Tomorrow, Kenyon will join in global observations of International Transgender Day of Visibility, when we come together to recognize the many contributions that trans individuals have made to the Kenyon community and all around the world. As President Biden said in a White House proclamation issued on this day last year, we honor “the generations of struggle, activism, and courage that have brought our country closer to full equality for transgender and gender non-binary people in the United States and around the world.”
In reflecting on the meaning of this day, I can’t help but consider all that is in the word “visibility.” It reminds us that gender transitions and expressions of non-conforming or non-binary gender identities are not novel; but too often they’ve had to be hidden, or were actively erased from view, through societal pressures, legislation, and acts or threats of violence. That more and more people around the world feel empowered to openly be their true selves is progress, but there is far more progress to be made.
As in other equal rights movements, increased trans visibility has come with backlash. We see this in the anti-trans bills and policies that have recently been introduced in multiple states, including, most notably, an effort in Texas to deny essential gender-affirming medical care to trans youth. More than a dozen state legislatures are considering similar steps, including Ohio.
Instead of advancing anti-trans bills across America, I wish more leaders would follow the example of the Republican Governor of Utah, Spencer Cox. While Cox is hardly an LGBTQ+ activist, and any politician’s political positions and legislative record are up for debate and discussion, he won widespread praise last week for a strikingly poignant and all-too-rare display of basic empathy while vetoing the Utah legislature’s own version of anti-trans legislation (legislators, unfortunately, did not take Cox’s words to heart, overriding his veto on Friday).
Kenyon condemns the transphobia underlying these and other efforts and the transmisogyny directed at far too many individuals, including our own Associate Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Rhea Debussy, who was harassed and threatened for taking a stance on NCAA policy regarding trans student-athletes. Dr. Debussy has observed that many policies surrounding trans participation in sports largely serve to scapegoat trans athletes rather than address any issues regarding competition or fairness. The actions of the Utah legislature provide further evidence of this.
Trans and non-binary people are a vital part of the Kenyon community; they are our students, our alumni, our employees and our loved ones. As we recognize their many contributions, let us also recognize the ways in which we have fallen short of being strong allies. On this day and every day, let us move closer to our aspiration of being a community in which every person has a sense of full belonging — where we all are not only visible as our true selves but have the tools to reach our full potential.