Queer Trans Conference engages with safety, policing

Julia Serano talks about sexualization and marginalization
Julia Serano talks about sexualization and marginalization

Students engaged with issues of safety in queer and trans communities thanks to a series of lectures and workshops held over the weekend during the annual Queer and Trans Conference (QTC).

QTC, formerly known as the Sager Symposium, is an annual conference that explores topics involving queer and trans communities. A student-run planning committee that is part of the Intercultural Center (IC) organizes QTC. This year’s planning committee consisted of six people, most of whom are involved in other queer and trans communities on campus, such as the Swarthmore Queer Union (SQU) and the Queer-Straight Alliance (QSA).

Over the years, QTC and the Sager Symposium have explored queer media, the intersection of race, religion and gender, as well as queer families and homes. In general, QTC spotlights voices and issues that are often marginalized or ignored by mainstream gay rights movements.

“The Queer and Trans Conference is a conference that is trying to center the problems and issues faced by people in queer communities that go beyond gay marriage,” Maria Elena Covarrubias ’15, a member of QTC’s planning committee, said. “We feel there are narratives that are privileged a lot in queer communities and queer organizing, like gay marriage and hate crime legislation. QTC aims to refocus this, saying that homelessness, queer documentation status, queer and trans people in prison are huge issues.”

This year’s conference brought in scholars, artists and community activists from the queer and trans communities to discuss how many of the systems designed to protect queer and trans people in reality make them feel less safe.

“One thing that we realized was that the systems that are supposed to keep queer people safe, like policing, deportations, and surveillance, were all targeting people within the queer communities,” Covarrubias said.

Additionally, this year’s conference incorporated discussions of distinctions we make between different groups of people in the queer community.

“When we think of ‘queer,’ we think of queer people, but there is a lot of difference within [queer people],” Joan Huang ’15, another member of the planning committee, said. “The theme came from the need to raise issues that affected different queer people differently.”

One recurring topic in the workshops was uneven policing, which occurs most frequently especially towards trans women.

“We believe that queer people of color and queer undocumented people need to be centered in these conversations about safety, because these systems that are supposed to keep us safe are causing violence yet again,” Covarrubias said. “That violence is disproportionately affecting trans women, which was another part we tried to bring into our conversation.”

The students also discussed how the queer and trans communities could achieve increased safety without uneven policing.

QTC events included a workshop hosted by the Icarus Project, entitled “”Making Sense of Being Crazy in a Crazy World: A Community Discussion.” According to Huang, the Icarus Project is a radical, community-based mental health movement that seeks to redefine perception of mental illness and examine environmental factors, like violence, that cause mental illness.

“People of color, women, queer people suffer from mental problems at a much higher rate, so it is important for us to talk about structural causes of violence,” Huang said.

In its workshop, the Icarus Project shared strategies that people can use to take care of themselves and deal with oppression.

“For me, it was really affirming that several people pointed to loving, vulnerable relationships as one important tool for taking care of themselves,” Morgan Bartz ’14 said. “Self-care is not often emphasized at Swarthmore, although it really should take priority among our daily lives as a tool for promoting mental resilience as well as overall good health.”

At the end of The Icarus Project’s workshop, the attendees discussed the valuable aspects of the workshop, as well as suggestions for what could be done better next time.

“One thing that someone had mentioned was how Swarthmore institutionally could provide better support. I think a lot of times people are forced to rely on their friends, but I also think it can be hard to institutionalize this type of stuff,” said Huang.

The Icarus Project’s workshop and all of the QTC events a brought together a group of people interested in a variety of queer and trans issues so that they could share their perspectives.

“I thought the facilitators for the event were great, and it was nice to bring together a group of people that otherwise probably wouldn’t have shared the same space,” Ximena Violante ’14 said. “There was a surprising mix of students, alumni, Philly-area residents and other QTC event speakers, which provided a nice range of ages and experiences.”

The conference also included a lecture, entitled “How to Trick the Minotaur: Legislative Advocacy and Radical Queer Praxis,” from Emma Caterine, a community organizer for the Red Umbrella Project, an organization in New York City that provides a public voice for sex workers. Caterine’s talk covered the legislative process regarding queer and trans issues, including sex work.

“The Emma Caterine talk was really cool because the system is broken, and sex work legislation is never really there to help sex workers, it’s there to criminalize them,” Huang said. “But at the same time we talked about how the change affecting people’s lives needs to happen within the system.”

The conference concluded with a lecture by Julia Serano, an author who has written extensively about trans issues. Serano’s talk, “Sexualization and Marginalization,” examined sexualization outside the paradigm of straight males committing sexual violence against women and explored how sexualization can be used as a punishing tactic.

“A lot of times, sexualization and sexual violence happen outside of that paradigm,” Huang said. “A lot of times, when queer people and people who are recognizably trans feel sexually harassed, it can be a way of policing your body, of within the context of feeling uncomfortable with your ‘queerness.’”

Overall, the organizers of the QTC were satisfied with the results of the conference.

“I think the conference in general went very well,” Huang said. “I think it was really important for us to talk about what are ways of to build up the safety of our communities without necessarily increasing policing or increasing harsh penalties.”

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