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Engendering Change workshops challenge through shared info
by Gretchen Rachel Hammond

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The 2016 Engendering Change Conference held at the University of Illinois at Chicago ( UIC )'s campus April 23 established that an integral part of the future of social-justice activism is being sown in the classroom.

Graduate students representing an array of disciplines demonstrated that confronting social inequalities and ensuring racial and gender justice can begin through an examination of these issues. The daylong conference covered topics ranging from the sex industry to police violence to inequalities and identities and political mobilization.

It began with workshop discussions spurred by, among other attainments, dissertations and lectures on an array of studies including explorations of the "Life Experiences of Older Transgender Women of Color," "Spatial Inequality in the LGBTQ Social Service Sector," "The Dynamics of Black Woman Hood" and "The Construction of Legal Consciousness in Online Networks for Buyers of Sex in Illinois."

In an afternoon session focusing on risk management that UIC Department of Medical Education postdoctoral research associate Kelly Underman moderated, Ohio State University Student Laura Frizzel explored "Trans People and Risk Behaviors: The Need to Move Beyond MTF and FTM."

"My questions here are how are researchers conceiving of and studying trans involvement in risk behaviors and who is excluded in these studies?" Frizell began. "My main argument is that researchers are largely focusing on trans men and trans women oftentimes with the language of MTF and FTM to the exclusion of individuals who do not have binary genders. This is a really important correction that needs to be made."

Her theory was supported by numerous peer articles with a weighted focus on trans women.

"Thinking about transgender individuals who do not conform to the binary, in every interaction every day, they're going to be held accountable to gender norms that don't correspond to their gender," Frizzell noted. "So this really speaks to importance of understanding their experiences as potentially very different from trans men and trans women."

Northern Kentucky University student Ron Gladden took the discussion into even further multifaceted territory in a five-chapter dissertation framed by what he has termed Transgracial Leadership and Identity.

"Even though phenotypically I am coded as a Black male, I have identified primarily as white and female," Gladden said. "'Transgracial' takes elements of what it means to be transgender as well as transracial and combines both. The definition is a prevailing, internalized baseline of gender and race incongruity. For me, that's born out of having to cope with the inconsistencies of what's on the outside and what's on the inside and not having a way to mitigate the discrepancy."

In a visceral illustration of that feeling, Gladden shared an excerpt from his book-in-progress White Girl—an attempt, as he put it, to capture "an internalized white female voice."

"I get it. You'll be out front and center, living and doing things in full incarnate form and I will be someplace else, always in the distance via time [and] emotionally," Gladden read. "I have learned to make do with my role and I assume you have, too."

Both Gladden's and Frizzel's presentations spurred a dialogue on the massive divisions within the transgender community and how the word 'privilege' has created confrontational silos having devolved from an educational tool into a weapon of attack.

"It made me think of Eugene Robinson's Disintegration [The Splintering of Black America]." Gladden said. "In that book, he talks about the African-American community saying that, at one time, there was a group singing from the same sheet of music and you were able to advance an agenda that was anchored in clear goals. In essence, there needs to be clarity, consistency and a central message that just isn't there. Silos are a way to keep a marginalized group as a target."

Mississippi State University student Izzy Pellegrine agreed.

"I think that when we try to look at privilege as X number of categories of marginalization and X number categories of privilege is where we get to into this place where we can't speak between the differences within the movement," she said.

By way of example, Pellegrine referred to the leadership structure and hiring practices of the national nonprofit The Human Rights Campaign ( HRC ).

"They have a very corporate model," she said. "They will bring in people of color and people who identify outside the gender binary, but do those people actually get a voice in the way that organization is run to the extent that the white men that traditionally run it do? I argue no. At the core of that is the idea of a neoliberal additive model of dealing with multiple dimensions of difference."

Other afternoon workshops included "The Price Tag of Gender Justice: Organizing Racial Politics and Funding," "#BlackWomenMatter: The Invisible Victims of the Movement in the Wake of State Violence" and "No Justice for Me:" An analysis of the Sandra Bland case & the Say Her Name Movement.' system.

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