PRIDE advocates for empathy towards transgender individuals

Mikayla Galaviz & Carrollyne Aasen, Features Editor & Editor-in-Chief

To commemorate LGBTQIA+ History Month, California Lutheran University’s Office of Talent, Culture and Diversity coordinated with PRIDE Club to host “PRIDE in Our Community: Transgender Empathy Training”.  The event was led by Mallery Jenna Robinson, a Community Advisory Board coordinator for “We Can Stop STDs LA”, an organization that raises awareness on how to provide better healthcare for young transgender and cis-gender women of color.

Co-President of People Respecting Identity, Diversity and Equality Club Dylan Gallagher reached out to Robinson in the spring to speak this fall semester specifically on the topic of empathy towards trans people.

“She’ll [Robinson] bring a great perspective as somebody who is not just a trans woman, but who is a trans woman of color and who experiences a larger amount of transphobia than white trans people do,” Gallagher said in a Zoom interview.

Robinson has previously spoken about trans empathy at different universities around the state, such as UCLA and CSUN. After hearing about some of the adversities trans people have had to face at Cal Lutheran, she understood this was a topic that needed to be talked about.

“Everyone’s general consensus has been like, ‘this is a conversation, this is a topic that needs to be discussed on campus,’ so I’m super thankful to be a part of this process and just to be part of this journey because I know this is going to be the first of many events like this to come,” Robinson said.

Some topics held during the presentation included the importance of pronouns, receiving healthcare while being transgender, understanding gender identity and expression, and important statistics and stories of trans people. Attendees were encouraged to reflect on their own identity and the privileges that come with it using The SOGIE Astronaut—a tool to help better understand sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

Director of Hispanic Serving Institution and Diversity Equity and Inclusion Programs Maria Thayer said that she learned a lot from the event after putting herself on the spot.

“I’ve attended many LGBTQIA+ events, but today’s presentation where you really had to put yourself in that situation and analyze yourself, really made me go deeper as to how I identify and also to be able to have a better understanding of our students, staff and faculty on how they identify,” Thayer said.

Statistics about homelessness, mental health, employment and domestic violence were read aloud to express the disproportionate discrimination transgender people face compared to their cis-gender counterparts. According to a recent report released by the Biden administration, one in three transgender individuals has faced homelessness. Robinson said during the presentation that statistics are likely off due to misgendering within paperwork, suggesting that these numbers are even higher.

While talking about people who aren’t able to empathize with trans people and their experiences, Robinson said it’s due to a lack of lived experience.

“Even within our own LGB community there’s still this ‘that’s a trans problem we’re gonna let them deal with that,'” Robinson said. “It’s not trans rights, it’s not cis rights, it’s human rights, and anytime a human being is being impacted for simply existing, we must empathize and we must also support in whatever way that looks like.”

Gallagher said that even though the training was not mandatory for staff and faculty, he thinks the event’s structure by the Office of Talent, Culture and Diversity provides an opportunity for those who cannot attend the event to stop by and learn about Robinson and the training she does with other organizations.

“On one hand, if you have people forced to go to a long training, they’re going to associate that feeling of dreading going there with the trans community, and that’s not what we want,” Gallagher said. “But realistically, we recognize it’s mainly for people who want to help, but just don’t know how to. However, it should be required.”

Adjunct professor Dr. Sandra Aldana said she was disappointed with the low turnout because people don’t realize how many students need that social support, especially after the lack of it throughout the pandemic.

“Given the fact that these things didn’t exist 30 years ago when I was a student here, the reality is I expect something different from CLU 30 years later,” Aldana said. “I expect more. I expect a different level of commitment. I expect a different level of openness. I want to see faculty, staff and students that are really committed to really learning and understanding new and different things.”

The signature event was a part of the Office of Talent, Culture and Diversity’s many lectures honoring different heritage months throughout the academic year. Thayer said the purpose of these events is to uplift the voices of marginalized communities. Future events include recognition during American Indian Heritage Month, Asian American and Pacific Islander Month and Black History Month.

“We have to have more discussions where we’re kind of pushing the envelope a little,” Thayer said.

In terms of what she hopes attendees get out of the training, Robinson said she hopes that people receive empathy and learn to connect with the community.

“What I really want your community to do is be intentional,” Robinson said. “I want our accomplices to be intentional and understand each and every one of us has a story, we have a purpose and we deserve accessibility, visibility and equity.”

With the school hosting this event, Gallagher said that it shows there is an increasing and rapidly growing transgender population at the university, and there is some effort from the university and PRIDE Club to make resources available to them.

Robinson, in her podcast “A Hateful Homicide,” speaks about and brings awareness to transgender, intersex and non-binary homicide cases, often not focused on by others. It is available to stream on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.