There was Angelina—sitting at a desk wearing a body-con shirt and skirt and a black blazer; accessorized with big hoop earrings and one leg crossed over the other.
Angelina is a transgender woman who shared her story.
Working in health care, Angelina knows the ins and outs of the system. She told people sitting around her that her benefits do not compare to that of a cisgender person, or a person who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. Because Angelina is a transgender woman, her health insurance doesn’t cover specific surgeries, procedures and medications.
These are some of the issues that were discussed at an event called TRANSaction on Saturday, Feb. 21 in the SUNY New Paltz Lecture Center.
Coordinated by Amanda Norton, the Resident Director (RD) of Capen Hall and Anthony Amitrano, the RD of Bliss Hall, the goal of the event was to illuminate issues faced by the transgender community on a daily basis and to introduce steps that people can take toward becoming successful allies and advocates for the transgender community.
TRANSaction, in its third year running, hosted many guest speakers who shared their personal experiences within the transgender community.
The speakers’ presentations ranged from health-care disparities and barriers that transgender people face, blurring the lines of the gender binary system and creating a “non-binary trans movement,” transgender interactions with law enforcement and prison arrangements, as well as how to be an ally for transgender people within the general public and in cases of local and state policy.
“Trans issues are very prevalent in our society,” Norton said. “These issues have been brought forth in recent years by mainstream media, but there isn’t a ton of education about [transgender people] or trans issues. [At SUNY New Paltz,] we have transgender professors, faculty, staff and students, and it impacts students’ interactions everyday.”
Norton also said that TRANSaction offers a unique opportunity for students and the general public to understand more about the transgender people they may know in their personal lives or may meet in the future.
Jackie McCool, a fourth-year elementary education major and resident assistant (RA) in Bliss Hall, attended TRANSaction and said that she hoped the event would bring a better understanding of what it means to be transgender as well as how people going through their transitions deal with transitioning.
“[Transgender people] face a lot of discrimination,” McCool said. “People don’t understand what it is they go through or what they’re thinking during the process which makes it hard to talk about. This event can help raise awareness.”
Preceding TRANSaction’s separate lectures was a presentation given by Davey Shlasko, the founder and lead facilitator of Think Again Training and Consultation, an organization that helps communities, schools and workplaces develop an awareness and understanding about issues of oppression and social justice and helps people gain skills to enact justice in the workplace and in their daily lives.
Shlasko explained that many trans students don’t receive the kind of support they may need during their college experiences. More often than not, trans students describe their support systems as “minimal,” especially in reference to friends and peers “trying” to refer to them by their preferred gender pronoun (PGP), but not always fulfilling this request.
“We’ve been confused out of understanding people’s gender preference because of the gender binary system,” they said. “We as people have a large range of hormones and body types. Binary is a drastic simplification of who we are.”
Shlasko referred to Laverne Cox, who is most notable for her role as Sophia Burset, a transgender woman on the Netflix series “Orange Is the New Black,” and her work as an LGBT advocate.
“[She’s] great, but there is still a lot of work to be done,” Shlasko said.
Brienna Perez, a third-year philosophy major, held her own lecture and handed out packets that gave tips on how both cisgender and transgender people can become allies to the transgender community.
In the packet, Perez said cisgender individuals can become allies by reading books, writing to and talking to people who are transgender, not assuming someone’s gender, practicing introducing one’s self with preferred gender pronouns (he/him/his/himself; she/her/hers/herself; they/them/theirs) and asking respectfully for another’s PGP after sharing their own.
For transgender people, she suggested that they can help by getting their stories out there through telling them or writing them, educating others about institutional oppressions, getting cisgender individuals more active for transgender individuals and by writing to their local legislators and representatives often.
“Call out the big fish and the little fish will change, too,” she said.
Perez also pointed out that during the Fall 2014 semester, the SUNY New Paltz Student Association’s 58th Student Senate made a resolution for improved preferred name policies, gender-neutral housing and preferred gender pronouns in assembly introductions.
Kimberly Cincotta, a third-year theater major and RA in Bliss Hall, said that it was her second time attending TRANSaction and that she wanted to gain a better insight into the lives of transgender people.
“It’s an eye-opening event,” Cincotta said. “It’s important to have an open mind and to understand people and what they’re going through.”
This story first appeared in The New Paltz Oracle on February 26, 2015.