With Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls)” playing from the room’s speakers and accompanying my steps, I marched confidently into Richardson Auditorium two weeks ago. I was there to hear Laverne Cox, a woman who is the epitome of confidence, personally tell her powerful message: “trans is beautiful.”
As I took my seat near the stage, I was surprised by the audience’s energy, unlike any other I had yet experienced at the University. Receiving thunderous applause, Laverne came on and commanded the stage from behind the podium, speaking like a slam poetry artist with speed, fluidity and soul. She talked about the intersections of people’s identities, like being both black and trans, and about her struggles growing up in Mobile, Ala. and later in New York City.
Throughout, the audience actively responded to Laverne’s examples of homophobia and transphobia. I felt many were grateful to hear someone giving firsthand experiences and acknowledging such unfortunate truths so publicly. The audience snapped passionately, nodded their heads vigorously and often went, “uh-huh.” I think you know exactly the kind of energy I’m talking about.
I wish every day at the University could feel like that Tuesday night. I wish every day could be more of a celebration of the strength and courage of the LGBTQ+ community. I wish our university could do more to acknowledge the issues affecting the LGBTQ+ community on campus more often.
One issue that came up during the talk was the difference between equality and true acceptance. At the end, a student asked “If this is the tipping point for the trans community, what are we tipping towards?” We are tipping towards a point where more people will no longer have to remind themselves that members of the LGBTQ+ community are equal under the law but will instead know in their hearts and minds that LGBTQ+ people are fundamentally equal in all respects because of the fact that they are human beings. The moment we stop making assumptions about our peers based on their identities will be a step in the direction toward true acceptance instead of just acknowledging equality.
We must also remember that “hurt people hurt people.” People who are afraid are sometimes the most likely to lash out at others. That is, there is a cycle of aggression and fear. We need to come to terms with this and work to heal the underlying causes of things like homophobia and remind each other that there is nothing to be afraid of.
My final takeaway wasthe fact that LGBTQ+ people currently are not counted as part of the U.S. Census. This raises the concern that we have no way of knowing the actual number of “out” LGBTQ+ people. This is significant because in order to understand the many diverse roles LGBTQ+ people play in the United States, we need to quantify them. We need to get real data on this group of people the same way we get data for other groups. Having access to such knowledge is one of the luxuries of our nation and we are currently excluding people from knowing how many other people like them live in their area and have lives that are similar to theirs. Oftentimes understanding is about seeing, but the true data for the LGBTQ+ community is nearly impossible to see given current data collection.
Laverne Cox confidently said, “We don’t want approval, we just want to be counted.” More steps need to be taken so that members of the community can be recognized more often. For example, I would be in favor of colleges and universities collecting data for their campuses and reporting the percentage of students who identify as LGBTQ+ so that high school students could have a more accurate picture of the school at the time of admission. And I would like to see broader discussion about what it’s like to be “out” at the University so that we can do more to foster a more LGBTQ+ friendly campus.
Things like this would move the University a step closer to a reality where every day would feel a little bit more like that Tuesday night with Laverne Cox. We cannot celebrate without first recognizing truths. I want to see more examples of simple recognition and acceptance so that we can celebrate the University’s LGBTQ+ community more often.
Claire Thornton is a freshman from San Antonio, Texas. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.