HOUGHTON - October is LGBTQ History Month. For the past four weeks, the Michigan Technological University Center for Diversity and Inclusion has celebrated by bringing in special speakers affiliated with the subject, including the Michigan Department of Civil Rights and spoken word poet Michael Reyes. Thursday evening the CDI, along with Keweenaw Pride and the Parents Fund of the Michigan Tech Fund, sponsored a visit from attorney, professor, transgender rights activist and founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition Kylar Broadus.
"Tech is an interesting cultural bubble. We're really isolated geographically and a lot of our students don't really know very much about social justice and civil rights struggles and really how it can impact them and the people around them, their fellow students," said Renee Wells, assistant director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Tech. "It's really important for us to raise awareness and help introduce them to conversations so they can think about ways they can get involved and just understand the social changes going on around them."
Broadus discussed the political and legal history of and present day landscape of GLBTQ civil rights, especially as relating to transgender individuals. He cited important court cases involving transgender people, including a nondiscrimination case against the U.S. government won by a transgender veteran in 2007. Broadus also discussed his testimony before the U.S. Senate and the Employment Non Discrimination Act and his personal experience with growing up and identifying publicly as a transgender male.
Meagan Stilp/Daily Mining Gazette
Kylar Broadus, attorney, professor, transgender rights activist and founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, speaks to a group of students, staff, faculty and community members at Michigan Technological University Thursday about transgender rights in America.
"It's a lack of understanding (of transgender people) in society that's the problem," Broadus said. "We have to do a better job of taking care of people. People should come first. We're not out to harm anybody."
Broadus touched on multiple court cases and political measures concerning transgender people in the workplace. His own experience, he said, was torture. After over seven years working with a single company, he was forced out by management behavior only six months after coming out to his colleagues. He now works politically and legally to secure civil rights for transgender people.
"This is the time for transgender rights," Broadus said. "It's here, it's now, we seize the day and we're going to see it happen in my lifetime, in a shorter span than I ever expected it to before. And I hope it does so that people do not have to live in their closets."
While many of the cases Broadus pointed to have already been decided, he shared an example of this administration's willingness to work for transgender civil rights through Assembly Bill 1266, which would allow transgender children in California to use the appropriate sex segregated bathroom.
"A.B. 1266 is a good law, it is the right thing to do. I would ask you to make sure that you let people know about, that you lend your support to that bill and get the word out," he said. "We have sat too long in the LGBT movement and let the Right beat us down. We should stand up and let our voices be heard. There's nothing wrong with being LGBT, there's nothing wrong with letting children use the appropriate sex segregated bathroom."
That support of LGBT students should not stop when they are children, Broadus said. He also spoke on the importance of college campuses recognizing and supporting the privacy of transgender students.
"On college campuses things need to be done so people have the appropriate sex segregated facilities, so people have the appropriate dorm, so people can have their names changed through the registrars office so they're not outed if they don't want to be. I know that has been a problem for years, where they can't fix it in the system. Well fix it. It makes such a difference."
Michigan Tech does have certain measures in place for those reasons, Wells said.
"We have accommodations for housing for students who are transgender, we have a temporary fix in place for the records situation for naming - we have a temporary system where students can enter a preferred name and it's on their ID cards - we have a list online of all the unisex, gender neutral bathrooms on campus and we're working to find ways to create more of those," she said. "We are doing a lot of the things (Broadus talked about). Some of the things require financial resources that we don't necessarily have available right not but we're doing as much as we can to be as inclusive as possible."