This week is Trans Awareness Week, a week when trans people and their allies raise awareness of what it is to be trans and some of the challenges that trans people experience in the UK and around the world. The week culminates in Transgender Day of Remembrance on the 20th November, when we gather to remember those whose lives were taken from them through violence in the past year. Each year from 2016 that number has risen, I hope that this year sees a turning point, that now those numbers generated through hate, discrimination, fear and lack of understanding start to drop, that the legacy of 2020 is a move away from division to understanding and acceptance. The tide has started to turn but we are not there yet, this year we need our allies more than ever, we need that groundswell of change to continue, to grow in volume and strength. If you haven’t already done so then get involved with our Fly the Trans Flag campaign, donate and help support your charity. Get your own flag to fly proudly today, tomorrow and all year round.
Inclusion at Uni
Last year I took the Chrysalis roadshow to the University of Portsmouth for their Fresher’s Fair, a great day out flying the trans flag and raising awareness of the importance of inclusion and acceptance. It was here that I spoke with our newest recruit Cas for the first time as well as many others. We gave out pronoun stickers and spoke with staff and students alike. I’ll never forget the wonderful student who came bouncing over to the stand because she had “seen the flag of my people” and just had to see what we were about. For her, the guy in the photo with me and so many others it was the height of their experience to know that their university supported them in their authenticity.
Why does authenticity matter?
I’ve spoken a lot in this blog and elsewhere about the power of authenticity but I don’t think I’ve spoken much about what being authentic releases you from.
Being a University student is no easy path: a new world, new friends, new experiences, growing up and learning so much. Studying a subject that forms your hearts desire, your dream for the future. Maybe you’re unleashing your creativity, maybe you’re following a path laid out for you years ago but whatever you do you are on your own. Going away to university is like nothing else you will ever have done and nothing you will do again and in that period of change it is so very important that you can find a place of safety and security as well as those to share your adventure. For many people that transition to university is the time they chose to transition, what better way to make that change than in a new place where you can meet new people on your terms, as your authentic self? If you are trans then seeing pronouns on staff email signatures, having the accommodation office ask you what name you want on your official documents, seeing your new friends with pronoun stickers and seeing that flag flying proud means you don’t need to cover. You know you have allies there.
Think about the last time that you were alone and needed to find people to talk to, I know for me that I look for small clues, little reasons that I think one person might be more inclined to be welcoming to me than another. I know that seeing a trans flag flying lifts my spirits, and I love being able to break the ice for others.
Being a student on the South Coast
It’s not just the University of Portsmouth which supports trans people so openly. All the universities in our area have been so welcoming, so supportive, and all are flying the trans flag this Trans Awareness Week. I want to take a moment to shout out to Bournemouth University who were so supportive in our setting up of our services in Bournemouth. They loan us rooms for supervision, provided us support in developing the conference, have a lovely venue that we hope to use once the pandemic has passed for our next conference and support academic research into the experiences of trans students. We have delivered training to support staff and our Julie has spoken more than once at awareness raising events, delivering her own take on a humourous introduction into the world of being transgender.
Moving back along the coast a shout out to Solent University, the newest of the pack and with inclusion and widening participation at the heart of everything they do. One of the oft heard quotes from visitors to Solent is that it is “such a friendly and welcoming place”, Solent is open to all and has been a long time supporter of Chrysalis, hosting our second conference and with passionate staff who continue to help out and volunteer with us even through lockdown.
And now for the one closest to my home, the University of Southampton. I can wholeheartedly say that delivering training here is always a pleasure, whether I’m presenting to residences staff, support staff or the medical school I meet some wonderful people and again it’s empowering to feel the depth of understanding and the passion to get it right for every student and colleague. The Student’s Union have us on their mailing list and it’s only recently they and the University LGBT association (Pulse) got in touch to find out what we were doing for Trans Day of Remembrance, they wanted somewhere for their staff and students to gather and reflect on this somber Friday.
The more I write this list the more I think of, the support and engagement that we have is superlative. Next on my list is the University of Winchester, the place where I first heard Julie Miller speak, and indeed the city where we held our first conference. We are proud to work closely with the university to help them develop the security staff for support during Hampshire Pride and at other times, sometimes it’s just being able to check out your thinking with us, most of the time allies are getting it right, you are all experts in your fields and it’s great to hear all the work that everyone is putting in to making space safe.
So thank you to all the southern universities, together we are making the South Coast better, more inclusive and more accepting.
I hope to see you all at our Trans Day of Remembrance service on Friday, take care of yourselves.