Those entering the Mills main gate on March 28 were welcomed back from Spring Break with a large sign posted to the entrance pillar that read “Trans people go to school here.”
Two more signs reading “Trans people are welcome here” and “Trans people belong here” were visible on the security gate building. Throughout the campus the signs proliferated buildings, pillars, benches and walls, each with handwritten notes describing something that transgender people are or do in various locations on campus.
The signs are part of Trans Week of Visibility (TWV), a week of activities at Mills aimed at creating space for transgender, gender variant and gender non-conforming people on campus. The events are in conjunction with Transgender Day of Visibility, an internationally recognized day, occurring annually on March 31, intended to celebrate transgender people and bring awareness to violence, discrimination and silencing that the transgender community experiences.
Campus club, Gender Splendor, hosted Trans Week of Visibility. After being on hiatus, the club was revived last year by transgender students and allies to support transgender and gender variant students.
“We decided to bring the group back last year after the college made its big announcement about allowing trans people to be here. We knew that we needed something to create a space where trans people could be seen and heard,” said co-organizer of events and member of Gender Splendor, Erin Armstrong.
Armstrong is referring to the school’s 2014 decision to allow anyone who self-identifies as a woman or gender fluid individual to apply for admission.
This will be the second year Trans Week of Visibility has taken place at Mills College.
“Last year’s event was such a success. We knew that we had to keep it going,” Armstrong said.
Senior sociology student Alisha Lemieux, who uses they/them pronouns, transferred to Mills from Boston, where they were very involved in the transgender community. Lemieux said they noticed a lack of available spaces for transgender students at Mills, and wanted to help materialize an accepting space. They met Armstrong, who transferred to Mills at the same time, and the two rekindled the club and helped organize the week of activities.
“We wanted to have Trans Week of Visibility to show that trans people are here at Mills and that they belong at Mills. It’s really important to be visible and safe at the same time,” Lemieux said.
Activities planned for the week included: a tabling event where students can fill in signs that say “Trans people (blank) here” to post around campus, a t-shirt making party, a photo shoot, a march, an open mic, a movie night and a closing ceremony on Sunday, April 3.
“I think it’s important for everyone who supports trans people to come to the events. It’s important for it not to be a niche thing and to be something the whole campus supports because the whole point is to be less isolated,” junior Natalie Gologorsky said at the photo shoot.
Members of Gender Splendor will be selling hand-pressed buttons to commemorate the week. Proceeds will go to the Miss Major Scholarship for the Empowerment of Transgender People, which was created in 2014 for transgender students of color and students who are committed to working with transgender communities of color.
“We recognize that there are outside, systemic barriers that prevent access to higher education, so we wanted to do everything possible to lower those barriers. We worked with administrators to create the Miss Major/Gender Splendor scholarship,” Armstrong said.
The scholarship is named after Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a transgender activist, veteran of the Stonewall Riot and executive director of TGI Justice Project who has been working with transgender women of color communities for over four decades.
For more information about the Miss Major Scholarship, read this Campanil article from Dec. 2015.