Talent, passion, commitment shine at Campus Pride leadership academy
I have spent much of the past week in Charlotte with Camp Pride 2015. This is an annual Leadership Training Academy for LGBTQIA College Students and Advisors. It has been at Vanderbilt University the past five years, but this year’s Camp moved to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) and Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU).
My role was to be one of the “Educators in Residence,” meaning I lived in the Residence Halls with the campers, and presented a couple of times, and generally served as a Free Agent roving between the “Dens” and Caucuses. During the week, I chose to be in the Trans Caucus when they met because it is important for those who are seen as trans leaders and activists be there not only to support the work of these young people, but to answers whatever questions they may have about our experiences as activists and probe our knowledge of tools and practices that will help them achieve their goals.
One thing I enjoy about such events is that I learn as much as I give. This year, I want to thank the Gender Queer, Gender Non Binary, Gender Fluid, Gender Variant, and Gender Non-Conforming Campers. They raised my level of awareness and understanding of their challenges, even in supposedly supportive spaces. In the Trans community, many are committed to defending the gender binary, which I personally would like to dismantle. We have to celebrate, honor, and empower all, and especially those who identify in those categories. Diversity of expression is our strength, not our weakness.
Thursday was designated a “Day of Action for Trans Justice,” and we convened on the campus of the historically black JCSU. I was part of a panel called “Grassroots Organizing at the Intersections.” My co-panelists were Mandy Carter (Southerners on New Ground), Diego Sanchez (PFLAG), Bishop Tonyia Rawls (Freedom Center for Social Justice), and J Mase III (awQward).
On Friday, back at UNCC, I started the morning with the Advisors in a session on “Trans Inclusion.” Unfortunately, one of the advisors felt it necessary to insult trans identities. His words shocked people in the room, and illustrated the depth of the challenge trans people face from those who claim to be allies, but are not.
That afternoon, I moderated a session called “Being an Effective Leader for Trans Rights,” and was joined by Diego Sanchez. Together with the Campers, we discussed many of the issues they face on their campuses and strategies for addressing transphobia and racism which are often linked.
The Friday night Trans Caucus was joined by Mara Keisling (National Center for Transgender Equality). We talked about the importance of the upcoming US Trans Survey in documenting the hurdles faced by trans people of all walks of life.
Saturday night, our schedule was interrupted by several stories that were shared of on campus police harassment directed at African American campers, and acts of physical assault and verbal abuse by children who were also on campus primarily targeted at trans women of color.
It literally angered and saddened me that these young people were shown no respect by others in what was supposed to a space of safety and empowerment. It was good, however, that it did happen around supporters and that positive action was taken by Camp organizers.
The campers were not immune to racism, sexism, transphobia, and homophobia before they arrived in Charlotte, and all of these issues were discussed throughout the week, but they should not have experienced any of that this week.
I believe that they will all take these incidents back to their respective campuses and communities as important learning experiences that will make them better leaders.
And for the campers and organizers who are based in Charlotte, who were also justifiably angry this happened in their “home,” I believe this will help them be more effective spokespeople for equality there.
All of the Campers with whom I worked this week are stronger and more resilient than my generation. I am proud of them all. They have already assumed important positions of leadership and are already serving as role models for others. As I told several of them, they have already touched others in ways that they may not yet realize, and as they continue the work they have begun, they will truly make great leaders on an even bigger level and will move the world forward in the years to come.
I felt truly honored to be with them over the past several days.