Editorial | We stand with trans students


TPN File Photo

A protester holds a “Trans People Belong” sign during a June 2020 protest.

Despite uproar from the student population, known transphobic speakers Riley Gaines and Michael Knowles will speak at Pitt in the coming weeks. A student petition circulated to ban the speakers from coming, and a protest is planned. However, the University is allowing Gaines and Knowles to speak so as to not impede on their freedom of speech.

While it seems like the University is choosing not to prioritize its transgender students’ safety by allowing these hateful speakers to come, as a community, we must stand up for our transgender friends. 

On Thursday, Provost Ann E. Cudd provided a statement in which she condemned the rhetoric used by the speakers but noted that the speakers are allowed to come to campus in order to protect their free speech. Last week, there was a similar statement made by Pitt’s media team that called the events “toxic and hurtful” for many people.

As the rest of our country continues to try to silence and erase trans identities through hurtful legislation, we as students have to be willing to show up and offer support in this dire time. 

Riley Gaines infamously tied for fifth place with transgender swimmer Lia Thomas and since then has spoken out against transgender athletes. This is unacceptable and continues to push hateful ideas about transgender people and their place in sports. And Michael Knowles recently advocated for the “eradication of transgenderism.” 

This kind of hateful rhetoric is not just partisan, and it’s definitely not just a debate of different ideals. It is dangerous and leaves transgender students at Pitt to feel like the University does not care about their safety or even their lives. No one should have to wonder if they will become a victim of violence or threats just because of their gender identity.

Because the University has made clear that it will not ban the speakers from the school, we as students need to practice community care and ensure that transgender students feel safe and cared for as they are important members of the community, just like everyone else. Having a compassionate listening ear and ensuring that we are doing all we can to make sure transgender students feel as though they have a place at Pitt is what we can do at this point.

It’s heartening in this upsetting situation that nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition against the speaker and that many people in our campus community have come together to organize a protest against these hateful speakers. It shows that, while the University may prioritize free speech for legal reasons, students prioritize the lives of their transgender friends in the community. 

We already live in a nation that is so hostile toward transgender people. Legislation around the country has banned gender-affirming care for trans children, barred transgender athletes from participating and banned trans children from using the bathroom or locker rooms of their choosing. It is hard enough living in the United States as a transgender person — why should trans students also have to worry that their school community doesn’t care for them either? We stand with the transgender students with Pitt, and we care about them, their safety and their well-being.