Transgender students should receive more support on campus

Mary Dolan

Since confirming her gender transition in an interview with Diane Sawyer on April 24, the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner has become the most public person to undergo a gender transition. Some have heralded Jenner’s public transition as bravery while others undermined the challenges facing her with internet scorn, expressions of hate and general vitriol.

Despite the critics, Jenner has the rare fortune to count a large family and millions of fans worldwide as an extensive support system. Not every transgender man or woman can say the same.

Some men and women who identify as transgender feel unwilling to tell others about their identities. The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey, which the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force conducted, revealed 71 percent of the survey’s 6,450 respondents reported hiding their gender identity to avoid discrimination. Although the number of transgender Americans is unknown, this figure demonstrates that many of those who identify as transgender are unable to live with their identity openly. This extends to the 21 million Americans who were estimated to be in college in 2014.

Transgender students should feel as if they are acknowledged and accepted on campus. The efforts of student activists and progressive administrations have forged a more accepting path for transgender students at UT and other universities. At UT specifically, the Gender and Sexuality Center has been helping students of all identities for more than 10 years. According to a 2013 KUT article, there has been an increase in recent years of students visiting the Gender and Sexuality Center on campus. One reason for this is that as LGBT issues have become more well-known and discussed in the last couple of decades, a number of students and non-students have felt more comfortable about revealing their identities and speaking about them with others.

While issues concerning sexual orientation have received public attention in recent decades, transgender issues do not get their proper due in the national spotlight. Transgender college students do not fit the mold of “traditional” sexuality, so they are quietly excluded from many college-centric stories. While some religious colleges have been granted permission to discriminate against transgender applicants by the U.S. Department of Education, there are many more noninstitutionalized modes of exclusion. One of those modes is a culture of silence. This prevents transgender students from hearing the voices of other men and women who identify with them.

As a result, there is a lack of awareness surrounding the issue of gender identity. The inclusion of homosexuality in a national discourse over gender issues has allowed others to gain awareness and appreciation of the struggles homosexual men and women face, but those who identify as transgender do not have the same voice. When they do not have a voice, they cannot trust their stories will be heard when they speak up. Luckily, Caitlyn Jenner may represent the transgender struggle on a national stage and change that.

The idea that college is the place where students decide who they will be for the rest of their lives is overstated to the point of triteness. But transgender students are shortchanged when they cannot show their true identities in such a formative period. Even if they don’t have the fan base of Caitlyn Jenner, they should feel confident in who they are.