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Transgender discussion panel succeeds despite vandalism

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Transgender Discussion Panel at MercerIncluding panelists, 20 people attended a transgender issues panel held at Mercer in SC 104 on April 16, 2015 despite the fact that fliers announcing it were torn down and found in trash cans.

According to the event’s coordinator Dr. Leonard Winogora, Mercer’s Advisor and On-Site Coordinator for William Paterson University, he received permission from SGA to post the fliers and put up as many as 50 on Monday, April 13 only to arrive the following morning and discover that most had been torn down.

“When I came back next morning, around  9am, they were gone. Later I found some of them in the trash can outside the LA building,” Winogora told The VOICE.

He says he responded by notifying college administrators and SGA and quickly working to print more of the green fliers and post them.

However, he says, “The day of the event some of the new flyers we had distributed for the second time had been covered by other flyers.”

When asked if he knew the reason behind the vandalism, Winogora said “Someone doesn’t have sense of community.”

In an interview with The VOICE, sociology Prof. Daniel Schermond, who was one of the panelists at the event and is also an advisor of Mercer’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Trans and Friends (LGBTF) club, said they still don’t know who did it or why.

During the question and answer portion of the session, panelists were asked if they were surprised to learn that the advertisements for the event had been ripped down. None said they were surprised, though all expressed disappointment and went on to address issues of transphobia in society.

Panelists included Mercer Prof. of English Diane Rizzo, William Paterson Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies Arlene Holpp Scala, Mercer Prof. of Sociology Daniel Schermond, and Rutgers grad and trans advocate Jamie DiNicola.

During the presentation portion of the event, Prof. Holpp Scala explained what the term “trans” or “transgender” means and traced the history of the trans movement. Her fellow panelist Jamie DiNicola said “the gay and lesbian movement is about 50 years ahead of the trans movement.”

Prof. Shermond told those who attended that trans individuals are at much higher risk of experiencing violence, poverty and homelessness compared to the straight population and even lesbians and gays.

Mercer English Prof. Diane Rizzo, who is also a lawyer, talked about the legal problems trans individuals face, trying to get their gender and name changed after transition, and getting medical insurance.

Prof. Rizzo explained how trans issues are, in many ways, also feminist concerns.

Jamie DiNicola, the trans member of the panel, talked about the initiatives that he and his fellow trans students had pushed for during his years at Rutgers. He explained that the depressing statistics about life for trans individuals had been hard for him to face during his own transition, but he learned that “You can fight for your rights while still being happy.”

The vandalism of the panel fliers is another in a series of acts of aggression towards the LGBT community at Mercer.

In 2009 The VOICE reported on an incident where two gay male students from the college were beaten up off campus after attending the Late Night Series at Mercer. At that time The VOICE conducted a hate crimes survey on campus and found that, of the 58 students surveyed, “15% of said they have experienced an event at Mercer that, while not actual verbal or physical assault, made them feel uncomfortable because of their race, gender or sexual orientation.”

The following year the LGBTF club sponsored an awareness event in the Student Center called a “kiss-in” –similar to a sit in in the 1960s– and faced harassment from campus security staff.

That same year a Mercer security guard was fired following an investigation into an incident in which he told a student who identified as transgender that she had less reason to be on campus than a service dog who she had pointed out roaming the halls unattended.

In May 2013, Henry Hicks, Vice-President of Communications for Phi Theta Kappa honor society, who defines himself as bisexual, was verbally assaulted by another student in the student center, as was also reported in The VOICE.

More recently Prof. Schermond said that the LGBTF club has hosted events that went off without a hitch, but noted that there is still hostile behavior toward LGBT students on campus on a daily basis.

“Sometimes [members of the LGBT community] do get negative comments by people passing by the club [office] or in the hallway,” Schermond said.

A transgender Mercer student who graduated in 2014 and still lives and works in the area, asked not to have his name used for this article for privacy reasons, but told The VOICE that he frequently felt threatened and struggled during his time Mercer.

When asked if he had joined the LGBTF club for support he said, “No. I knew the club had had to deal with a lot of trouble in the past. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. I just wanted to disappear.”

During the question and answer portion of the panel, a student asked the panelists what allies can do to help reduce the problem of transphobia.

Jamie DiNicola said that more education was key, and that it was necessary for trans students to share their stories and for allies to take time to listen.

This sentiment was echoed by current LGBTF club president Eric Peterson who told The VOICE, he felt the best way to help reduce incidents of hostility was to hold more events. He said, “the best way to eliminate phobia is education.”

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