First Transgender Awareness Week promotes “the authentic me”


Photo: Evan Walsh

As October’s Queer Awareness Month came to a close, some on-campus organizations, with help from the college, decided to continue the theme by hosting Emerson’s first Transgender Awareness Week, running from Nov. 4 to Nov. 8.

The Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and GLBTQ Resources, with the help of many co-sponsors, has planned an array of events to educate students, raise awareness, and celebrate the successes of those in the transgender community.

Tikesha Morgan, the director of multicultural student affairs and GLBTQ resources, said that in discussion about the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer/questioning community and queer culture, the “T” usually goes unnoticed.

“We’re working with students who are supportive but may not have all the knowledge and correct information on the transgender community,” she said.

The week of festivities began with  transgender advocate and critically acclaimed Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox. It will also feature transgender stand-up comic Jeffrey Jay, workshops and screenings concerning issues facing the transgender community, and advice on how to deal with problems and conquer them.

“Laverne Cox is a big deal,” Morgan said. “She is so relatable for anyone in the transgender community.”

Morgan said she has also invited her friend Jesse Begeny, an Emerson alumnus and director of community advocacy at the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, to speak to Emerson faculty and staff, and instruct them on how to best engage with transgender students and peers. 

The motto of the week, brainstormed by Morgan, is “The Authentic Me.” She said it stands for students in the transgender community who finally feel at home at Emerson and are confident in their identities.

“Word has gotten through the grapevine that Emerson is a safe place for everyone,” she said.

Students have recognized the college community’s acceptance as well. Members of Emerson’s Phi Alpha Tau fraternity raised $10,000 last year to help fund a brother’s transgender surgery to remove breast tissue and restructure his chest. Multiple media outlets recognized that Emerson’s student health plan would not cover his surgery, but it was revealed later that Aetna does provide extensive insurance coverage for transgender people.

Morgan said that the media found this fascinating and groundbreaking, but it was nothing new to supportive and loving Emerson students.

“Those students did it without a blink of an eye,” she said.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, which takes place annually on Nov. 20, memorializes those in the transgender community who have been killed because of their identities. Morgan said that while it is extremely important to honor those who have suffered from hate crimes, we should also celebrate the rest of the transgender community and their accomplishments. 

“There are so many transgender people who are thriving,” she said.

Malcolm Meyer, vice president of Emerson’s Alliance for Gays, Lesbians, and Everyone, one of the co-sponsors of this event, said he is very excited that Emerson has chosen to launch Transgender Awareness Week. 

“I’m happy to see Emerson do this,” the former Beacon staff member and junior journalism major said. “It’s kind of groundbreaking.”

He said that more and more transgender students are fearlessly attending Emerson since the college has been notably recognized as the most LGBTQ friendly by the Princeton Review.

Becca Chairin, a member of EAGLE, said that Transgender Awareness Week is a wonderful opportunity to learn about the transgender community in a casual, inviting setting.

“It actually seems like a lot of people don’t know what being transgendered is, but they’re curious to learn about it,” the freshman visual and media arts major said. “This is a great way to spread awareness, too, because I feel like a lot of people are afraid to ask about it.”

The events during Transgender Awareness Week will provide first-hand answers to students’ questions on transgender culture and will equip them with certainty and understanding on a topic not commonly discussed, according to Morgan.

“We are hoping to shine some light on the transgender community,” Morgan said. “Students should not feel out of place at Emerson.”