Trans* women of color panel concludes awareness week events
Panelists offered a diverse set of perspectives on being transgender, touching on issues from police brutality to the history and future of the trans* rights movement in the keynote panel of Wash U Pride Alliance’s Trans* Awareness Week.
The panel was held at Graham Chapel and attracted a large number of attendees from the St. Louis community. Activists CeCe McDonald, Ka’Milla McMiller, Bamby Salcedo and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, who represented a variety of ages and causes, came to campus as part of Student Union’s Speaker Series. The panel was funded for a total of $22,027 in September.
Griffin-Gracy, who participated in the 1969 Stonewall riots, called on the audience to work to improve conditions for transgender people, saying they had not improved since the 1960s.
She began the panel speaking about her experiences as a transgender woman throughout her life including marching with Martin Luther King Jr. in the stand against racial discrimination.
McMiller said it could be difficult relate to others.
“Relationships are difficult to build,” McMiller said, “because trans people have barriers they put up and they are hard to break.”
McDonald capped off the panelists introductions by sharing her experiences in a men’s prison after an incident in which McDonald killed a member of a group of Neo-Nazis who physically attacked her on a public street.
The panel allocated a majority of the evening to talk about police brutality. Salcedo discussed the time last August that a stranger attacked her as she shopped at Target and the police assumed she had initiated the fight. The women explained that this is a common experience for transgender women, especially those of color.
Another major theme of the night was what it truly means to be an ally to the transgender community.
“If you’re going to be an ally then be an ally. It’s not enough to say the word. Actually do some f—ing work,” McDonald said.
The panelists all expressed similar sentiments, explaining how some people become allies for the wrong reasons.
The panel then took questions from the audience. One audience member asked Griffin-Gracy how the present day transgender experience differs from that of the 1960s. Griffin-Gracy said there had been a lack of improvement in conditions and spoke about the effects of such rampant discrimination.
In a recent study of transgender people, 41 percent reported that they had attempted to commit suicide. They are also almost four times as likely to earn less than $10,000 a year, because often, employers do not want to hire transgender people. Griffin-Gracy said she was unable to find work until she was 55.
The panelists proceeded to discuss the importance of practicing self-love alongside increased exposure and education about transgender issues.
“Please don’t let 2020 be as bad as it is in 2015,” Griffin-Gracy said. “We all have work we can do.”
The panel closed with a standing ovation and a group selfie for Salcedo to post on all of her social media platforms.
“I thought it was a really fantastic experience, and I learned a lot of these women and the inspiring work that they do,” freshman Maggie Weng said. “Wash. U. should definitely have more opportunities like this.”