Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives Hosts Trans* Day of Awareness Event


The Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives hosted an event in the Center for Women’s Studies where trans* and non-binary students could speak about the challenges they face on Colgate’s campus in honor of Trans* Day of Awareness. Topics ranged from the experience of being misgendered on campus, the perceived discomfort that arises in others when they are asked to respect preferred pronouns, as well as the low number of gender neutral bathrooms available.

Students also spoke of the challenges they face when using their Gate Cards on campus, and when filing paperwork with the Office of Residential Life and other medical forms, because these forms often cite their dead name — the birth name which they may no longer identify with. The event included representatives from the Shaw Wellness Institute, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Student Health Center, Dean of College Division, Campus Safety, President’s Cabinet and an additional panel of external experts and activists.

The event was organized by Lyosha Gorshkov, the director of LGBTQ+ Initiatives. Gorshkov touched on the incentives behind the idea for the event, and the efforts on behalf of the Office of LGBTQ+ Initiatives that went into organizing it. 

“I came up with this idea — to have the Colgate Trans* Day of Awareness — as a response to a series of conversations I have had with non-binary and trans* identified students, including my student workers. During these conversations, we identified a set of challenges that trans* individuals face on campus,” Gorshkov said. “We realized that this is the moment, considering the nation-wide anti-trans campaign in various states, when we have to be proactive in our advocacy by educating the campus community, bringing different partners together and creating change.”

Debbie Krahmer, associate professor in the university libraries and accessible technology and government documents librarian, attended the event to show support for trans* and gender-diverse colleagues and students. Krahmer touched on why events like these are important for the trans* community at Colgate.

The more friendly faces that show up to support us, the more we can stand together as a community,” Krahmer said. “As a trans* faculty member, I know exactly what our students and employees have gone through and continue to experience on this campus. I hope everyone was able to truly hear the issues that the students brought up. And that they all realize that we can be complacent about things.”

Krahmer further elaborated on areas where Colgate could improve in order to make the trans* community feel more welcome and accepted. 

“Every step forward and every promise Colgate makes, we need to be on top of ensuring things are actually happening, or it just winds up getting forgotten. That Benton Hall could be built in 2018 without a gender-neutral restroom is proof that we need to do more for our trans*, non-binary and gender-diverse community,” Krahmer said. “It’s also important that it’s not just one person responsible for this work — seeing so many departments and knowing people who have done amazing service for our students makes me proud.”

Senior August Halbach spoke to their experience as a member of the queer* and non-binary communities on campus, and addressed several areas in which Colgate could better support its LGBTQ+ community.

Of course there will always be more to do: we could de-gender bathrooms completely on this campus, especially in all the new constructions; trans students could be given first access to rooms with private showers with just a simple email to housing or the filling out of a quick form– Gate cards (and also everything else) could have preferred names only and we could transition to being more familiar with each others student numbers, which are gender-free and unique to each student.”

Vice President for Communications Laura Jack attended the event as well, hoping to further understand and improve the experiences of trans* students, faculty and staff. 

I learned about the experiences of our students and what efforts are currently being made to address them,” Jack wrote. “While I was aware of the need for changes such as more gender neutral bathrooms and updating systems to accommodate pronouns and preferred names, I learned first-hand how traumatic some of these experiences are for folks in our community.”

Jack further discussed why attending these events is important for all students and faculty to attend, not just members of the trans* community on campus.

“I hope participants have a chance to learn about the experiences their peers are having on campus in order to better empathize and help impact change. I also hope participants realized how important education is around identities and experiences people have because of their identities. We all have work to do and it shouldn’t rest on the shoulders of those belonging to these groups.”

Gorshkov echoed similar sentiments about why this event was important for everybody on our campus and hopes that Colgate will continue its effort to organize and gather in support of the LGBTQ+ community. 

“I hope that this event, which is not a one-time event, is a starting point for serious conversations, tough conversations, followed by actions. I also sincerely hope that this type of program would serve as a signal for all trans*, non-binary and queer* individuals that we are here for you, we see you, we support you, we love you and we work tirelessly to create a sense of belonging.”

Krahmer further expanded on the longevity of this initiative and expressed that while Colgate has made progress in its inclusive efforts, there are still a lot of changes to be made.

I did leave a little frustrated that our students are still having the same problems as they did when I started working here in 2008. Colgate does take a few steps forward, but with staff overturn and admin changes, some of these steps forward are forgotten, or the momentum is lost and then we start all over again.”

When asked to share what they feel most community members don’t know about the trans* experience at Colgate, they spoke of the fear, harm, and feelings of isolation that keep them from participating in many of the social spaces on campus.

“Being in general social spaces on this campus in a trans body is very alienating, not just in experience, but in the rhetoric that we produce here,” wrote Halbach. “I never got to experience the “play hard, work hard” Colgate because every party is a potential avenue of harm. Harm that would, in my experience, be minimized and ignored by not just people I didn’t know, but people who know me and know me well. They don’t mean it – I still consider these people good friends, very good friends actually. I know they don’t mean it. And if they asked me to explain it to them, I’d probably fall very short in the moment because it happens so often and in so many ways that I’ve stopped knowing how to talk about it. But I’m also not allowed to talk about it. Not really. Not in the way I want to–not like this. When I do, they reply with sympathy and care and all that, and then continue to make the same choices that got me there in the first place. It isn’t personal, and it isn’t conscious. I don’t even think that it’s actually a choice for most people. And that’s why I just keep going on with my life.” 

Halbach also expressed that the small community with whom they share these experiences with is strong, and together they do what they need to do to get through each day.

“It’s very hard to hold generations worth of social standards and exclusions on five backs while also trying to inch it off your shoulders just enough that the next one who takes your place has an easier time than you did.”