Imagine not being able to use the bathroom that coincides with your gender identity. Most people will never have to face this problem, but over 1 million Americans who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming will encounter this issue every single day.
This is what Karolyn Newton, sophomore and peer educator at St. Edward’s, had in mind when she was deciding on a topic for her passion project, an event that peer educators get to plan and present that focus on different health topics. The Spectrum Event: Breaking the Sex and Gender Binaries, was put together by Karolyn with help from fellow peer educators Ibiye Anga, Magaly Arredondo-Lopez, and Hannah Lozano, “to equip students and staff passing by with the necessary vocabulary to discuss such a complex and nuanced subject”.
Karolyn talks more in depth about the issues that are currently affecting transgender and gender non-conforming people such as; unconstitutional bathroom bills, difficulty changing gender markers on birth certificates/IDs, finding appropriate medical care, and having to face discrimination and hate speech, “I've seen firsthand the toll a society based on a sex and gender binary takes on people who don't fit neatly into the male/female or man/woman boxes”.
With this event, Karolyn’s focus was to educate St. Edward’s students and staff on gender identity, transgender rights, and vocabulary pertaining to these topics because of how our society has made it more and more difficult to be anything other than what is considered the norm.
Talking about these types of issues is frustrating at times because of how little our society and government seem to be doing about things such as transgender rights and expression of gender identity. Karolyn brings up Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick’s bathroom bill, which proposes to keep transgender people out of public restrooms because he views them as a “threat”. She goes on to explain that, “there is no evidence of transgender people attacking cisgender people in restrooms; it's the other way around with 70% of transgender people having been harassed or attacked for using the restroom of the gender they identify as”. Having the type of rhetoric present in Lieutenant Governor Patrick’s proposed bill not only shows that our country needs more widespread education on these matters but also that we need more advocates for transgender and gender non-conforming rights in our local and federal government.
To combat this bill, Out Youth Austin started a campaign in solidarity with transgender/non-conforming people called #TakeMyHandTexas. As a way to spread this campaign’s message, Karolyn and the other peer educators handed out pins which act as a tool for people to show that they are an ally and that they will provide assistance to transgender/non-conforming people who would otherwise feel uncomfortable with entering gender-specific places, such as bathrooms.
By having this event on campus, Karolyn along with the other peer educators, gave students and faculty the tools to be able to spread information about transgender and gender non-conforming issues to change how society thinks about and handles these issues. The most crucial part of this issue is to keep informing and educating those who are ignorant about transgender/nonconforming rights and issues “because otherwise, people stay ignorant and afraid of what they don't understand”.