As the nation battles over rights for transgender people — this year alone, nearly 600 anti-trans bills have been filed in 49 states — an upcoming conference on campus will offer trans students space that celebrates their history of activism and ways to advocate for the future.
“Trans people deserve community and deserve community-driven spaces, just like any marginalized group,” said Kris King ’24, executive director and founder of TransHarvard and the leading force behind the student-run event. “That has been exacerbated by the rhetoric politically and in the news, especially in the last couple of years. We’ve really seen attacks come to fruition on our access to healthcare, to education, and to community driven spaces that can be safely operated.”
The two-day conference is in its second year, a culmination of years of trans advocacy on Harvard’s campus. The first Trans+ Community Celebration last year brought a small group of students, faculty, staff, and alumni together to discuss issues affecting trans people in the U.S. Organizers said 1,200 people are expected to attend this weekend’s conference.
“This celebration is so many things at once: an evidencing of the College’s commitment to affirming and supporting queer and trans folks; a testament to the power of student and administrative collaboration, especially in this case, where colleagues from across Harvard Schools have come alongside; a capacity-building opportunity for folks seeking professional development,” said Harvard College Associate Dean for Inclusion and Belonging Alta Mauro. “More importantly, though, this community celebration is a chance to center trans people and their experiences, and to honor and amplify their joy.”
Billing itself as the “largest student-run Trans+ focused event in the world,” the celebration will host dozens of speakers, including alumni Schuyler Bailar ’19, Elliot Marrow ’14, and Kimm Topping, Ed.M. ’20.
Volunteer Matteo Diaz ’27 said he noticed during Visitas that there wasn’t a very visible trans community on campus. It wasn’t until he landed on campus for the fall semester that he came across TransHarvard and decided to get involved.
“For me, it was twofold, wanting to be personally connected to the trans community here on campus as a trans student, but also trans advocacy is something that I’m really passionate about,” Diaz said.
“Being at an institution like Harvard, where there is that kind of reach and the privilege that comes from being here and the kinds of resources that are available, it feels very important to me to be active and involved in advocacy for my community. Not everyone has access to the same resources and that same privilege, and there’s so much that needs to be done right now for trans right.”
Marrow, who is scheduled to speak on a panel on mental health providers, said he remembers a time when trans people on Harvard’s campus weren’t as visible as they are now, but the activism around issues that affected them was.
“I often felt like I was the only [trans] person because there were so few people that were visible at that time and I had to try to find community elsewhere in Boston,” the former Trans Task Force president (2012-14) said. “At the same time, there was this larger movement at Harvard to get gender-affirming care covered by insurance. That passed when I was an undergrad.”
Topping, a trans activist and educator, said they are looking forward to highlighting Harvard’s trans history during the conference. An adjunct lecturer on education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, they will lead workshops on LGBTQIA+ community history and queer and trans youth advocacy.
Like Marrow, Topping felt a bit isolated as a student despite monumental activism taking place on campus. They supported the push for all-gender restrooms at the Ed School and worked on an independent study, making recommendations to the graduate school on how it could improve its approach to feminist and queer studies. Now, Topping is excited to see what changes the celebration will elicit campus-wide.
“It’s a broader educational opportunity for Harvard to see the power of the trans community on campus and what organizing can look like,” they said.
Bailar, the first openly transgender swimmer in the National Collegiate Athletic Association and at Harvard, has long been advocating for trans rights, well before the surge of anti-trans bills. As a student, Bailar said, he did not experience a trans community on campus; instead, he gave more than 100 speeches on trans activism. The rise of disinformation and false propaganda about trans people has made events like the Trans+ Community Celebration and work being done by trans students even more critical, the former standout swimmer said.
“I really hope that all trans students on our campus who are able to come can feel affirmed, recognized, seen, and immersed in their community,” Diaz said. “I want every trans student here to be able to feel like they belong, and being able to participate in this conference and have that community is an important piece of that. I also hope cis people come and learn and understand more about how they can support trans students, faculty, and people on campus.”
The Trans+ Community Celebration will be held Friday and Saturday on Harvard’s campus. The celebration is free to attend and open to all members of the community.