One way of showing support and letting transgender students feel safe and accepted are rainbow ribbon pins some people put on their backpacks. | Elyse Lopez/Special to Mustang News

Elyse Lopez
Special to Mustang News

“He said he knew he shouldn’t be angry,” Bryan Pride somberly recounted a memory of a student he was mentoring. “But he was.”

“So I asked why and he said, ‘Because I’m jealous of the fact these kids will never have to suffer like I’ve suffered,’” said Pride, a graduate assistant who talks daily with students about issues they are dealing with. “They will never understand what it’s like to be trans and be surrounded by people who tell you you’re doing the wrong thing and what you’re doing is immoral.’”

Anger. Depression. Isolation.

Those feelings are not uncommon for transgender individuals as they transition into the self they feel they were supposed to be.

In light of California’s bathroom bill that introduced more gender-neutral bathrooms to K-12 schools at the beginning of 2014, Cal Poly’s transgender community is anxiously awaiting the outcome and effect on colleges. But finding a safe, private space to go to the restroom is only one of many issues transgender students at Cal Poly face.

Transgender students are not only trying to find a place in their new school, but also in their body, which can inhibit learning and personal expression, Pride said.

“Someone with transgender dysphoria may simultaneously be going through depression and self-loathing,” he said. “That’s among other issues like rejection from family, lack of assistance, feeling of not having a space … That takes a toll on somebody emotionally and mentally.”

Many of the students Pride mentors feel misunderstood and have a hard time coping with a world that hasn’t fully learned to accept them yet, he said.

“It’s like, ‘How do I fit into a place I already don’t fit the norm in?’” Pride said. “It’s difficult for the students.”

Depending on where students are in their identity, the issues that arise could be endless, said Elizabeth Meyer, an assistant professor in the school of education at Cal Poly.

“Trans-identified students can have issues other students never even think about,” Meyer said. “If they haven’t transitioned at home and they’re in gender-segregated spaces, this could be very alienating and difficult.”

Other issues for transgender students include being addressed appropriately by professors in class, Meyer said.

It can also be challenging and difficult to use a bathroom as a transgender student without being harassed or attacked, she said.

“Physical violence is not uncommon in those kinds of spaces,” Meyer said.

One of the solutions the Pride Center has come up with is a listing of all of the gender-neutral restrooms that exist on campus, Pride said. Even that, however, comes with problems.

“A lot of complaints we’ve gotten about the restrooms is the fact that they’re in the boondocks, the extreme extremities of the campus and they’re locked all the time,” Pride said.

The Pride Center has been working hard to make these students feel recognized, said Adam Serafin, the Pride Center assistant coordinator.

“Our trans population is small here at Cal Poly, but it is existent,” Serafin said. “I think even we as the Pride Center are not connected to a big chunk of that population.”

There are a number of schools that track their diverse student populations, but Cal Poly does not, he said.

“We have no way of tracking how many LBGT students we have,” Serafin said. “We have no way of tracking retention or any academic success.”

Many other colleges are starting to look at underrepresented students, he said.

“They’re able to look at this is who we have, this is how they’re doing, and are able to assign additional support services for academic success,” Serafin said.

Students also need to feel accepted and safe, he said.

One way of showing support and letting students feel safe and accepted are rainbow ribbon pins some people put on their backpacks, Pride said.

“You don’t even have to know them, you’re just looking at this backpack … and it registers in your mind that ‘I’m safe and OK here,’” Pride said.

Pride said, however, he would like to see more spaces where trans-identified students feel safe.

“Cal Poly needs to work on proactive measures rather than retroactive measures,” Pride said. “It only takes one attack for an entire community to feel marginalized.”

Pride continues to mentor transgender students, and the Pride Center is always available to help them cope with transitions of all kinds.

When transgender students get angry, it makes sense, Pride said. There hasn’t been a universal understanding of them yet.

“I told the student, ‘I get it; you’re angry because it’s that concept if you had been born a little later, maybe things would be different,’” Pride said.

It means present-day generations of transgender individuals will have to suffer in order to bring about change, he said.

But Pride said he told the student he should be happy.

“Because it means we’re moving toward a world where there’s going to be less hatred and more acceptance,” Pride said. “Which means it’s a better place for you later.”

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