An Open Letter to ACPA Leadership and the 2015 Convention Planning Team

We are at a critical moment in history for ACPA’s leadership to demonstrate trans* equity and inclusion within this organization. There are a preponderance of recent events that draw attention to why having Laverne Cox as the closing speaker was such an important marker for ACPA and for the trans* folks within higher education who are part of this organization. Although ACPA could not foresee Laverne’s cancellation, the association did have control over the decision for who would be the new closing speaker for this year’s convention. The murder rate of trans* people, particularly trans* women of color, merits serious dialogue and action that centers our community’s experiences and narratives. Within the first seven weeks of 2015, there have been seven trans* women murdered, six of whom were trans* women of color.

  • Kristina Gomez Reinwald, 46, Miami, Florida, was allegedly stabbed on February 20;
  • Bri Golec, 22, Akron, Ohio, was allegedly stabbed by her father on February 13;
  • Penny Proud, 21, New Orleans, Louisiana, who was killed in a robbery on February 10;
  • Taja DeJesus, 36, San Francisco, California, who was stabbed February 1 by an alleged attacker who then committed suicide;
  • Yazmin Vash Payne, 33, Los Angeles, California, was allegedly stabbed by her boyfriend and left in their burning Los Angeles apartment on January 31;
  • Ty Underwood, 24, North Tyler, Texas, was allegedly shot by her boyfriend on January 26; and
  • Lamia Beard, 30, Norfolk, Virginia, who was shot by an unknown assailant January 17.

There have also been a number of trans* folks that took their own lives within recent months, including:

  • Aubrey Mariko Shine, San Francisco, California
  • Leelah Alcorn, 17, Kings Mills, Ohio
  • Melonie Rose, 19, Laurel, Maryland
  • Ash Haffner, 16, Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Zander Mahaffey, 15, Austell, Georgia

Those who came before us allow us the opportunity to practice gender in ways that validate our existence. As we honor the memory of these folks, we want to call attention to the systems of oppression that impact the livability of trans* lives. Additionally, trans* women of color are often invisible within our field, not just as students, but especially as scholars and practitioners. These women dare(d) to live their truths, and we recognize their courage. We are, because they were first. So we resist. Right now, an anti-trans* bill in Florida, HB 583, threatens to restrict bathroom usage for trans* people. Similar bills have been proposed and passed in Kentucky and Texas, and were proposed and tabled in Tennessee and Arizona. There is also a bill within Michigan that allows EMT and medical staff to withhold treatment to LGBTQ identified individuals on religious grounds. Moreover, having the conference in Canada next year may impede trans* folks’ ability to travel and certainly, their ability to use the bathroom safely. Bills like these seek to dehumanize trans* people, relegating us to objects worthy of others’ fear, hatred, and dismissal. So we resist. It seems curious that during the month of March, what we have deemed as “Women’s History Month”, a cisgender man has taken the place of a transgender woman so easily, when there are a variety of other trans* women scholars, educators, activists, and writers, who would have been fantastic closing speakers and better able to share the kind of message, similar to Laverne Cox, that association leadership and our colleagues in this field need to hear. In fact, in the last two years alone, two cohorts of 100 trans* individuals each year have been recognized in The Trans* 100 for their contributions to improving the lives of people in our communities. From this, one might glean that priority was given to star power and celebrity culture over content focused on equity and inclusion, particularly trans* equity and inclusion. This conference would have marked the occurrence of the first out trans* speaker that we’ve had within ACPA’s Convention history. Who gets painted as deserving of the opportunity to speak, to be heard, as having a message and story to share? Furthermore, ACPA missed the opportunity to financially support individuals and their affiliated organizations who are doing work around trans* issues that would have benefitted from the chance to speak to thousands of campus leaders. Financially supporting a trans* speaker would have sent a clear message that this organization takes trans* people’s contributions seriously. This (in)action conflicts with the espoused values of ACPA, specifically those surrounding social justice and equity/inclusion. So we resist. These decisions and missed opportunities have left many of us wondering whether ACPA is a home for us as trans* people. For whom is ACPA home? Whose interests does ACPA serve? Whose identities are reflected throughout ACPA leadership, convention sessions, and featured speakers? Many of us have recognized that the answer to these questions is definitely: NOT US. So where do we go from here? We have been left off of featured speakers lists, we are marginally featured in conference sessions, and there is a lack of trans* advocacy and consciousness amongst ACPA’s leaders. Furthermore, advocacy focused upon trans* equity is often taken up by us as trans* educators. Even when we do, our expertise and recommendations are dismissed, and the slight moves forward that are taken are co-opted to further project a progressive image. This means that we rarely get a chance to heal ourselves, and must instead focus on doing constant education and advocacy on our own behalf. It’s time for this organization to change. It’s time to hold ACPA accountable for their continued lack of representation and prioritization. It’s time for ACPA to live its values. And so we resist. The T*Circle