Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance, and a portion of Elon’s College Coffee was dedicated to remembering  and honoring transgender individuals who have lost their lives to transphobia. Kat Rands, Elon Education faculty, gave a wonderful speech, and led a moment of silence.

Hello everyone. My name is Kat Rands and I am a professor in the School of Education. It is an honor to introduce the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Transgender Day of Remembrance has been set aside to honor those who have been killed out of fear and hatred of those who cross expected gender boundaries. Transgender refers to those who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender is a broad term and there are many ways to be transgender. We have people who are trans at Elon in many different ways, including myself.  

From 2008 to 2011, more than 800 people worldwide have been killed out of transphobia. Eight-hundred people is a staggering number, but numbers tend to be a little abstract.  On a more personal level is the loss of Kendall Hampton this past summer on August 29th. Kendall was shot in the neighborhood around the high school I attended growing up in Cincinnati. This violent crime is thought to have been motivated by the shooter’s perception of and reaction to Kendall’s gender identity and expression. I did not know Kendall personally and now I never will.  The Cincinnati I return to tonight will be an emptier Cincinnati without Kendall. There is much sadness in the Transgender Day of Remembrance, but also much hope in the ways we can remember Kendall and all the others who have been lost.  We remember Kendall when we bring up trans people in positive ways in our classes and conversations. We remember Kendall when we insist on gender inclusive bathrooms. We remember Kendall when we stop someone from making negative comments about someone’s gender expression or gender identity. We remember Kendall when we advocate for trans-inclusive policies and legislation. As we take a moment of silence to memorialize and honor those who have been lost, we can also reflect on the ways we can honor those lost through our actions. Please join me in a moment of silence. Thank you.

For more on Transgender Day of Remembrance click here.

To learn more about transgender discrimination click here.

Click here for LGBTQ & Trans definitions.


Dear Friends & Family: A letter about the 2012 election, family, and marriage.

By John Pickett ’03, Elon staff

Dear Friends and Family,
In my opinion, there are a multitude of reasons why you should vote for the re-election of President Obama. However, for this moment, I would ask that we focus solely on my own personal pursuit of “life, liberty, and happiness”.

During the RNC, Republicans created their official platform. As a part of this, they have stated that a Romney/Ryan presidency would have the following as it’s very top goal under the section “Renewing America’s Values”

“Preserving and Protecting Traditional Marriage (Top)
The institution of marriage is the foundation of civil society. Its success as an institution will determine our success as a nation. It has been proven by both experience and endless social science studies that traditional marriage is best for children. Children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to use drugs or alcohol, engage in crime, or get pregnant outside of marriage. The success of marriage directly impacts the economic well-being of individuals. Furthermore, the future of marriage affects freedom. The lack of family formation not only leads to more government costs, but also to more government control over the lives of its citizens in all aspects. We recognize and honor the courageous efforts of those who bear the many burdens of parenting alone, even as we believe that marriage, the union of one man and one woman must be upheld as the national standard, a goal to stand for, encourage, and promote through laws governing marriage. We embrace the principle that all Americans should be treated with respect and dignity.”

Not only is this personally offensive to me and millions of other gay Americans, but it is also not factual. It has actually been proven through a scientific study that lesbian households are the most stable household structures of any potential family dynamic. Additionally, this statement assumes that the government has the right to patrol the definition of marriage. Even though, marriage has been a part of social culture long before both government and organized religion.

Here’s where I’m going with this…straight friends and family…I have celebrated your engagements, I have attended your weddings, I supported your relationships, I have shared the joy of your pregnancies, I have rushed to the hospital to see your babies, and I have been overjoyed to party with your children for their birthdays. I have been there, time and again to support both your marriage and your family.

I never shared the pain that I felt to attend your wedding, knowing that I am not legally allowed to do the same. I never shared the pang that was coexistent with my happiness at receiving your engagement party announcement. I’ve never really spoken on how your “life, liberty, and happiness” directly related to your spouse and children are constant reminders that I am deemed unworthy and LESS THAN you by our government and a large number of close-minded fellow citizens. I dream of a day when these inequalities are a distant and ludicrous memory.

I have never complained to you about this. I’ve never shared this. I never ever wanted to steal your joy and I’ve been truly truly happy for your joy and dream fulfillment.

However, now I do ask for something in return from you. No, I’m not going to pull a “Carrie Bradshaw” like she did in Sex and the City when she threw a shower for herself in order to recoup all the countless dollars she spend on her friends weddings, showers, and children’s birthdays. All I ask of you is this…if you are not sure who to vote for…or if you feel indifferent towards both candidates, consider John Pickett.

Consider the guy who has always been there smiling and supporting you as you met these great life milestones. Consider that this November, you have the power to help move our country further towards a place where I would no longer be left without the same life milestones afforded to you and yours; simply because I was born differently. It would be a great way to say thank you for those shower gifts.

Thanks. JP

Stories are important.

by Ross Wade, Elon staff

I love a good conversation, and for whatever reason, I feel like the older I get, the less of them I have. Maybe it is because I’m too busy with life, tasks, and work. Maybe it’s because I’m thinking and strategizing so much during the day, that all I want to do when I get home is sit on the sofa, turn on the TV, and numb my brain with the sagas of adolescent vampires or watch a young couple and their realtor search for the perfect kitchen with granite countertops. But yesterday I had one of those great conversations…and it came out of nowhere! In a matter of 30 minutes we discussed how ridiculously gays and lesbians are depicted in the media (still in 2012!), finding your voice as an advocate/activist, how to balance advocacy with professional persona, and my favorite part of the talk…I heard a really great story about a man, his husband, and their 19 year relationship. After this 30 minute talk I felt inspired and rejuvenated, and reminded of the power of stories…and I remembered a few other stories I’ve heard over the past few months.

During the Elon Alumni LGBTQIA Summit I had the opportunity to spend the day with a few dozen of Elon’s amazing LGBTQIA alums, and talk to Lowry Sinclair, ’65, who is hilarious and inspiring – he told stories of Elon “back in the day” and his pride in working with students conducting research on LGBTQIA topics through his award.

During a recent colloquium put on by the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, I sat beside a pastor (and his wife) new to the Elon community. He discussed his goals for making his church more inclusive and we had a great talk about being scared, but doing the right thing anyway…and how to find the courage to be less neutral and more purposeful as advocates.

Recently I found this amazing TED talk by novelist Chimamanda Adichie on the dangers of only knowing a single story (aka a stereotype) about a group of people, and how it robs us of truly understanding them and their culture.

I hope that as this blog grows, it will reflect the stories of Elon’s diverse LGBTQIA population – our struggles, our successes, and our hopes. There are many more stories to share (and create!), so let’s remember to tell our stories and have good conversations…they are important.

LGBTQ Body Issues.

by Jordan Perry, Elon staff

In February the SPARKS! Peer Educators (who rock) hosted Love Your Body, a weeklong celebration of positive body image, and I got to thinking about LBGTQIA body image issues and corresponding health outcomes. There are fairly common stereotypes that gay men disproportionately suffer from eating disorders, and assumptions that women who identify as lesbians just don’t care how they look. But wait! As the learned folk we are, we know how important it is to check our stereotypes and assumptions and find the facts. So I did.

Researchers from Columbia University took a look at rates of eating disorders in self-identified lesbian, gay, and bisexual men and women (LGB),* and at the association between “participation in the gay community” and eating disorder rates in gay and bisexual identified men. While I take issue with the assumption that there is one big gay community out there that we can participate in, this research was much needed.

It turns out researchers found that gay and bisexual identified men do have higher rates of eating disorders than straight identified men. According to the study, more than 15% of gay or bisexual identified men have, at some point in their lives, suffered from an eating disorder, compared to less than 5% of straight identified men.

They also found no differences in eating disorder rates between lesbian and bisexual and straight identified women. However, other studies have found that lesbian and bisexual identified women do have lower rates of disordered eating than straight identified women. What does this mean? “Research on lesbians and eating disorders has yielded mixed results.” Translation: they don’t know!

In addition, younger LGB study participants were more likely to experience eating disorders than older LGB study participants. Researchers attribute this to higher levels of vulnerability to “… sociocultural messages about appearance.” Translation: our social and cultural norms, particularly those in the media. So what do we do?

For yourself:

  • Limit your exposure to media that depicts unrealistic body standards.
  • Try to identify and cut down on “fat talk” in your social circles.
  • Eat to nourish your body and soul.

On campus:

  • If you work with an organization that produces any marketing or promotional materials, think critically about the images you use and the potential impact on viewers.
  • Advocate for Ellington Health Center clinicians to be trained about the health needs of LGBTQIA identified folks and to screen for eating disorders. To do this, contact Leigh-Anne Royster, director of health promotion and health services at

* Researchers only surveyed LGB folks, so we can’t say for sure if these results are also true for the Ts, Is, As, and the Qs.


Coming out – from “A” to “G”!

by Henry Walling, Elon University staff

When asked to write for this blog I was really excited to do so. I was able to tell my tale of being an ally and supporter for the LGBT community here like I was during undergrad and graduate school. As I kept coming back to what I wrote and reworking what I have already done, I realized something. What I had been writing didn’t seem right and seemed almost forced or copy-n-pasted from some other ally’s story. What I had written was genuine and sincere but it just seemed wrong. Not that I was writing the piece, just my perspective on it. This led me to delaying the submission multiple times until I got it right. After months of rewriting I realized why it seemed wrong, it was obvious but not right away. The answer was that it was a LIE. Not a lie to who was going to read it but a lie to myself. I told myself its time…I am not an ally…I am huge supporter of the LGBT community…but I am approaching this with the wrong letter in mind…I am gay so why am I not telling my story. I wasn’t telling my story because I still haven’t told anyone that I was. So I decided to change that…

I recently moved to North Carolina from Ohio and everything in my life has changed; new Job, new friends, new state, new home, new everything. It was almost like a fresh start and I took advantage of it. I started to become more and more comfortable with telling people that I was gay. I am not going to lie and say that it was easy because it wasn’t.

Here is summary of my first coming out conversation:

I was having dinner with two close friends and everything was going great…we were having a good time but they knew I had something to tell them but I kept delaying it until I gathered some strength. These two were going to be the first people I was going to tell. I had no idea where to start so we sat down and I started talking. I was talking with no road map whatsoever. I told them about my transition to NC and how I was feeling about everything. They were smiling and nodding but seemed a bit confused about why I was rambling on and on about things that didn’t seem to have a point. What felt like 45minutes of me talking and them listening, I finally blurted it out. I have never had such a mix of relief and fear all mashed together in that second that was suspended. They did the best thing I could have asked for…they said alright and how am I doing. Not one note of anger, fear, apprehension, hate, or disgust just support.

This was the turning point in my life. I finally mustered the strength to start telling people, people who I care for. As I starting telling more and more people…it became easier for me to say because I starting having confidence in myself and the bonds that I have with my friends and family. I have met with some negativity towards who I am but that is out shined by the support and love that I have received from others. I am still in the process of coming out but it’s getting better for me. I am happy. My story is just beginning!

Annual LBGT* Health Awareness Week!

by Jordan Perry, Elon staff

March 26th-March 30th is the 10th Annual LBGT* Health Awareness Week! Let’s celebrate! How?

The National Coalition for LGBT Health says that this year’s campaign has four goals:

  1. Consumer empowerment (to provide resources about LGBT health)
  2. Culturally competent services (to educate healthcare providers)
  3. Engaged communities (to reach out to others)
  4. Inclusive policy (to get out and vote, ya’ll!)

I’d also like to celebrate by reflecting on a relatively recent win for LGBT health.

For the past 30 years, the US Department of Health and Human Services has released 10 year national objectives for improving the health of Americans. In December 2010, Healthy People 2020 Topics and Objectives were released and, for the first time since the inception of Healthy People, LGBT health was recognized as a topic in need of attention (in 2010 there was a “LGBT companion document” produced by the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association). While this may not seem like a big deal, this is actually a really big deal. Why? Because with the official recognition (by the US government, ya’ll!) that LGBT health disparities exist and that LGBT populations have unique health care needs comes funding. And funding is sorely needed.

Until very recently, most money dedicated to LGBT health went to study HIV/AIDS. While HIV/AIDS is a vitally important topic in need of attention and research dollars, guess what? LGBT folks experience other health disparities. In previous blogs I wrote about disproportionate rates of smoking and disordered eating among LGBT populations. Healthy People 2020 lists other disparities:

  • LGBT youth are 2 to 3 times more likely to attempt suicide.
  • LGBT youth are more likely to be homeless.
  • Lesbians are less likely to get preventive services for cancer.
  • Gay men are at higher risk of HIV and other STIs, especially among communities of color.
  • Lesbians and bisexual females are more likely to be overweight or obese.
  • Transgender individuals have a high prevalence of HIV/STIs, victimization, mental health issues, and suicide and are less likely to have health insurance than heterosexual or LGB individuals.
  • Elderly LGBT individuals face additional barriers to health because of isolation and a lack of social services and culturally competent providers.
  • LGBT populations have the highest rates of tobacco, alcohol, and other drug use.

Huge bummer. But having these disparities officially recognized and addressed will ultimately lead to fewer disparities. This also means that the US DHHS recognizes that LGBT health doesn’t just matter for “those people”; LGBT (and QIA!) health matters for everyone, regardless of orientation.

According to the US DHHS, addressing LGBT health means that we’ll see:

  • Reductions in disease transmission and progression
  • Increased mental and physical well-being
  • Reduced health care costs
  • Increased longevity

Sounds pretty good, eh? Let the celebration commence!

*Note: No word on health care for Qs, As, and Is. Maybe next year?


Race to the Ballot Event = SUCCESS!

On 2/15 Elon University’s LGBTQ Office, Spectrum, Amnesty International, College Democrats, Multicultural Center, the Truitt Center, PFLAG Alamance, and Students for Peace & Justice hosted one of NC’s Race to the Ballot events. Over 150 faculty, staff, and students turned out to support marriage equality, register to vote in NC, and listen to Elon’s incredible acapella groups Rip_Chord, Twisted Measure, Sweet Signatures, and Vital Signs. Spectrum students spent the day before and the day of the event registering over 175 students to vote in NC!

Thanks to EVERYONE that helped with the event!!

Everyone deserves respect.

by Michelle Kusel, Elon Staff

About four years ago I was asked to facilitate a leadership retreat called Insight.  Looking back on it, the name was quite ironic.  Insight.  I was asked to provide space where students could be insightful and reflect.  That’s exactly what this retreat allowed *me* to do.

During the retreat, students and facilitators participated in a leadership activity called Four Corners.  The purpose of Four Corners is to create conversation around diverse viewpoints.  During one of the questions, I was having trouble choosing a corner.  Did I agree with the statement?  Disagree?  I wasn’t sure.  So I stood in the middle, perplexed.  Beside me stood John.  He too was perplexed on how he felt about the topic.  He turned to me and said, “I’m not sure how I feel about this.  Since I’m transgender this question is really difficult for me to take a position.”

Transgendered.  Huh.  What did that even mean?  I nodded my head, smiled, and chose my corner.  But my mind wouldn’t shut up.  I needed to put John in a category and my mind didn’t have one for him to fall in!  I finally convinced my mind to silence itself by succumbing to the fact that there was a lot in the world that I didn’t know.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  I wasn’t okay with that.  It’s just what I needed to do to get back in the game.  Transgender went into a category:  Unknown stuff.

After the retreat, I emailed John to hang out and asked him if I could learn more about what it meant to identify as transgender.  We talked.  I learned what it meant to be a female-to-male transgendered individual and the legal process involved in transitioning.  I learned what it meant to bind, what it meant to “pass,” and that gender identity has absolutely nothing to do with sexual orientation.  But most importantly, I learned John’s story.  I learned how incredibly similar we were in our desires and in our socially constructed lives.

I also learned that there was still so much I didn’t know.  As a learner and an active citizen there was a fire inside of me that made me realize that it was my responsibility to learn.  Ignorance wasn’t an excuse.

So I continued to meet students and community members that identified as transgender and I continued to learn.  Then, I conducted my masters research on transgender college student experiences to find out if the stories I heard were isolated.  I think most importantly, I continued to ask questions.  Admittedly, some were pretty stupid questions but you don’t know unless you ask.

When people ask me why I am an ally I think back to the stories I heard – the rocks thrown at an 18-year-transgender student walking down the street or the hateful slangs directed at my friend.  I come back to a simple fact:  everyone deserves respect.  As an ally, I work towards educating people to respect one another and celebrate difference.