The Center of Multicultural Services celebrated National Transgender Awareness Day on Nov. 20 by playing a series of movies celebrating and informing people about the transgender community.
A handful of students gathered at 2 p.m. for the first showing called “Treasure: From Tragedy to Trans Justice; Mapping a Detroit Story.”
The documentary follows 19-year-old Shelly Hilliard, an African-American trans woman living in Detroit.
In October 2011, officers found Hilliard in a Motel 6 in Madison Heights with a friend and a bag of marijuana. The officers demanded Hilliard to call the marijuana dealer and order a delivery to her room to avoid arrest.
After Qasim Raqib or “Red” and Marquita Clark were arrested, the officers informed them of Hilliard’s help with the arrest. Red and Clark were released a few hours later and three days later Hilliard was found dismembered and scattered around parts of Detroit.
Her death in 2011 was a result of police coercion, transphobia and Jim Crow drug laws.
The gloomy documentary is also a depiction of the diverse and supportive community that Hilliard called home.
Misty Levingston, assistant director of multicultural services, reassured the small group that the next movie, “I Am The Queen” would be an uplifting screening about the transgender community.
“I Am The Queen” is a documentary based in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood and follows around Bianca, Julissa and Jolizza who are preparing for the Vida/SIDA Cacica pageant. The pageant is a celebration of transgender participants in the Puerto Rican community.
Levingston has been at the University of La Verne for three months and was surprised to see the amount of gender neutral bathrooms in the Athletic Pavilion.
She considers the Center of Multicultural Services and the entire college campus a safe space for everyone. Levingston acknowledged the dismissive and unsupportive connotation society has attached to transgender people.
“People have to be open minded,” Levingston said. “Everyone grows up and they have these negative ideas about transgender people prescribed to them by their families, society and religion.”
Monique Mondragon, a graduate student in the educational counseling program, attended the movie screenings to further understand the transgender community as she may work with transgender students in the future.
“When people learn about the adversities this community faces, it can help to bring awareness and advocacy, as well as empathy, rather than judgment,” Mondragon said.
Mondragon learned the struggles and acceptance strains transgender people endure with not only societal standards, but also within the family structure.
Levingston said that through educational events like the one the Center hosted, people can become more knowledgeable about the transgender community. She said members of the transgender community need to find their allies and walk in their truth.
“I have gone to conferences and have done some professional development on this subject,” Levingston said. “I know a little something, but I have not lived that truth. So I am not an expert, but I am an ally.”
Kassandra Guerrero, a graduate student in the educational counseling program, came to the event to expand her knowledge on the transgender community.
“This event will benefit me in my career by teaching me about different types of cultures and people,” Guerrero said. “If society makes more of an effort to become educated about the trans culture, then we will no longer have this negative stigma surrounding transgender people.”
Guerrero said watching the screening of “Treasure,” made her see the discrimination transgender people face for living their authentic selves.
Lesly Fuentes, junior economics and Spanish double major, is a student assistant at the multicultural center and helps multicultural clubs promote their events on campus.
She is assigned different projects and helps advertise events through online calendars. Fuentes said she enjoys being a part of the center and the overall family feeling it provides.
“I love the people and feeling of life this center provides,” Fuentes said. “We talk to each other to make sure what we are doing is right. We bounce ideas off of each other and they keep me grounded here.”
Fuentes said the center is a place to share opinions on certain issues to create a healthy dialogue.
Levingston expressed the importance of open mindedness and acceptance of the transgender community. She encourages everyone to use the Center for Multicultural Services as a safe space and study area.
The Center has a few computers available for use, a sitting area with a cozy red couch and a kitchen area.
“You are never going to change anyone’s mind, they have to change it for themselves,” Levingston said. “Through education and befriending someone who is a transgender person, people will be more accepting toward transgender people.”
Layla Abbas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.