‘Stop talking and act’: Panelists discuss ways to protect, support trans people


Zoom screenshot

The Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion hosted its “To Be Oneself” event on Wednesday afternoon as part of Pitt’s annual Diversity Forum.

By Natalie Frank, News Editor

Dr. Darren Whitfield said while he’s grateful to be on one of Pitt’s Diversity Forum panels for the second year in a row, little has changed since he last spoke about trans rights, especially in the Pittsburgh community. Whitfield said while panels are a safe space for discussion, it’s now time to act.

“Time is up and we have to do things,” Whitfield, an assistant professor of social work and psychiatry, said. “We have to stop talking and we have to act and so with that I challenge the University to start thinking about action.”

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion hosted the event “To Be Oneself” on Wednesday afternoon, moderated by Julie Beaulieu, lecturer of gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. The event, which was part of Pitt’s annual Diversity Forum, focused on ways the University can take action to support transgender students, faculty and staff and how everyone can support Pittsburgh’s trans community, specifically trans people of color.

Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor of English and gender, sexuality and women’s studies, said part of taking action to protect Pittsburgh’s trans community is not just by raising awareness about the issues they face, but by allowing them access to the same resources that the cisgendered community has to care for itself.

“You don’t need a deep awareness of someone to suspect that they deserve material access to a good life,” Gill-Peterson said. “You can just trust that they know how to take care of themselves and if you give them resources and don’t gate-keep that and police them and regulate them for it, they can do it themselves.”

Dena Stanley — CEO and founder of TransYOUniting, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit that provides resources to the trans community — said those outside of the trans community, especially white, cisgendered people, need to start “showing up” to provide concrete support, instead of letting support stop at just listening.

“Pittsburgh is a really white-washed city,” Stanley said. “We come into these spaces and places and they listen and they’re so heartfelt and sympathetic, but nothing happens at all whatsoever. No one shows up for us. We show up for everyone else but no one shows up for us really.”

The panelists said Pitt has the power to make real change in the trans community in many ways, including by funding trans-inclusive programming, hiring trans professionals as faculty members, including more intersectional curricula in all schools, creating more avenues for students to learn about people in different communities, advocating for better health care for trans students in the Student Health Service and ensuring Pitt is a safe space for trans students and community members to live and thrive.

Stanley said “big corporations and universities” have the funds to back programming that protects and supports the trans community and encouraged Pitt to act. 

“What I would like to see is the University stepping up, seriously stepping up and doing their part within the community because y’all are here, you’re making millions and trillions of dollars, put it back into the community,” Stanley said. “Let’s stop this systematic oppression that’s happening, let’s stop that.”

Gill-Peterson, who said she is probably one of the only members of the trans community to hold tenure at a U.S university, discussed how recent anti-trans legislation — such as Arkansas outlawing gender-affirming treatment for minors — has directly impacted Pitt students, despite being enacted outside of Pennsylvania. She said educators must be aware of how their trans and non-binary students may feel unsafe in and even unable to get to classrooms due to this “unprecedented avalanche of anti-trans legislation.”

“Even if these bills don’t pass, I think we have to consider what it means as educators that young people [are] coming to our class feeling like it’s open season on them in this country,” Gill-Peterson said. “And that there is a social cost, and that these bills are about putting barriers to quality of life and livability in the way of trans and young non-binary folks.” 

Ari Rubinson, registered nurse and advocate for LGBTQ+ competent health care, discussed the importance of ensuring safe and inclusive health care for trans people. He said education around providing health care to members of the LGBTQ+ community is lacking and he was never taught about health issues the community faces while at nursing school at Temple University. 

“What I realized when I got to nursing school is that we never talked about trans people, we never talked about gay people, lesbian people, queer people in general,” Rubinson said. “We never talked about the health issues that they face and I started to think to myself, ‘OK so how are we expected to go out into the world and treat people who identify in this community when we have no idea how to do so.’”

Rubinson offered different resources for trans people who may be having difficulty finding appropriate health care or are waiting to be able to begin their transition. Rubinson said Plume and Folx are good resources for trans people who feel unsafe in their current health care situation or whose health care providers may not be able to properly care for them.

Miracle Jones, director of policy and advocacy at 1Hood Media, said academic institutions need to be more “open” to criticism, as the world is constantly changing. Jones, a Pitt alumna, said it’s important to review curricula to ensure they include a “diverse array of experiences and ideologies” and encouraged students to question their professors if they see a lack of intersectionality in a course syllabus.

“We have to look at what the universities fund, what the universities research and what the universities teach because we also don’t want education to reinforce stereotyping and negative perceptions of people as well,” Jones said. “Because what’s the point of bringing trans students to a classroom and all they can just hear and learn and teach about themselves is these stereotypes and negative perceptions and portrayals.”

Max Reiver — a Pitt alumnus and former president of T is For, a group for trans, non-binary, non-cis and gender non-conforming Pittt community members to gather to support each other — said it’s important that support for the trans community is not a one-time event and instead continuously invest in the community and professionals who are able to help.

“You need to continuously invest in our communities,” Reiver said. “Otherwise we are going to continue to spiral as we have for years and years and years.”

Whitfield said while the trans community may face oppression, the community is still thriving and resilient. He said everyone should not only act to protect and support the trans community, but celebrate them for who they are.

“I just wanted to remind people that we all often talk about trans and gender diverse communities as being marginalized and oppressed,” Whitfield said. “But we need to celebrate the resilience and the fact that they are thriving in the face of such great oppression.”