the tendency to fall into a stereotypical “macho” culture. He added that he hopes Yale’s administration will soon be responsive to the repeated wishes for the policy change.
YCC vice president Maia Eliscovich Sigal ’16 said YCC is reaching out to residential college deans about the issue, in hopes that it will be in place for this year’s housing draw.
However, important developments have been made, both Trumpler and Murchison said. Trumpler said the peer liaison system is extremely beneficial for students discovering their gender identity for the first time, just as Queer Peers Graduate and Professional Counseling is available to students in the graduate and professional schools. Trumpler also said she takes a very active role in ensuring the wellbeing of students who make use of her office.
On an academic level, Murchison said the increase of classes looking at gender identity shows an important shift for academic conversation. Greta LaFleur’s class “Gender and Transgender,” he said, is a really important example of academic development in gender studies because it helps to promote better conversation concerning gender identity.
“At Yale, I’ve been part of many conversations, both inside and outside the classroom, where folks assume that no one in the room is trans,” he said. “I’m thrilled for the students a few years behind me, for whom that may not be a theme of their time at Yale.”
Janet Mock — LGBTQ activist, author and contributing editor at Marie Claire — visited Yale on Tuesday for a capstone event of Trans/Gender Awareness Week.