UNH Transgender Students: “We Won’t Be Erased”


Photo by Valeriia Kholmanskikh

By Jordyn Haime, Staff Writer

Temperatures in the mid-30s with heavy winds failed to keep around 100 people from showing up in support of the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) transgender community at the “Won’t Be Erased” rally held Thursday night, Oct. 25 outside of Dimond Library.

Trans UNH, a student organization closed to students who identify as transgender, organized the rally in response to what it and LGBTQ activists are calling “transphobic” legislation proposed by the Trump administration. According to the New York Times on Oct. 21, a Department of Health and Human Services memo obtained by the Times stated that government agencies should define sex as either male or female and unchangeable from the sex assigned at birth; the memo stated that the changes would fall under Title IX.

The Times reported that the new definitions would “essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans” who choose to identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. The hashtag #WontBeErased began circulating on social media soon after The Timesstory was published.

“A lot of people have been scared. People have been angry. People have been worried that…we don’t know how soon these changes are going to be made,” Trans UNH president Jack Lapierre said. “It kind of just nullifies any alliance that we have with the medical community. Which I worry that if those ideas are rejected, that it could have a lot of influences on our ability to access treatment; whether that be hormones, whether that be surgery, whether that be just treatment in general because sometimes we have issues getting general medical treatment regardless of whether it has to do with our gender or not.”

Won't Be Erased rally
Photo by Valeriia Kholmanskikh

The UNH Commission on Community, Equity and Diversity released a statement on Oct. 23 expressing the university’s support for the transgender community under its discrimination and discriminatory harassment policy.

“We just wanted to form a sense of camaraderie, we wanted to bring everyone together and show these marginalized communities that there is support within this community,” Lapierre told The New Hampshire.

After a few scheduled introductory speakers, participants and audience members were invited up to the microphone to share stories, thoughts, poems or songs. Throughout the event, there no reported counter-protesters or disturbances.

Among the night’s speakers was Palana Belken, the transgender advocacy and education program coordinator at the ACLU of New Hampshire, who spoke of the Trump administration’s proposed legislation and about New Hampshire’s recent passage of a law protecting transgender people from discrimination in employment, housing and public spaces.

“These measures come at a time when public courts increasingly agree that transgender people should be protected from discrimination,” Belken said. “Transgender people are real people with lived experiences that are deserving of having their lived identities recognized.”

UNH junior linguistics major Tom Carlson, who identifies as gender non-binary, shared a song in Romanes, the language of the Sinti Roma people, titled “Me Schunowa.”

“The song Me Schunowa means ‘I listen,’” Carlson said, explaining that the song is about the tragedy of the many Romani people who were lost during the Holocaust. “So it’s a song about remembering, and standing for, listening for those who are being erased or trying to be erased.”

Won't Be Erased Rally
Junior linguistics major Tom Carlson sings Romanes song “Me Schunowa,” meaning “I listen.” Photo by Valeriia Kholmanskikh

Luke O’Connell, a sophomore history and recreation management and policy major, shared a story about how their brother came out as transgender before O’Connell themselves later came out as gender non-binary. The siblings were privileged to grow up in California, O’Connell said, but with the Trump administration’s proposed change, something has shifted.

“My existence is political. I cannot exist without making a statement. So…now you see me, soon you won’t. Please vote,” O’Connell said.

Jordyn Haime can be contacted at [email protected] or on Twitter at @JordynHaime