Campus News

Transgender students share their experiences, fears on campus

Transgender and gender non-conforming students and community members discuss their experiences on campus at a panel held at Union South Wednesday night.

Image By: Alicia Shoberg

The Daily Cardinal hosted this event.

For most students, going to the bathroom is a mundane occurrence. For transgender and gender non-conforming students, however, the trip is much more perilous.

A panel of students and community members with these identities spoke at an event at Union South Wednesday to discuss the challenges of campus life.

Ti Banks, a community organizer and UW-Madison alumnus, relayed an incident in which he was taunted at a restaurant and followed into the bathroom. Ace Hillard, a first-year master’s student at UW-Madison, also recounted how he was escorted from a bathroom by campus security who told him he was in the wrong bathroom.

“It’s very traumatizing,” Hillard said. “When you prefer a gender-neutral bathroom, you have to go and search far and wide to find ... somewhere you can feel safe.”

The discussion began with a dialogue on the importance of using correct pronouns.

“One of the early signifiers of if someone respects me and who I am as a person is respecting my pronouns,” said Ayden Prehara, a second-year UW-Madison student.

Hillard also noted asking about pronoun preferences should be normalized.

“It’s OK, just ask, ‘What are your preferred gender pronouns?’... We should make that the normalized conversation, instead of just tip-toeing around,” Hillard said.

Panelists also discussed how the intersections of their transgender identity with race, mental health and physical disability affected their well-being and access to health care on campus.

Much of the conversation centered on not feeling safe on campus as transgender individuals. The panelists discussed incidents of bias they experienced inside and outside the classroom, and how fear has increased since the election last week.

“I think that the intention is there as a campus,” Hillard said. “While I think we have made some progress, institutionally so much more can be done.”

The panelists emphasized that progress is possible, but allies should use their privilege to get directly involved rather than placing the burden of change on transgender activists.

“To be a white cis[gender] ‘ally,’ you have to be willing to put yourself on the line,” said Quasia Earth Heru, a fourth-year UW-Madison student.

“You need to be out here, you need to show up, and not make excuses.”

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