A series of discussions, panels and vigils is being held across campus this week in observance of Transgender Awareness Week.
The events aim to educate the public about transgender issues and remember those who were hurt or killed because of their gender identity, Triangle Coalition Secretary Emily Colvin said.
The goal of the week, which is sponsored by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Resource Center and Triangle Coalition, is to raise awareness of transgender issues on campus, Triangle Coalition President Erin Horth said.
The event is centered on National Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is held annually Nov. 20. The nationwide observance began in 1999 in response to the highly publicized murder of Rita Hester on Nov. 20, 1998, Triangle Coalition Vice President Sean Jarvis said.
Horth said though many universities hold vigils on the day of remembrance, she has never heard of another university that dedicates the entire week to transgender awareness.
Jarvis said 2009 is the second year MU has observed the national day of remembrance and hosted the awareness week.
Transgender Awareness Week is important because it helps raise awareness of issues facing transgender people, Horth said.
"Misinformation leads to discrimination," she said.
Horth said one of the major issues facing students at MU who are transgender is the school's non-discrimination policy, which does not offer protection for gender identity and expression. She said issues involving gender expression could cause tension for students. For example, a student might accidentally be outed by a teacher who uses the student's formal name in class. A shortage of gender-neutral bathrooms on campus also causes anxiety for some students, Horth said.
Horth said the LGBTQ Resource Center and Triangle Coalition are working to raise awareness and promote education about transgender issues.
"The myth is that transgendered folks are extreme sexual deviants or perverts," she said.
Colvin said one of the most common myths about people who are transgender is they choose to become transgender.
"Some people think that any harassment we receive is due to our own choices," she said. "In reality, we have to do this for our own sanity."
Events, such as Transgender Awareness Week, are held in an effort to dispel such stereotypes.
At 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in the student center, a panel of medical professionals who have experience working with transgender patients will speak about the medical aspects of being transgender, Jarvis said.
Wednesday, women's and gender studies professor Sam Bullington will discuss the role hegemonic narratives play in transgender identity.
A transgender remembrance vigil will be held Thursday in the A.P. Green Chapel. Names and stories of transgender people who were killed due to their gender identity will be read there, Jarvis said.
Friday, National Transgender Day of Remembrance, a balloon release and reading of names will be held throughout the day at Speakers Circle. All students are welcome to join in the event by coming by Speakers Circle between classes to read a name and release a balloon in remembrance of one of the 301 reported Americans who have died as a result of hate crimes due to their gender identity since 1976, Horth said.