Cuban activist Mariela Castro visited UTM to speak about transgender rights in Latin America on November 19, an event that sparked controversy amongst trans students on campus.

Organized by UTM Student Affairs and the UTM Equity and Diversity Office, the event took place the day before the Trans Day of Remembrance, a date designated to mourn the murders and suicides of transgender individuals.

According to the UTM Trans Emergency Caucus, an activist group comprised of transgender, non-binary, intersex, and gender diverse individuals and their allies, the administration had planned the talk without consulting or including any transgender students or individuals, resulting in backlash from the trans community on campus.

The Medium was unable to independently verify the caucus’ claims.

Attendees of the event were given a leaflet published by the caucus highlighting what the group identified as issues regarding the event, asserting that “[the trans and intersex] community was barred from even having a voice [in the organization of the event]”.

The leaflet referred to an open letter published by the group and written to UTM’s equity and diversity officer, Nythalah Baker, and dean of student affairs Mark Overton, that expressed the group’s concerns.

Rosa Hernandez  and Jasbina Sekhon, founders of the UTM Trans Emergency Caucus, spoke during the first 20 minutes of the event about trans struggles. They noted that they were only able to speak at the event by advocating to UTM for the opportunity to do so.

“We were pleased to include the Trans Emergency Caucus speakers once they let us know of their interest in addressing trans issues at the Mariela Castro event,” said Jane Stirling, UTM’s director of marketing and communications.

The students also listed a number of recommendations for UTM, including permanent drop-in space for trans students, trans-specific resources for sexual assault survivors and sex workers, and an increase in gender neutral washrooms on campus.

“The university looks forward to working together with the Trans Emergency Caucus about the submitted requests through in-person meetings,” said Stirling in an email when asked if the university will be implementing any of the recommendations made by the caucus.

Following the opening remarks, Castro spoke about the relationship between Cuba and gender diversity, describing ties between colonialism and transphobia, and saying that multiple indigenous societies accepted trans individuals prior to the impact of European colonizers.

Castro, the niece of former Cuban president Fidel Castro and daughter of current Cuban president Raúl Castro, discussed her involvement with Cuban trans individuals and how they brought to her attention the struggles of being a trans person in Cuba. Her conversations with the community sparked her desire to work as a trans rights activist in Cuba.

Disclosure: Zara Rizwan is a former executive of OUT@UTM who resigned from the position on November 24.

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