Imagine seeing one of your peers being thrown and kicked down the hallway in school — for simply being exactly who he or she is.
This is the image that members of the Gay Straight Alliance at Dixie State University are painting for students in order to encourage them to learn more about gender identity.
The GSA held an event at the campus outdoor amphitheater in honor of Transgender Remembrance Day Nov. 19. The amphitheater was dimly lit by many small candles and a cozy bonfire. The purpose of the gathering was to honor those who have lost their lives for identifying themselves as transgender, transsexual or another gender identity.
“If you look around, one of you could be murdered for being exactly who you are,” said David Columbus, a sophomore art major from Los Angeles. “That’s painful.”
Columbus said the purpose of Transgender Remembrance Day is to make people aware that transgender individuals are people too.
“They aren’t freaks,” Columbus said. “They bleed like everyone else.”
Columbus, as well as other students who identify as transgender, shared their testimonies while enjoying pizza, s’mores and hot chocolate. Garner, a freshman criminal justice major from Riverdale, who requested only his last name be used, says that he’s much happier since he’s come out to his family and friends. He said he’s “getting there” and “staying positive.” Garner identifies as a male.
“I’ve known that something was different since I was 4 or 5 years old,” Garner said.
Garner said it was difficult for his family to accept him. He was bullied throughout high school, and during his sophomore year of high school, Garner attempted suicide. He moved to St. George to escape the harmful bullying.
“I was called things like ‘transvestite,’ ‘it’ and ‘she-male,’” Garner said. “There was one instance when I got kicked down the halls.”
As the speakers shared their sensitive testimonies, audience members offered words of encouragement like “You’re just talking to your friends,” and “We’re all friends here.”
Garner has known his girlfriend since middle school. She spoke about how great of a guy Garner is.
“There’s nothing different about him than any other guy,” she said. “It’s a long road, but he’s dealing with it, and I’m dealing with it, and that’s all that matters.”
A candlelit vigil and a moment of silence allowed those attending to reflect on the lives lost to bullying and self-mutilation. Performers lightened up the conversation with acoustic musical numbers between speakers.
Another member of the GSA, who chose to remain anonymous, helped form the “T” Club. The “T” Club is a section of the GSA that represents transgender individuals.
“My entire life I thought I was a tom-boy…,” he said. “I started to embrace who I really am.”
Both he and Garner stood up and explained how far they go to make sure they dress appropriately for their gender. One lifted up his shirt and showed the crowd his binder—a tight wrap worn on the upper half to minimize the appearance of breasts. Garner agreed that binders are extremely uncomfortable, but they give the wearer more confidence.
“It’s really hard sometimes,” he said. “I’ll look at myself in the mirror and get really frustrated.”
DSU sociology lecturer Christina Duncan said she is proud to be an ally and gave advice to those in search of their identities.
“I dedicate my work to all those fighting to understand themselves…,” Duncan said. “Never give up on yourself, never give up on your friends, [and] never give up the fight. I won’t give up on you.”