EDITORIAL | Tolerating transphobia invites violence into our community

Transphobia at UCCS has intensified and gone unaddressed in recent years. In the wake of Club Q, students are concerned.

Hateful and exclusionary rhetoric is on the rise, and the LGBTQ+ community — especially the trans community — is paying the price.

The Nov. 19 Club Q shooting that left five people dead and 22 injured was a reminder that hit close to home for Colorado Springs. This internationally denounced act of violence happened just four miles from the UCCS campus.

Despite significant progress made in the past decade, our city is still not a totally safe or accepting space for LGBTQ+ people. Likewise, UCCS has made safe spaces for queer students in MOSAIC and the LGBTQ+ Resource Center, but there is still work to do.

In the past year alone, the university has seen outward displays of discrimination against trans students, doing little to address transphobic harassment on an official UCCS social media page and permitting a transphobic politician to speak on campus.

Targeted hate speech

In February, members of UCCS’ Turning Point USA chapter harassed non-binary student Irina Amouzou in comments on an official UCCS Instagram page post celebrating Amouzou’s accomplishments as a student leader.

The comments, which included racist and transphobic hate speech, have since been removed from the Instagram post by UCCS’ social media team. In a March campus-wide email, Chancellor Venkat Reddy said that the incident would be “addressed confidentially through the appropriate campus offices,” but it remains unclear whether the club or students behind the comments faced consequences.

The UCCS Student Code of Conduct prohibits “severe, persistent, or pervasive verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, coercion or conduct which has caused a person substantial emotional distress.” It specifies that harassment includes “directly or indirectly initiating communication with a person or toward another person” in a virtual context that is deemed a “threat” or “obscene.”

Violation of the code of conduct should result in disciplinary action. According to the Club and Organization Conduct Procedures — a supplement to the Student Code of Conduct — responses to alleged conduct violations can include club or organizational probation, monetary reimbursement, service requirements or “withdrawal of University recognition as a student club or organization.”

In response to the TPUSA incident, the UCCS Office of Institutional Equity opened a Title IX investigation, but the results found that no substantial conduct violations occurred.

“The Office of Institutional Equity came to the conclusion that the words of Turning Point USA did not meet the threshold for discrimination against a protected class,” Amouzou wrote on social media.

TPUSA is still active on campus, has an active social media presence and hosts regular club meetings at UCCS.

Kane Ruiz, a trans student on campus, criticized the university’s lack of accountability during the TPUSA incident and said that protecting students’ freedom of speech should not mean allowing them to spew hate speech and attack queer students online.

“I don’t think that people who continuously violate other people’s existence and continue to spread hatred … should have a space on campus,” Ruiz said. “It just encourages other students to be more comfortable with their hate and to exude that to other students and faculty.”

Controversial guest speakers

On Oct. 15, Heidi Ganahl, a right-wing and — according to the Colorado Times Recorder — openly transphobic political figure, came to UCCS to promote her campaign for Colorado governor.

Ganahl has been a CU Regent since 2017 and her term will end in January 2023, but her willingness to spread transphobic misinformation should have made her ineligible to speak on campus.

“Although I do believe in freedom of speech and allowing both political parties [to] have a presence on campus, I don’t believe in allowing individuals who preach hate speech and spread misinformation to have a presence on campus,” Ruiz said.

“I think [Ganahl] being invited goes against student interest because I had to be warned that she was coming,” Ruiz said. “If there truly wasn’t anything to worry about, then there wouldn’t be a need to warn specifically LGBTQ+ individuals about her [appearance] on campus.”

Ganahl has publicly spewed offensive, conspiratorial anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric alongside Colorado 3rd Congressional District Rep. Lauren Boebert. According to an NBC article from October, “Ganahl insisted in several recent interviews that [Colorado] students were dressing and identifying as cats, disrupting class, and [that] the state’s schools were tolerating it.”

This rumor has since been proven false by various news outlets and school boards in Colorado.

Karla Sluis, a Durango School District 9-4 public information officer, told the Colorado Times Recorder that such claims were “absolutely not true,” citing the damage that this type of gross misinformation can have on the protection of LGBTQ+ youth in Colorado.

“It’s important that real facts are shared,” Sluis said.

According to Mountain Lion Connect, Ganahl’s presence on campus was sponsored by the College Republicans, who are funded by student fees. Together with UCCS’ TPUSA chapter, the College Republicans also invited the openly transphobic, alt-right political commentator Milo Yiannopoulos to speak on campus in 2017, despite pushback from the student body.

Breaking patterns of hate

Since the TPUSA incident and Ganahl’s October campus visit, transphobia remains a prevalent issue for UCCS students — one that touched the Springs more violently last month at Club Q, on the eve of Trans Day of Remembrance.

“Anytime there is an attack against queer spaces and queer communities, it always feels personal because it’s just a reminder that no matter where I am, there’s always going to be [that] ‘what if’ scenario coming through,” Ruiz said.

A memorial of flowers, candles and stuffed animals outside Club Q the morning after a deadly attack that left five people dead on Nov. 19. Photo by Kate Marlett /The Scribe.

Hate crimes are too often painted as singular, random attacks when in reality they are the outcome of a pattern. Queerphobic and transphobic rhetoric is pushed by politicians, broadly excused by organizations (even those that claim to value diversity and inclusion) and deeply internalized by people who may resort to violence.

Trans people in particular have been the latest targets of hateful rhetoric.

Allowing this pattern to go unchallenged and unpunished threatens LGBTQ+ lives. While we may not be able to fully prevent systemic queerphobia, we can start by pushing for change at our own university.

“UCCS is supposed to be a place to celebrate diversity and a place that prides itself in that,” Ruiz said. “When [trans] issues aren’t taken seriously, or when we see no progress for issues that have negatively affected us, we get the idea that you don’t care about us — but this doesn’t have to be the case.”

Giving political figures like Ganahl a platform on campus sends a harmful message to the LGBTQ+ community; they fundamentally believe these groups are not deserving of the same rights as everyone else. Though the university is home to bipartisan student organizations who may choose to invite guests from either side of the aisle, visits from controversial politicians could at least be an opportunity for open dialogue and prompt extra support from university for vulnerable students.

There also need to be concrete and transparent consequences for students who threaten the emotional or physical safety of LGBTQ+ students. At a minimum, the university should require apologies and consider punishments for students responsible for harassment, such as suspension from club activities.

The administration should also more thoroughly investigate student groups who demonstrate exclusionary beliefs and reassess whether they should be allowed to hold organizational status and receive funding from student fees.

In a reactionary city like Colorado Springs, UCCS has come a long way. The university deserves credit for making an effort to create specific LGBTQ+ safe spaces; MOSAIC is a beacon of support, hosting countless events and advocating for queer students.

The attack on Club Q prompted a sympathetic response from multiple sources on campus. We saw an outpouring of concern from academic departments and individual professors, and on Nov. 20, the UCCS administration sent an email statement condemning the attack on Club Q.

Alongside organizations like Inside Out Youth Services, the Colorado Healing Fund and the Trevor Project, the university has also been providing resources for students emotionally distressed or otherwise affected by the mass shooting.

All of this is heartening. It points to the fact that the queerphobic and transphobic factions of our campus are in the minority — but they continue to be vocal, and even their voices can do harm. Hate cannot be tolerated, and we cannot afford to wait for the next tragedy to remind us that we need to do more to support LGBTQ+ students.

Featured image caption: People hold candles and a transgender flag at a memorial at UCCS for Club Q victims on Nov. 21. Photo by Kira Thorne /The Scribe.