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Project includes trans community

PINNING UP ACTIVISM Students designed shirts during The Women's Center's annual Clothesline Project at the Hub from Oct. 1-3. The shirts aim to convey the pain caused by domestic violence.

Photo by Jalen Walker

By Lana Pochiro, For The Miami Student

At first glance, the colorful T-shirts swinging between the trees around central Hub appear to be just like the array of other festive student organization exhibits that commonly decorate the area. However, a closer look reveals the powerful truths the bright fabrics represent.

These T-shirts are part of The Clothesline Project, a national campaign aimed at raising awareness of violence against women. Victims and the allies of victims create T-shirts to tell the story of their experiences with gendered violence.

The Miami University Women's Center has participated in the campaign for over 15 years, but this year the Women's Center took a new approach adopting the slogan "Violence against women is violence against ALL women."

Jane Goettsch, Director of the Women's Center, said she and her staff and student interns discussed the project's inclusivity at length this year.

"The question came up, 'When we say violence against women, what exactly do we mean by that?'" she said. "What about people who don't identify as women, but who are nonetheless victimized due to their gender?"

The Women's Center staff decided the answer was in the explicit inclusion of trans identified and trans feminine women in the Clothesline Project exhibit.

Goettsch sees this new campaign as just one step in embracing inclusion of all gender identities in their discourse on gendered violence.

"What we're trying to get at is that … people who identify as trans as well as cisgender folks who identify as women, are really targeted, so how can we begin to move at least our own project into a broader acknowledgement of violence against people because of their gender," Goettsch said. "That's where we're trying to move."

Ashaé Burgess, a student intern at the Women's Center, believes this step is crucial to raising awareness and preventing gendered violence in the trans community.

"We need to have a very inclusive space, which is one of the reasons why we pushed so hard for trans inclusion, because they are women too," she said. They should be at the forefront in terms of violence against women and at the forefront of our feminism because they are targeted so heavily."

The concerns of Burgess and Goettsch speak to a wider problem of violence committed against the trans community.

According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects' 2013 Report on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Infected Hate Violence, 72 percent of reported homicides were committed against transgender women - 67 percent of those victims being transgender women of color.

A 2012 Transgender Rates of Violence report compiled by Forge concluded that multiple studies indicate over half of all transgender people have experienced sexual violence in their lifetimes.

Coordinator of GLBTQ Services, Shevonne Nelson, hopes this broadened inclusion of gender identities will help raise awareness and educate others on the validity of trans individuals' experiences.

Nelson spoke on the current culture in which members of the trans community must legitimize their identity to the public, especially in trying to file complaints of sexual assault or gendered violence.

"You want to be called a specific name that really demonstrates who you are, how you feel, how you love, how you experience the world," she said. "And the person on the other side of you that you have to tell your story is still calling you by masculine pronouns, by a name that no longer fits who you are, and likely confusing and conflating your gender identity with your sexual orientation."

Nelson expressed hope for educating others on these identities at Miami through the Clothesline Project.

"I don't know that sympathy or empathy or even validity exists for trans folks. I hope this project can bring about awareness that this does happen and that these stories matter just as much - if not more - than any other story," she said. "The violence is real, and its actually very, very high."

Nelson, Goettsch and Burgess all see room for improvement on Miami's campus in regards to greater inclusion of gender identities.

"Spaces like the Women's Center, Diversity Affairs, GLBTQ Services, [are] opening up because we understand that there are intersections of identities ..." Nelson said. "That's the aspiration - that eventually all space is women's space, men's space, trans space - that all people feel welcome everywhere."

Nelson believes that progress is possible.

"A great place to start is with the empowerment of female identified folks, and where better than in PanHellenic life, because it's such a big thing here," she said. "I've known trans feminine folks who would love to be part of these sororities and part of these organizations, but the education and the awareness are not there."

Nelson hopes that the Clothesline Project will spur additional education and awareness.

"I think something like the Clothesline Project in their spaces, actively having those deeper conversations could provide much needed education about being trans feminine and, even as a larger component, about understanding and knowing that having a sense of your sexuality does not mean that when somebody violates your body it's okay or its deserved or that something you did warrants this," Nelson said.

Nelson advocates a greater discourse on these issues throughout campus even after the Clothesline Project.

"Are we having meaningful dialogue about sexual assault? And about peoples' bodies? How do we tear down the myths about drinking too much, about wearing too short or too see-through clothing, being out and about by yourself?" she said.

Burgess echoes Nelson's push for more discussion of the underlying issues of sexual assault and gendered violence.

"They spread when we allow them too - when we sit back and don't contest some of the philosophies behind the idea that someone deserves violence," Burgess said.

Nelson shared her hopes, but also recognized the obstacles that must be overcome before this goal is realized.

"I would love to see this [inclusion] everywhere, but is that the reality?" Nelson said. "Are we ready for that? In that, we're willing to push it, we're willing to say that this is not okay," she said. "We'd have to commit to that as an institution."

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