by CLAUDIA GUERRERO
UT hosted Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality, for an honors symposium on Wednesday, Sept. 27. A couple dozen students poured into UT’s Grand Salon in Plant Hall and for 45 minutes, Duncan talked about issues facing the transgender community today.
Duncan touched on bathroom policies and the recent transgender military ban passed under the Trump administration which states that no transgender individual can be recruited into the armed forces. But, Duncan’s own story was what kicked off the talk. Having transitioned from male to female at the age of 50, she shared how difficult it was to have lived her entire life as someone else.
“One time when I was four I played dress up with some friends and wore a dress and for the first time, I felt like I could breathe,” Duncan said.
Duncan was the captain of an undefeated state championship football team at Merritt Island High School, played as an all-state middle linebacker, was married with two kids and is well known in the mortgage banking industry, having served as a leader for 31 years. She worked for Wells Fargo as area manager of central Florida and regional manager for Eastern Florida when she decided to transition and says that she was fortunate enough to have had a supportive response from her work community.
However, Duncan stated that not many transgender individuals are as lucky. In her presentation, she disclosed the fact that 30 percent of respondents of a study who were employed reported experiencing some form of mistreatment in the workplace due to their gender identity or expression.
Luisa Laurelli, a sophomore advertising major, who attended the symposium, said that the talk was revealing in many ways.
“Listening to real struggles and the differences between her generation and ours was really surprising to know,” Laurelli said. “It was totally informative to a person that had no knowledge on the topic, like me, to know where transgender individuals can find assistance and also what her company does for the transgender community.”
Duncan not only wanted to educate and raise awareness among students about transgender discrimination and inequality, but she said she also wanted to leave them with a little bit of hope. She believes that since the Trump administration is not progressive, it has created dialogue, and with dialogue comes unity.
“We are making progress, even though we are in a time of playing defense and pushing back against all of the progress that has been made so far, under the Trump administration, because of that, there has been a lot of dialogue and a lot of education that has come from this,” Duncan said.
Duncan also adressed the military ban and said that “has certainly elevated the discussion and the awareness and the education of what it means to be transgender, and hopefully that has educated people to know that transgender individuals have every right to be treated fairly and equally under the law.”
Duncan believes it is important to have discussions like these on college campuses to further create awareness and dialogue, since college is where individuals formulate their ideas and start to think critically about the issues that face our society today. “What I see on college campuses is that they are a microcosm of our society, they are fertile grounds for growing and inclusion and diversity,” Duncan said.
Duncan went on to add that the title of her talk, Transgender Dynamics in Trump’s America, could be considered “too political” of a topic for a company or a University to host, but she says “its real, its life, and we have to have these discussions.”
Dr. Kacy Tillman, associate director of the Honors Program, put together the event in hopes to bring awareness and provide an opportunity for students to think critically about issues that affect them.
Tillman said that she wants to invite smart, engaged scholars and citizens to talk about the issues that are shaping our world today. Tillman also said that creating an environment that is safe and welcoming for students starts with having open conversations about these types of issues.
“I think that being attuned to the needs of our students and their basic civil rights is very important to fostering an environment in which they feel comfortable learning and thriving,” said Dr. Tillman.
Claudia Guerrero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org