Gay Straight Alliance Sponsors Andover’s First Ever Transgender Awareness Week

Last week marked the first Transgender Awareness Week sponsored by the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Throughout the week, Phillips Academy students engaged in discussions regarding the relationship between gender identity and expression. According to GSA, to be transgender is to be in a state in which the gender that a person self-identifies to does not match the person’s biological sex. All students and faculty were invited to the three GSA sponsored programs throughout Transgender Awareness Week. On Monday, keynote speaker Toby MacNutt, a diversity consultant and a former student at Phillips Academy, delivered an in-depth presentation on gender identity and gender expression distinct of one’s actual sex. The presentation began with an overview and explanation of gender terminology, followed by a question and answer session and a group discussion facilitated by MacNutt. Talarico said, “The presentation was very interesting and opened me up to aspects of transgender issues that I had never thought of before. The idea of looking at what gender could mean for anyone in the Andover community was a big topic of conversation at the event.” On Wednesday, Frank Tipton, Instructor in History and Social Science and the Faculty Advisor to the GSA, and Edward Rotundo, Instructor in History and Social Science, presented a basic introduction to gender and transgender identity. The presentation, geared toward students with little or no previous exposure to the idea of transgender identity, established several definitions, such as the differences between gender and sex and transgender and transsexual. “I think the Andover community is becoming more aware of different gender issues like transgender and this event was a great opportunity for education and conversation on such issues,” said Tipton. The Gay Straight Alliance finished the week by hosting a screening of the movie “Transamerica” on Friday. The film tells the story of a transsexual woman who embarks on a road trip and undergoes a personal journey toward self-discovery. Dominic Dejesus ’10, President of GSA, said, “We had a solid number of students come out to the events with a lot of enthusiasm. I think in years to come, participation will increase and broaden, resembling our more mainstream programming for gay and lesbian awareness.” “I think the Andover community is becoming more supportive of transgender people and last week was a great example of this. But we have a long way to go,” said Ben Talarico ’11. Tipton said, “The goal of this week was to raise awareness on the idea of transgender, and we as a community should aim to provide a friendly environment for students who are nonconformist in the way they identify and express themselves.” Margot Pinckney ’11, a board member of GSA, said, “Gay Straight Alliances around the world have been talking about transgender identity increasingly, and we thought that there was a lack of conversation regarding this important topic on campus.” Dejesus said, “Transgender issues must be discussed, for there could very well be a transgender student in the near future at Andover.” According to Tipton, the Gay Straight Alliance has not yet decided whether Transgender Awareness Week will become an annual event on campus. The GSA will make this decision after considering student feedback. Dejesus said that transgender awareness is inevitable in the 21st century and that “it is really heartening for me to see the school support and embrace the issue with such a progressive endeavor.” “With increasing awareness on campus, Andover certainly provides gay, [bisexual] and lesbian students with a tolerant and safe environment,” he said.