After its inception 11 years ago, preceding that of the Equity Office, OUT@UTM became the first forum on campus where LGBTQ students could be guaranteed the opportunity to feel safe and share their stories without being judged.
One of the missions of OUT@UTM is to enlighten students about what it means to classify oneself as transgender and dispel misconceptions.
Roya Ghahremani, the executive director of OUT@UTM, defines a transgender person as “someone whose gender identity or expression doesn’t match the one they were assigned at birth”, but stresses that in the end it’s a personal identification, not a definition. “No one can label you, you’re the one who identifies,” she says.
Vincent Santiago, an OUT@UTM volunteer, says some common misconceptions include transgender people being confused with those who do drag and assumptions about the operations a transgender person has or hasn’t undergone. Transgender people “are also considered to be confused,” he says.
Another volunteer, Vincentia Kumala, adds that “when people talk about transgender, they talk about them as if they have a big sexual appetite”.
She believes one of the biggest misconceptions is that “they’re overtly leaning to one gender, like they’re more masculine or feminine. Sometimes, they’re not necessarily overtly masculine or feminine.”
In order to educate UTM students about transphobia, the club hosted Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20, inviting students to come by and learn about the community and the club.
Ghahremani says that this event is OUT@UTM’s biggest celebration of the transgender community. During the rest of the year, OUT@UTM also distributes flyers. “A lot of people don’t understand, and they don’t get educated on it,” she says.
OUT@UTM also offers resources for students going through the difficulties associated with being transgender, including directions for changing their name through the Office of the Registrar. “We also have links to different groups,” says Ghahremani. “We have a calendar that shows days when trans-community groups meet every Wednesday or so. So we can hook people up.”
The notorious “bathroom bill” has been considered and debated throughout Canada and the U.S. If passed, the bill will allow transgender students to use the bathroom of the opposite sex in schools. An article on lifesitenews.com states that “numerous family organizations have opposed the bill, saying that it would open a Pandora’s Box of sexual anarchy, including giving biological men a legal alibi to use women’s bathrooms, shower rooms, and changing rooms”.
Ghahremani says that UTM’s gender-neutral bathrooms, located near the OUT@UTM office in the Student Centre, are a more successful accommodation than a bathroom solely for transgender people would be.
“I think the problem with having [a bathroom] solely for transgender people is that if you see someone going in and coming out of the bathroom, you might just assume that they’re transgender,” she says. “A lot of people in the transgender community go as, what we call, ‘stealth’. They don’t want people to know that they’re transgender, they want to be known as female or male.”
Santiago says that transgender people are sometimes disenfranchised members of the LGBTQ community. “I feel like the transgender are part of the LGBTQ, and they’re sort of considered a sub-minority in the community,” he says. “I think it’s good to be inclusive of everyone.”
Ghahremani agrees with this assessment. “There’s gay, lesbian, straight—and then transgendered people can be [of] any sexual [orientation] but they still won’t be accepted into any group,” she says. “We’ve created a welcoming space for people, and it’s changed people’s lives.”