August 10, 2018 at 2:30 pm EST | by Mariah Cooper
BACK TO SCHOOL 2018: UMD advocates for trans inclusivity
Shige Sakurai, gay news, Washington Blade

Shige Sakurai helped launch a pronoun campaign at the University of Maryland at College Park (Photo courtesy Sakurai)

While transgender representation has become more prominent in popular culture, practices for transgender and non-binary inclusion aren’t part of everyone’s daily life.

Shige Sakurai, acting director of the LGBT Equity Center at University of Maryland, College Park, hopes to change that.

Sakurai, who identifies as non-binary/a-gender, some staff members and a few students created a planning committee to kickstart a pronouns campaign on campus. The vision grew into a much bigger project that became known as #TransTerps which launched last September.

The #TransTerps campaign works towards “identifying, disseminating and implementing good practices for trans-inclusion,” Sakurai says.

The LGBT Equity Center was faced with the challenge of how to share information and positively impact a campus community of an estimated 50,000 people including faculty, staff and students. On a campus this large, it was important to create ways people could use tools to spread awareness in each of their departments or student groups.

One campaign initiative was to educate on the use of pronouns. Thousands of stickers, buttons and business cards with preferred pronouns were made. The LGBT Equity Office created a video that says a person’s pronouns don’t always match their perceived gender.

Instructors who wish to incorporate pronoun information into the classrooms can also use sample syllabi provided by the LGBT Equity Office. Multiple versions of the syllabi are available ranging from educating on identities and others simply focus on respecting people’s names and pronouns.

University of Maryland also started its own Pronouns Day in 2016. The LGBT Equity Office partnered with various groups locally, nationally and internationally to create the first International Pronouns Day which will be held on Oct. 17. More than 96 different organizations including dozens of campuses will participate in the day. There is a list of ideas on the pronounsdays.org website including using the #PronounsDay hashtag, posting your pronouns on social media, organizing events and more.

Other initiatives in the #TransTerps campaign are inclusive restrooms and signage and webinars. Events are offered throughout the year such as gender inclusivity in the classroom, discussion luncheons on what it’s like to be a transgender student, and fun activities such as arts and crafts.

Sakurai says the campaign has been received positively on campus from people of all identities.

“We’re definitely hearing from people that are actively sharing pronouns or asking pronouns which is new for them,” they says. “So I haven’t seen backlash to that because no one is really required to do any of these things. We’re encouraging people to get involved and to adopt these good practices but by and large our campaign is not focused on things that are supposed to be mandatory. It’s focused on things that are supposed to be opportunities and people seem pretty excited about that.”

Even though University of Maryland has been striving toward being a more welcoming environment for everyone, Sakurai says some students have been worried about the Trump Administration rolling back protections for the transgender community.

“That has been cause for concern when we see something like Department of Justice and Department of Education retracting guidelines on trans-inclusion that causes questions even on our campus,” Sakurai says. “People are saying, ‘Oh, should I be doing something different?’ and we have to tell them, ‘No, nothing has changed. The law hasn’t changed. No court decisions have changed anything. It’s just these guidances. We have our own state and campus protections.’ It’s certainly been an issue since Trump has taken office and it’s caused a lot of concern. It certainly impacts our students.”

In addition to the informational resources available through the LGBT Equity Office, students who need support for more “high stress situations” about the current political climate can participate in support groups offered by the counseling center. There is both a general LGBT support group and a group specifically for students involved in advocacy who have concerns about these anti-LGBT policies. 

Sakurai’s dedication to helping the LGBT community doesn’t stop on campus. During Trump’s inauguration weekend, they decided to create the website mypronouns.org. The website gives information and resources on what a person’s preferred pronouns are and how people can learn to respect them.

They also became the first person issued a gender-neutral driver’s license in the United States. Sakurai says they had been seeking non-binary documentation for some time and after consulting with the name and gender legal clinic at Whitman-Walker and lawyers at the National Center for Transgender Equality, they were able to discuss options with the director of the DMV. The DMV had announced in 2016 it was planning on creating a gender-neutral option but with the help of Sakurai, Whitman-Walker and the National Center for Transgender Equality, the option was able to be implemented. Sakurai received their ID with a gender-neural identifier of “X” in June 2017.

Sakurai hopes that movements like this can continue on campus and beyond.

“One thing that’s important to us is we’re trying to change the climate,” they says. “I think that doing that requires folks that are excited and seeing how this improves the campus climate, not just for trans people, but for everyone. It suggests that we want to be in this environment and that we care about each other and that we want to be inclusive. I think that it’s an opportunity for people to engage in something positive in the workplace and in their classrooms.”

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