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Trans student advocates gender neutrality

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Posted: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 12:15 am

College can be a great time for new beginnings and life changes. Just ask Tammy Maher, a fourth-year technical theater student who has been pushing toward a more gender-neutral campus environment since her first year at Cal Poly Pomona.

As a transgender student, Maher was unhappy living in the residence halls during her freshman year at CPP due to the lack of gender-neutral housing. Toward the end her freshman year, Maher was contacted by the residence life coordinator at the time, Charlene Yue, who asked her if she would be interested in talking to the area coordinator about setting up gender-neutral housing in the new suites for the following year.

Maher, Amanda Gingerich, Crystal Hutchinson and Yanira Hernandez were the the first four residence to live in gender-neutral housing at Vista de las Montanas.

The following year, Maher said there was more movement for gender-neutral housing because people had heard about it and were interested.

“I kind of like the way the Village defines it as, we don’t care who you are, you can live together and if there are conflicts with say [transgender] issues, we’ll deal with those as they come up,” said Maher. “University Housing Services, however, took a different position and defines gender-neutral housing as a supportive place where people can explore gender identities and transition.”

According to Maher, it was difficult to push forward to expand gender-neutral housing at UHS under this description.

“We couldn’t push forward to make more gender-neutral housing under UHS’s definition of it, so it kind of has fizzled now, but it’s still a program that they are willing to offer and they now know how to go through the steps of setting it up,” said Maher.

Jami Grosser, the Pride Center coordinator, said when Tammy came to CPP, she immediately showed a strong interest in talking to others about her journey and experience as a transgender student.

“It’s interesting because every trans student that comes to a college campus is going to be different in terms of their personal journey, their understanding of their identity and what kind of support and visibility they want and need on campus,” said Grosser. “Tammy was very interested in really educating people.”

Maher is trying to implement a name change system so that when students register for classes, they can use a preferred name rather than their legal name.

“So far, Maria, the head registrar, has taken [the proposal] to Student Affairs and Student Affairs had a meeting [on Wednesday] with the IT people who control PeopleSoft, so right now we’re talking about how to go about changing the system technically,” said Maher.

Maher has also been in the process of making a push for more gender-neutral restrooms on-campus.

“The things that I have been talking to with facilities about is implementing multi-stall gender-neutrals in current existing facilities,” said Maher. “That would mean taking the [men and women] signs off of a restroom and replacing it with a sign that just says ‘Restroom,’ so it isn’t defined as a gender.”

Additionally, Maher has begun to advocate for trans-inclusive healthcare at CPP which would include hormones and surgeries.

“The campus is starting to look at it more,” said Maher. “We had the trans conference back in November and we’re starting to get some momentum off of that to start changing the healthcare that the campus currently provides.”

According to Grosser, she feels that with Maher’s own journey and transition, she has started to realize the limitations of the facilities, programs and policies of the campus.

“In theory, they don’t support her, but now they really don’t support her in practice because her everyday [life] experience is becoming harder and harder,” said Grosser. “There are certain policies that she is really hitting a wall with and so I think that has kind of ignited, in a bigger way, her passion for making change.”

Coming to a new college allowed Maher to start thinking about her true identity and how to best go about sharing her story with others.

She has worked hard to overcome many challenges in her life and hopes that the work she has done at CPP will help future transgender students adjust to campus life.

“It’s been really nice to do the activist work that I have done here at Cal Poly [Pomona],” said Maher. “Trying to create gender-neutral spaces and trying to raise awareness helps me build my identity and doing activist work is like a support group . . . I don’t expect this campus to be fully inclusive by the time I leave, but I do expect it to be a little more gender-neutral than when I go here. I want to help other students not have to struggle as much as I did.”

From Maher’s perspective, she considers several of her greatest achievements to be finding the support system she never had as a child through friends and faculty on campus. She is also happy to have found the strength to be proud of who she really is and express herself more comfortably and freely.

Amanda Gingerich, a fourth-year psychics student, has known Maher since they were freshman. Over the years, Gingerich said she has become closer to Maher and considers her as more of a sister than a friend.

“She is becoming more and more confident and blossoming beautifully into herself,” said Gingerich. “Even though the steps and changes that she has been trying to make on campus may be small things, they are very important, especially to certain people.”

Gingerich said her and Maher provide an equal support system for one another.

“I can’t envision college life without her in it,” said Gingerich. “She helped me open doors that I didn’t know were there. I noticed that she has always been such a big advocate for other people before herself, and lately she has started to become more of an advocate for herself which is great.”

With each accomplishment that Maher has achieved and obstacle that she has overcome, she has gradually become more and more confident with herself.

“One of my best friends, who is also trans, has told me, ‘if you call a rose by any other name it would still be the same sweet thing.’”

Maher said this is how she views her decision to ultimately change her name.

“I don’t really care about my name; pronouns aren’t really what matters,” said Maher. It’s who I am that matters to me most.”

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