SAGA’s “Lead-Up Week to Trans Day of Visibility” highlights and supports Occidental’s transgender student community

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Jack Tripp (sophomore) discusses the film “A Fantastic Woman” after its screening as part of SAGA’s Lead-Up Week for Trans Day of Visibility at Occidental College. Friday, March 29, 2019. Ava CIosek/The Occidental

The Sexuality and Gender Acceptance (SAGA) student organization hosted a “Lead-Up Week for Trans Day of Visibility” the week of March 25. SAGA, described as a community and resource for LGBTQIA+ students at Occidental on the organizationInstagram, hosted daily events to foster support for the trans members of the LGBTQIA+ community on campus, leading up to Trans Day of Visibility March 31. Zach Schuman (sophomore), SAGA secretary and historian, said that SAGA agreed Trans Day of Visibility called for more than just one event, leading to the cultivation of the Lead-Up Week’s events.

Lead-Up Week began with the “Trans Student Mixer” March 25, which Schuman described as an opportunity to foster relations within the trans community on campus.

“When we do see other people, usually we don’t have a place to connect specifically on the basis of being trans,” Schuman said. “So having a space like that, where the point of the event and of that space is for trans students to meet other trans students — to talk to them and share experiences — is just a really basic thing that trans students on this campus don’t really have.”

SAGA continued Lead-Up Week by tabling on the quad March 26 to provide trans literature and resources, and hosting a clothing swap March 27–28. Schuman spoke about the difficulties that queer, trans and gender-nonconforming students experience when trying to participate in general clothing swaps either on or off campus.

“Even just going to a clothing swap and looking at clothes that you’re interested in, when that’s not normative, can be really hard for people,” Schuman said.

With both the trans student mixer and the clothing swap events, Schuman described SAGA’s intention to tailor the events to suit trans students’ needs by providing a space deliberately created to support them. He discussed how trans students’ experiences at what can be seen as “regular” events are often entirely different from students who are not members of the trans community.

“Meeting other people and having a clothing swap are things that everyone does, but we wanted to make it specifically for trans students because of how different our experiences are from other people when it comes to things like, for example, buying clothes and swapping clothes,” Schuman said.

The Lead-Up Week concluded with a film screening of “A Fantastic Woman” March 29, followed by a discussion led by Jack Tripp (sophomore), SAGA trans student liaison. Tripp is a Media, Arts & Culture (MAC) major and Critical Theory & Social Justice (CTSJ) minor and holds a strong interest in studying trans representation in the media. Speaking about the need to increase trans representation on Occidental’s campus, Tripp supported inviting trans speakers to campus and increasing the number of trans professors in the faculty in order to better educate students on the trans community.

“Especially in departments like CTSJ, where there are classes specifically about sexuality and gender, it’s always a little disappointing when those are taught by cis professors,” Tripp said. “[It] would be really cool if there were trans professors to actually teach about trans issues. They can actually speak from experience.”

Tripp said the main focus of Lead-Up Week was increasing the visibility of Occidental’s trans community. SAGA aimed to better inform the campus community about the needs of trans students and to provide trans students with resources. Jenna Beales (first year) described her enthusiasm for Lead-Up Week, praising SAGA’s strong presence on campus.

“It’s so affirming and reassuring for me to be on this campus and to know that there are people looking out for each other and forming a community and educating people at Oxy,” Beales said. “This week has been really cool because there have been so many different kinds of activities, with panels and quad-sitting. There are a lot of different opportunities to learn more.”

Beales spoke about the lack of resources for Occidental’s LGBTQIA+ community, which became apparent to her when she was touring Occidental and when she first arrived on campus. She believes that SAGA’s continued presence on campus is vital to Occidental’s general community.

“I think it’s really important that SAGA is seen as integral to Occidental. We are really failing the student body if a group like this doesn’t exist. If that sort of mindset becomes prevalent, then SAGA will have staying power,” Beales said. “But it’s also important that we get support from people in the faculty, [and that] the [new college] president who is going to hired [will] be fully on board with the group.”

Both Beales and Schuman touched on the importance of active participation in organizations such as SAGA from members of the student body. Schuman said the most important thing to do to support the LGBTQIA+ community is to show up. According to Beales, if you are not a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, it is important to be aware of the space that you are taking up as an ally.

“Take a step back and learn from others, and [don’t] insert your voice in a space that’s not for you. It’s really about absorbing information and finding empathy for people instead of taking control of the narrative,” Beales said. “When you have empathy and compassion and passion for an issue like this, that’s when standing up for others becomes an easier thing to do.”