Since last year’s merge with TransAction Student Network, Queer Student Union has expanded both its membership and diversity. Still, some issues in the transgender community are beyond reach of a student organization.
Ash Yezuita describes his elementary school-aged self as a somewhat girly tomboy.
“I had this long, flowing, wavy blond hair,” Yezuita, a junior history and Asian studies major said. “I loved skirts and dresses and corsets, but I’ve always been told I’ve been a little androgynous.”
Yezuita, whose birth certificate reads he was born female, revealed to his family as 12-year-old “Ashley Renee” that he was bisexual.
“From an early age, I’ve always known a lot about the [LGBTQ] community, but the ‘T’ wasn’t on my radar yet,” he said. “I had no idea about that ‘T.’”
That “T” refers to transgender, one community encompassed under the umbrella of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer community.
“It wasn’t until I came to college that I really started questioning gender,” said Yezuita, who now identifies as gender queer, a term he said suggests there is no gender binary. “Learning about gender identity in women’s studies classes, I would think, ‘Wow, this is how I feel.’
“This semester, I started asking for people to call me ‘Ash.’ It needed to come at a transition period, as I was starting to get involved in the community and in QSU.”
Temple’s Queer Student Union, formerly Common Ground, serves as a social networking utility, information threshold and safe house for transgender and other LGBTQ members.
Last year, the newly elected QSU Executive Board made the decision to merge with TransAction Student Network, the previous organization on campus that catered specifically to transgender students.
“LGBT has tended to really just cater to the gay and lesbian community,” said senior women’s studies major Kate Moriarty, former TransAction co-chair and current QSU vice president. “The bisexual and transgender aspect have tended to be excluded both on Temple’s campus and in the community as a whole. In a small, but possibly quite large scale, we’re trying to change that.”
President Keith Davis said QSU started addressing transgender issues with the implementation of a Transgender Committee.
“We’re continually pushing toward gender neutral housing and bathrooms, dealing with issues pertaining to roster sheets that still state the identity of individuals as their registered legal
names,”said Davis, a senior political science and anthropology major.
“We’re also working on altering university-wide forms, such as the ones in Student Health Services, that only give the ‘M’ and ‘F’ option.”
Davis said when transgender students are forced to disclose a gender with the choice of only “male” or “female,” it can create embarrassing and awkward situations for those who don’t identify with either.
“The invitation that still happens to trans people in the classroom is that question: ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’” said Scott Gratson, director of undergraduate studies in the School of Communications and Theater. “It’s an intimate question that gets into medical issues. Do people realize that question is as invasive as asking any other personal medical history?”
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of Students Betsy Leebron Tutelman said it’s important for the university to be respectful of and welcoming to its students of all communities.
“We respect our students’ decisions to come forth with their [gender identities], and we’re open to them,” Tutelman said.
“There is, not to my knowledge, a university entity solely devoted to trans […] or to GLBT issues on campus,” said Gratson, who received a LGBTQ ally award from the Metropolitan State University of Denver, “which, in 2009, in slight, is an embarrassment. Especially at a university that prides itself in such diversity.”
While there may not be an institution dedicated specifically to LGBTQ issues, this Wednesday, Oct. 7, Tuttleman Counseling Center will begin offering half-hour therapy screenings as part of TRANSitions: Transgender Psychotherapy Group.
“Trans people deal with the things that everyone else goes through, with the addition of identity issues,” said Anna Feliciano, a doctoral intern and group leader for TRANSitions.
Yezuita, who is interested in breast removal and hormone therapy, said his personal experience with the initial screening phase of TRANSitions was not as focused on gender identity as he would have liked.
Yezuita battled with his body image for several years and lost 50 pounds in three months last year. He sought counseling for gender identity, but he said the Tuttleman counselor seemed to focus more on his eating disorder.
“The counselors were extremely nice and everything, but I wanted to just say, ‘Come on, what about this identity thing?’” Yezuita said.
Moriarty said while some members of QSU echoed Yezuita’s sentiments regarding Tuttleman Counseling, others said their experiences have been nothing but positive.
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, there are as many as 3 million transgender Americans. Of the 147 universities that include gender identity and expression in their nondiscriminatory policies, Temple isn’t one of them.
“We would love for Temple to adjust its nondiscriminatory policy, but to a degree, those are just semantics,” Moriarty said.
This fall, QSU will implement transgender sensitivity training, administered by the Bryson Institute of the Attic Center.
“We want to see further steps taken by the university, such as faculty and staff GLBT sensitivity and Safe Space training,” Moriarty said.
In the meantime, QSU’s meetings will continue to serve as a safe space and outlet for transgender students, including Yezuita.
“It’s a labeled society. We’re all obsessed with labels,” Yezuita said. “And there’s always that fear, that ‘Will-I-be-accepted-?’ fear. But Monday nights are my favorite now, because I think by surrounding myself with the people in QSU, we’ll have the ability to change that.”
Maria Zankey can be reached at email@example.com.