UCSD’s LGBT Resource Center held a transgender symposium on Nov. 4 to begin its yearlong celebration of the center’s 15-year anniversary. The symposium focused on the experiences of transgender people of color in America’s prison system as well as the strategic movement to bring about its abolition.
The symposium, entitled “We Cannot Live Without Our Lives: A Conversation on Anti-Blackness, Trans Resistance and Prison Abolition,” hosted a panel of four formerly incarcerated black transgender women and organizers: CeCe McDonald, Reina Gossett, Janetta Johnson and Miss Major. Eric A. Stanley, a President’s Postdoctoral Fellow in Communication and Critical Gender Studies at UCSD, moderated the panel.
During the panel, the four panelists went into detail about their traumatic experiences during the unjust nature of their incarcerations. The panelists also emphasized that although the LGBT community currently gets more media coverage, it does not necessarily mean that circumstances are improving for members of that community.
Furthermore, the panelists expressed worry that the mainstream LGBT causes are leading the public to pay less attention toward the causes that they have been fighting for generations.
“I think the ways in which so much of mainstream LGBT organizing is now focused on marriage, military and hate crimes legislation actually push out lots of really important, already marginalized voices, like people in prison,” Stanley said. “And because trans women of color who are currently or formerly incarcerated are among the most marginalized in the community, it’s really important that we focus our collective energy in supporting them.”
The panelists also went on to characterize their movement to abolish the current prison system, as well as to distinguish it from any movements to merely reform the system.
“The prisons are not broken, but they’re working exactly how they’re supposed to be working so reform is not enough,” Stanley said. “We actually need a totally different way of being in a world.”
The program as a whole, according to the program flyer, had three primary objectives: to allow the narratives of transgender black women to guide the conversation, to provide space for participants to learn about the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality through narrative and inquiry and to address the climate for transgender women at UCSD and beyond.
“More than anything, we wanted to highlight the experiences of trans women of color,” director of the LGBT Resource Center Dr. Shaun Travers said.
One of the panelists and Activist Fellow at Barnard College’s Center for Research on Women Reina Gossett told the UCSD Guardian that her personal goal was to form connections both with people at the forefront of the movement and those who are looking to learn more about how they can get involved.
“I wanted to connect with the really brilliant legacies of Miss Major, Janetta and Cece, as well as with an audience that I think is both hungry for, already engaged in and strongly supportive of abolition and supportive of black trans women being at the center of a movement to create self-determination and trans liberation,” Gossett said.
To continue celebrating its 15th year at UCSD, Travers told the Guardian that the LGBT Resource Center is going to hold an alumni brunch during Winter Quarter 2015 that will include all of their LGBT alumni, the former LGBT Resource Center interns and former students leaders that were involved in any of the LGBT and people of color organizations.
Additionally, Chancellor Pradeep Khosla is going to hold an LGBT leadership reception during Spring Quarter 2015.