With graduation just around the corner, in a couple of months, I’m going to start receiving this newsletter rather than help to create it. I know what the Center can look like for students, faculty, and staff. Yet being an employee here has prohibited me from connecting — as a student– to other trans and queer students on campus. By being so connected to the mechanics of making sure the Center continues to enrich the lives of trans, queer, and intersex (TQI) folx, I’ve missed out on the opportunity to build a student community of my own. So, when I think about what I want to see in this newsletter after I leave, I think I have a different understanding of what makes the LGBT Center at Penn so critical to the lives of TQI faculty, staff, and students at Penn.
For instance, I bet you didn’t know that there’s a group of staff on campus — named “Student Name and Gender Working Group–devoted explicitly to supporting gender nonconforming, nonbinary, and trans (GNBT) folks in the logistical apparatus at Penn. Thanks to the advocacy of the Center we know that gender markers and names can be updated at Penn. But how does this technologically happen since Penn community members have to navigate multiple online platforms: WorkDay, PennInTouch, ApplyWeb, etc.? SNG-WG’s (pronounced “Snug-Wug”) mission is to streamline the entire process, so that–say– if you change your name in one system, do the other systems respond positively to that change? In having a non-binary sex marker, or “X” on all my legal documents, I have existed as a test-pilot to determine if Penn systems are physically ready to support nonbinary and intersex folx, in a technological world built of the binary code. I want to be updated to know that nonbinary and intersex folx can technologically exist on campus and aren’t continually misgendered or missexed because of an archaic tech system.
The Center just applied for a grant to collaborate with the Fine Arts Department to update the art in the space, so it’s more reflective of the populations we serve. Will the Center get the grant? Fertility treatments and adoption support still aren’t covered under Penn’s insurance plan. Erin keeps advocating in HR, but is the system of Penn ready to acknowledge some unique healthcare barriers specific to LGBTQIA folx? PennDOT will be rolling out “X” markers on IDs later this year for folx who want them. How will the Center support the Penn eco-system during this transition? Pennsylvania still only amends birth certificates, rather than correcting them, leaving GNBT vulnerable to outing. How is the Center contributing to this conversation in Harrisburg for Penn’s community?
Maybe you’ve heard that Fresh Grocer on 40th and Walnut is closing its doors in the middle of March to make way for an ACME which will open later this year? What are students, faculty, staff, and West Philadelphia residents supposed to do for food and essential items while we wait for a new store to open? The LGBT Center is working with Penn First Plus (P1P), First Generation Low-Income (FGLI), and Greenfield Intercultural Centers (GIC) to make sure that food sovereignty on and around campus isn’t compromised any further. I want to be updated to know that students and community members aren’t having to miss meals because Penn’s administration decided not to renew Fresh Grocer’s lease.
After being the Social Work Intern at the Center for an academic year, I recognize that alumni want to hear about what has been accomplished so that they feel affectionate and supportive of their alma mater. However, it’s so challenging to pause and talk about accomplishments when the next project or conversation doesn’t allow for the privilege of reflection. This newsletter, as it currently exists, grants space to reflect, pause, and celebrate the small victories on the path towards equity and inclusion. Regardless of what the next social work intern will help this newsletter to become, I will know there’s a whole world beyond that newsletter full of unannounced meetings and strategies to center TQI folx at Penn, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and the US. So, when I start getting the alumni newsletter, and I see the “Donate Today” button while Sallie Mae is knocking on my door, I’m going to be thinking of the ways I can donate my time, skills, and knowledge I’ve amassed working for the Center. Or, to quote the most significant play ever written: “Nothing’s lost forever. In this world, there’s a kind of painful progress. Longing for what we’ve left behind, and dreaming ahead. At least I think that’s so.”