Over the past week, the Union of UEA Students has been working with UEA Pride to mark Transgender Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of the diversity of gender and of the issues faced by transgender and non-conforming people.
UEA Pride organised events which spanned the 17th – 19th November, including information and advice stalls in the Hive, a screening of the Channel Four documentary, All About Trans, and a candlelit vigil to commemorate transgender individuals lost to violence and stigma.
The vigil, held in the square, took place as part of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which was originally started by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in order to honour the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. “Transgender” is an umbrella term for individuals who self-identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth; “cisgender” people are those who still self-identify as the gender that they were assigned at birth.
Some trans people decide to undergo surgery to be more comfortable in their bodies, and some do not; others take hormones such as estrogen or testosterone to feel more like themselves, while others do not. There are binary trans people – who identify as male or female – as well as non binary trans people, – who identify as genderqueer, non binary, genderfluid, bigender, agender and many others. Some trans people use traditional pronouns like he/him/his and she/her/hers, while others may use neutral pronouns like they/them/theirs, xe/xem/xyrs or ze/zir/zirs.
Statistics from 2012 suggest at least 4% of UEA students are transgender.
Deputy editor, Peter Sheehan joined UEA Pride’s vigil on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
There was a handsome turnout in the Square last Thursday for UEA Pride’s vigil in honour of Transgender Day of Remembrance. I do not remember a more visible celebration of Transgender Awareness Week: this, along with the turnout, give welcome substance to Elley West’s assertion that we are approaching a “tipping point” in terms of the acceptance of transgender people.
West, the president of UEA Pride, led the vigil from the walkway. She told the crowd that, this year, there have been 226 reported murders of transgender people in Europe. The true, worldwide figure is unknown but undoubtedly larger. But the mood of the ceremony was not downcast. “We will celebrate with our words and remember with our silence”, said West.
She told Concrete: “I was very moved by the vigil. As a transwoman myself, the vigil carried a lot of emotional weight and I was touched by the respect everyone showed.
“A group of students came up to me and asked what was going on, and then asked what transgender was. They were surprised that anyone would feel moved to violence over someone’s choice of identity. And I said that’s exactly why it is so important to have this vigil: to remember just how wrongly these people have been treated in their attempts to make themselves feel right”.
If you weren’t able to attend the vigil, take a look at the video produced by UEA:TV.