Opinion: Transgender students deserve more acceptance

He. She. It. Those are the words that were used on the official “Pretty Little Liars” Twitter account to describe CeCe Drake, a character on the show who was revealed to be a transgender woman (and the mysterious A) in the show’s midseason finale. As if this blatant misgendering was not enough, the only transgender person on this entire show was this villain who tortured the four main characters for five and a half seasons. Needless to say, that was the one and only episode of “Pretty Little Liars” I will ever be watching.
Unfortunately, this is not just about one very problematic television show. Lack of acceptance in the transgender community is very common, even here at Augustana. I have heard students referring to actress Caitlyn Jenner as “Bruce.” I have had students (including fellow members of the LGBT community) roll their eyes at me when I tell them that a person prefers non-gender binary pronouns, such as they/them.
Whether or not a person can grasp with the idea of a person changing their gender identity or expression, people deserve respect. One of Augustana’s nine learning objectives is ethical citizenship, which means that the college would like it’s students to be able to “behave responsibly toward self, others and our world; develop ethical convictions and act upon them; show concern for issues that transcend one’s own interests, and participate effectively in civic life.” That should start with using the correct names and pronouns. In an ideal world, it should not be the college’s job to educate people on LGBT acceptance, but clearly people are not getting the information on their own, so here are two fairly easy steps the college should look into.
Everyone should attend a SafeZone training session, offered for free by the college, which is an Augustana program on LGBT acceptance. This could even be one of the events during welcome week. That way, all of the students would at least have the education to not inadvertently (or ignorantly) misgender a person.
The next step would be to make sure a class is on the same page and to show that Augustana is progressive is for everyone in the class to say their preferred gender pronouns. For a college that was progressive enough to be one of the first to allow same-sex marriages to occur on campus, it seems odd that there are no public gender-neutral restrooms on campus.
This simple exercise could be one way to make everyone feel comfortable, respected, safe and educational, because many students probably have never even heard of a person using they/them pronouns. In theory, saying gender pronouns could be a great solution, one that has worked in many of my women’s and gender studies classes.
However, classes that are not under women’s and gender studies might have people in them who are not accepting of transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people. This could put TGNC people at risk and may inadvertently out them.
It is easy to do things that can make the press, but it takes true fortitude and progressiveness to do the unpopular, uncomfortable things that really end up mattering for the students’ daily life on campus.