Transgender Icons Prompt Discussion About LGBTQ+ Experiences

The official poster for the OSE's Transgender Awareness Month.
The official poster for the OSE’s Transgender Awareness Month.

BY JULIANNE SAAD, Staff Writer

On Nov. 10, the Office for Student Engagement (OSE) hosted an event in the University Center to celebrate Transgender Awareness Month. Students, faculty and staff were invited to discuss how transgender icons within the media have affected the transgender community. Celebrities included in discussion were Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Ruby Rose, among others.

Cailynn Smith, the OSE’s Coordinator for LGBTQ+ and Inclusion Initiatives, kicked off the event by presenting a slideshow, which provided definitions for different gender and sexual identities. Transgender is an umbrella term used to refer to people whose gender identities differ from the sex they were assigned at birth.

The next portion of slides identified different celebrities considered trans icons, presenting the audience with information such as what gender they identify with (if any at all), and how their transition and/or coming out has affected the transgender community and/or contributed to the movement.

Despite their large impact on how the media portrays and represents the transgender community, Smith said it is important to understand that celebrities who do identify as transgender are not the only representation of the large and diverse community.

“I wanted to show that there’s more than one narrative when it comes to the media,” Smith said. “With the emergence of Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner and Janet Mock, I think it’s really awesome that we have the visibility of really strong and powerful trans women, but it’s also important for the media to show that there’s more than just those one or two people who represent the trans community.”

A common misconception surrounding the transgender community is the assumption that gender identity and sexual identity are one in the same.

“It [gender identity] is just one aspect of the LGBTQ+ community, but it is one that we are starting to see a lot more awareness created about in mainstream media,” Smith said. “It’s such a different identity group, rather than the sexual identity group, that you kind of have to take a moment to talk about what’s under the ‘transgender umbrella’ all on its own, as it is a larger part of the LGBTQ+ community.”

The event itself was aimed towards educating students, faculty, and staff about the transgender community, and how people can be transgender and live a normal life, with the help of raising awareness and promoting acceptance.

“Trans people are more than just trans people; they’re writers, singers, artists,” Smith said. “They have different types of lifestyles and different types of ideologies and different stances in politics, and that’s just like what it’s like with other people, the only difference might be that they’re transgender. People are more than just their gender identity.”

For more information about UMD’s LGBTQ+ and Inclusion Initiatives, contact Cailynn Smith at smithcai@umich.edu.