UCF students gathered at the Reflecting Pond on Monday night for a vigil to honor the 325 transgender people killed worldwide this year.
Under the glow of candlelight, students honored Transgender Day of Remembrance by reading aloud the names of those who have died.
UCF LGBTQ+ Services speakers said the transgender murder rate is the highest it’s been in decades, with 25 cases in the United States just this year.
“To make this event worthwhile we must continue to advocate, educate and create positive change,” LGBTQ+ Services Coordinator Codie Frank said. “To create change in spaces where we have not historically existed, we need you to step up and speak out.”
The Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil was hosted by the Social Justice and Advocacy department, which includes the Multicultural Student Association and LGBTQ+ Services.
The event is an example of the university’s ongoing efforts to be inclusive of transgender and non-binary students, which are those who don’t fit into men and women’s traditional gender roles, according to the UCF Social Justice and Advocacy LGBTQ+ terminology document.
Gender-inclusive housing is one of UCF’s most recent developments on this front.
This fall, UCF Housing and Residence Life implemented a Social Justice and Advocacy Living Learning community within the on-campus Lake Claire housing development, which is a building for students who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. One hallway within the building is specifically reserved for transgender students.
In addition to the new housing option, UCF Housing works with students on an individual basis to find housing accommodations that meet their needs, Director of Housing and Residence Life Meredith Varner said in an email on Nov. 7.
If a student’s gender identity does not match their assigned gender during the housing application process, they can fill out a form describing their roommate preferences to ensure a comfortable living situation, according to the UCF Housing and Residence Life website. A student can then be assigned a one-bedroom dorm or be placed with other transgender roommates or allies.
Cam Molyneaux, a UCF junior sociology major who identifies as non-binary, used this option when applying for housing this fall. They currently live in Northgate Lakes, an off-campus apartment complex, with an ally friend.
Non-binary people may feel they are a mix of both genders, are somewhere in between or do not fit either. For this reason, many non-binary people may use they/them pronouns instead of the more traditional he/him or she/her. Molyneaux uses they/them pronouns as well as he/him pronouns and switches between them equally, Molyneaux said.
“When I came out at the beginning of this year, I was like ‘I don’t want to just get matched with random, cis roommates who won’t respect my gender identity,’ ” Molyneaux said. “The housing people work with you, they’re very flexible.”
Cisgender is a term used to describe people who identify as the same gender they were assigned at birth, according to the UCF Social Justice and Advocacy LGBTQ+ terminology document.
Wade Alvarado, a transgender freshman studying criminal justice, also took advantage of UCF’s inclusive housing accommodations.
He currently lives in Lake Claire with three other transgender roommates. He also claims to be the first and only transgender contestant in the Mr. UCF Pageant, an annual event put on by the Campus Activities Board to promote school spirit.
“I don’t want my trans brothers and sisters to be killed just for being who they are, so I want people to know that they can be whoever they want to be,” Alvarado said.
Auditions for Mr. and Ms. UCF take place in September, and winners are announced in February.
The UCF Registrar’s Office also offers preferred name changes for transgender students through PeopleSoft, which is software connected to UCF data. Students can change their names on class rosters, Webcourses and grade reports to a name that matches their gender identity.
Molyneaux is working with other students and advocates urging UCF to allow using preferred names in Knights Email.
Molyneaux said transgender students are often misgendered in Knights Email when their legal name is sent to students and faculty members with no way to fix it without an official name change. Student IDs are also not included in preferred name changes, according to a transgender resource guide on the LGBTQ+ Services website.
“That’s a huge problem because I have a ton of friends, they’ve transitioned or they haven’t, they’re basically being outed by their email,” Molyneux said. “Also there’s mental health stuff that goes along with that like gender dysphoria that goes along with being misgendered.”
Mak Kaplowitz, a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies, agreed that the process to change Knights Email names should be easier.
“When you spend your life identifying as something and then you open your email and see the very name that is kind of dead to you, it’s a little bit disheartening,” Kaplowitz said.
Kaplowitz also said UCF could work on communicating transgender-related services to students.
“I also think students just aren’t as informed as they could be about resources having to do with that,” Kaplowitz said. “Like I didn’t know I could change my name on Webcourses until this year, and that is something that Millican Hall offers but if you go to them, I’ve run into people saying ‘Oh we don’t offer that service,’ even though it’s very clearly listed in our trans guide.”
Some transgender students, such as UCF biomedical sciences freshman Isaac Salazar, think UCF should include more gender-neutral bathrooms on campus and make the existing ones more known.
“They’re just ordinary things that may not seem like a big deal but they’re day-to-day things that we all go through,” Salazar said.
There are currently 19 gender-neutral restrooms spread out around UCF’s campus in buildings such as the Recreation & Wellness Center and All Knights Study, according to LGBTQ+ Services’ LGBTQ+ Guide to Campus.
UCF currently has a rating of 4.5 out of 5 on Campus Pride Index, a website that rates universities based on how LGBTQ-friendly they are. Campus Pride is a nonprofit organization the works to create safe college environments for LGBTQ+ students, according to its website.
Criteria involved in rating schools includes the existence of policies and organizations that seek to advance the rights of LGBTQ+ students.
UCF’s score is higher than that of any other Florida college on the site, although the University of Florida and Florida State University have not been rated.