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June 5, 2023

Staff voice: Supporting transgender communities is on all of us

Oprah Jrenal is the assistant director of The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center, or GSCC. In this role, she advises student groups and GSCC staff in their efforts to create supportive environments in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual and two-spirit students can thrive. 

Assistant Director, Oprah

At MSU, The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center provides central programs and resources to build and sustain more inclusive and equitable environments for LGBTQIA2S+ people and communities. In addition, MSU is advancing numerous initiatives in gender inclusive housing, restrooms and name, pronoun and gender options in data systems. Yet, it will take each unit, department, college and division to help counter the growing hate and hostility towards LGBTQIA2S+ people.

As of May 30, 2023, the Trans Legislation Tracker has documented 555 anti-transgender bills introduced across the nation. When compared to the 178 bills introduced last year in total, it is clear that anti-trans hate is surging. Michigan has had a total of seven bills introduced in 2023. Compared to other states, Michigan is poised to be a safer place for students as they leave dangerous states seeking higher education. We need to be prepared to create a welcoming and supportive environment.

In this state of uncertainty and attacks, queer and transgender staff, students, faculty and community visitors at MSU are still expected to show up. At the same time, work and classroom settings are all too often unsupportive — spaces where our identities are often questioned while we must navigate systems that don’t allow us the humanity of a gender marker that reflects who we are. The work of LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion belongs to all of us. 

MSU has LGBTQIA2S+ students who will never attend GSCC events or come to our office, but they will interact with advisors, dining hall staff, their professors and teaching assistants. We need to ask ourselves daily, what are we doing within ourselves and our areas of campus so our students and campus community can fully experience belonging?  

As a starting point, here are five quick facts:  

1. Transgender people have existed for all of time in every culture and country across the world. It is time to reframe the question, “Where did all this come from?” to instead ask, “Why were these people and experiences erased from my education and community?” 

2. Pronouns are not new or something just for trans people. We all have a relationship with pronouns; some people use a set of pronouns and some do not use pronouns at all. 

3. Cisgender is not a bad word.     

4. We have all misgendered someone. This doesn’t mean you cannot do better starting right now and it doesn’t mean you won’t make another mistake. Keep trying. Keep learning. Do a bit better each time.  

5. Unlearning can be the hardest part. It means questioning our biases and stereotypes and getting rid of the limitations we put on each other and ourselves.  

Poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”  

group photo of GSCC

I understand “Do the best you can” to mean that you must first take action. Ask everyone their pronouns, respect and use those pronouns. Be open to a reminder when you misgender someone and give reminders when others make the same mistakes. Do things as you learn, don’t wait to be perfect before changing. In fact, no one is asking for perfection. We simply want progress.

It isn’t enough to be indifferent to queer and transgender folks. It isn’t enough to be nice. We need to do something. Ask yourself, “If it isn’t a problem for me, does that mean it isn’t a problem?” I hope your answer is always “No,” and I hope you always do what you can to make the world better from right where you are

Pride Month in June is dedicated to the celebration and commemoration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer pride. Each June, our community and colleagues are asked to give presentations, sit on panels, pose for pictures and provide labor beyond what we do year-round. Multiple truths can exist; we love supporting our community, and Pride Month is not about educating cisgender and straight people. We do that all year.  

Oprah Jrenal and members of GSCC

My question this Pride Month is what are you going to do? Will you educate yourself utilizing GSCC resources? How will you celebrate our community? Better yet, let this Pride Month be the beginning of your year-long plan of LGBTQIA2S+ inclusion. What LGBTQIA2S+ speakers will you pay to bring to campus? What films and readings will you add to your course? What organizational change will you help advance? How will you try something new even if you don’t have all the “right words”?

It is vital to celebrate Pride Month because, at the end of the day, after all the hatred and indifference, we are still here. We are still finding joy and love in this world and that deserves to be celebrated. Will you join us? 

MSU is committed to uplifting and supporting our LGBTQIA2S+ Spartans. Our community is coming together to support The Gender and Sexuality Campus Center’s Unconditional Love Fund, which provides flexible assistance to students during times of need. 

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