There are three questions posed by the University of New Hampshire (UNH) students and faculty to encourage inclusivity: “What’s your name, preferred pronouns, and where are you from?”
Trans UNH, a closed organization created in 2014, is designed exclusively to provide a safe space for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming community.
Sophomore psychology major Jay Ivanof, a member of Trans UNH, expressed his initial surprise upon being asked by a resident assistant (RA) to clarify his pronouns his first year at UNH.
“It just makes me feel really comfortable in being like, ‘okay, someone’s not going to assume I’m a girl’… it feels like people actually care,” Ivanof said.
Adrienne Ledoux, junior occupational therapy major and program coordinator of Trans UNH, shared their own experiences with questions about pronouns; “it’s one thing to talk-the-talk, but you’ve got to walk-the-walk.”
Ledoux explained how faculty and staff may have good intentions but often fail to consistently use the correct pronouns or acknowledge the identity they were informed of. “It’s all about making a show of asking for them, but the actual follow through is just not there and that’s what really counts for making a space welcoming and comfortable.”
Ledoux said their executive position at Trans UNH is more of a formality than anything else, but that deciding meeting topics and making meeting presentations is the role they most enjoy taking on.
“Essentially, we present material and break it down into a discussion with some prompting questions, sharing our thought,” they said.
Ledoux provided an example of how the meetings are kept relevant – in preparation for the presentation by transgender fashion model Geena Rocero that took place earlier this semester in collaboration with Alliance, Ledoux claimed “we had a meeting about trans fashion and clothing in general, so we looked up some trans and non-binary models, did a brief rundown on each of these people, and we talked about ways that clothing enforcing the gender binary and what’s hard about getting dressed in the morning.”
“We also have check-ins, like ‘how are you doing?’,” senior environmental conservation and sustainability major Hayden McDermott said. “Because oftentimes trans people struggle a whole lot with mental health and life just really weighs down on you. So we do check ins, and then we do some sort of activity or presentation.”
McDermott is currently in their third year as a part of the executive board of Trans UNH and is now the organization’s president. Previously, they were vice president and program coordinator in their junior and sophomore years, respectively.
“We don’t disclose our meeting times or locations so we don’t out our members, for their own privacy and safety… we just don’t want people to find us unless we know that they’re not going to do us any harm,” McDermott explained. The organization is small, with only 25 members, and McDermott said that this is in part because Alliance is more likely to be recognized, and therefore suggested by others. For transgender students in particular, McDermott asserted Trans UNH has the ability to “offer a form of community and support that a general LGBTQ+ organization that focuses more on one-on-one education can’t.”
Gender Identities Awareness (GIA) Week began Nov. 15 and ends on Nov. 22. On Wednesday, Nov. 20, students observed the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance to memorialize people who have died from violent acts of transphobia.
According to a study performed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “transgender adolescents disproportionately report higher suicide attempts compared with cisgender adolescents,” the highest rate being among female to male adolescents at 50.8 percent. This is where the need for support and community comes. The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey as performed by the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that 46 percent of respondents were verbally harassed within that year for being transgender, an additional nine percent having been physically attacked.
Despite the safety and privacy concerns, Ledoux remains determined to keep the organization as available as possible.
“It’s not exactly wide, open-door because there is a vetting policy to tell people our meeting time and place, but I really want everyone who needs a space to be able to access it,” they said. “I’m all about spreading the word, and reaching out to people on campus in whatever way possible. I just want people who need it to be able to have it. I just want to create that warm community space that’s so needed… the LGBT community in general is really near and dear to my heart, and being able to facilitate a group for these people has been very rewarding.”