Brett Genny Beemyn, the new director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, wants the school become the leading trans-friendly campus. Beemyn— who monitors colleges on trans-inclusive policies for the Transgender Law and Policy Institute (www.transgenderlaw.org )—knows what that takes—in fact, last month Beemyn was honored for similar work done at Ohio State University.
Beemyn, who prefers the gender-neutral pronoun ze will get started right away: “One of my immediate priorities is advocating for more support for transgender students. Changing the non-discrimination policy to include gender identity and expression, having newly constructed and renovated buildings include gender-neutral bathrooms, developing a trans-supportive housing policy, having hormones for transitioning students covered by student health insurance, and conducting training sessions on trans issues.”
Although Beemyn holds a Masters in higher education administration, a decade ago Beemyn was an assistant professor of African American studies at Western Illinois University.
“I went into African American Studies because I’d been involved in doing anti-racist and anti-Apartheid work, and wanted to take my activism into the classroom to educate other whites, in particular, about issues of race and racism.”
Born male, Beemyn identifies as genderqueer and relates, “As an undergraduate, I took a lesbian cultures course in which we were asked to write a coming out paper. I came out as a lesbian, because it made the most sense to me.”
Beemyn says that today’s college students are more aware of themselves and trans youth in particular are breaking boundaries.
“Trans youth are … providing a space for greater gender diversity by challenging the binary gender paradigm—and rejecting the expectation that trans people transition.”
It’s that broadening gender expression that has Beemyn telling college officials to think outside of the box.
“[Administrators] must recognize that many students identify as genderqueer or don’t identify either as male or female, so they need to think outside of the traditional transsexual paradigm of someone transitioning to fit neatly into a different gender box. This means, for example, having more than M and F on institutional forms and not just replacing men and women signage on bathrooms with women or men.”
Beemyn shares these sentiments by traveling to other schools and training administrators how to respond to transgender issues on campus. (Training material is available on the Stonewall website: www.umass.edu/stonewall). Beemyn has edited a number of GLBT anthologies, and continues to be involved in political activism. Ze is currently working on possibly the largest transgender study ever done.
“We had about 3,500 people take the survey, and did follow-up interviews with more than 400. I wanted to do this research because there’s little out there on how people come to identify as trans, and nothing that looks at a broad range of identities—FTM, MTF, men and women with trans pasts, crossdressers, genderqueers, etcetera.”
Beemyn believes that lesbian, gay and bisexual people still have things to learn about trans folk.
“LGB people need to recognize that sexual identity and gender identity are not the same thing and that transgender people have some different issues from non-trans LGB people. It still seems that many people in the LGB community expect all trans people to identify as LGB. If LGB people want to be more inclusive and use LGBT for group and event names, they need to go beyond just having a few token trans speakers and activities. Transgender issues, concerns, and perspectives need to be infused in all programming and discussions. For example, a panel on same-sex marriage should address how trans people in some states cannot marry even if they are heterosexual couples, because the states won’t change or recognize an amended birth certificate.”
Trans writer Jacob Anderson-Minshall can be reached at email@example.com.