At four in the afternoon on November 20, I was standing in Morrell Lounge, trying to hold back the tears that stung my eyes as several of my fellow Bowdoin Queer-Straight Alliance (BQSA) members read out the names of the 97 transgender people who have been murdered in the past year. With each new person, each new life taken as far away as Thailand and as nearby as Waterville, Maine, I could not stamp out the fear and pain that rose in me–and the knowledge that it could just as easily be my name or the names of my friends on that list.
But fear was not the only emotion I felt as I stood and listened for that half-hour. No, as I looked around the room, at the other students and faculty attending the Transgender Day of Remembrance event, I realized that there weren’t more than 15 people there. Other trans and non-binary people, as visibly shaken as I was, were there. Cisgender queer people and allies from BQSA were, too. Maybe one or two others as well. And that was all. When I left that room, throbbing with the sheer weight of what I had just been reminded of, I knew that I was one of the few people on this campus carrying that weight.
I received plenty of excuses from people: too much homework, bad timing and, of course, my personal favorite, “It’s not about me. This isn’t my place. I don’t have to deal with being trans or non-binary or feel the pain of each loss as if it were my own. Why should I have to care?”
This apathy is not limited solely to this moment. The queer and trans community on this campus is small, but our voices are loud enough that we should be able to be heard. And yet, no one hears us. In October, when BQSA held a vigil for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando—the largest mass shooting in American history and one where the victims were primarily queer people of color—the turnout wasn’t much higher than it was for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Again, many claimed that the timing was bad, but these excuses no longer hold weight when we take into account that just the night before, at the same time and place, the Take Back the Night event had an overwhelmingly high number of attendees. This is not to say that queer issues are more important than any others, or that Take Back the Night attendees are somehow at fault for lack of interest in the Pulse vigil, but I simply say that when it comes to the causes that queer and trans people on this campus try to promote, nobody listens.
After the election, students on this campus from all walks of life raised a plea for solidarity and an initiative to fight back against injustice. And yet, when faced with an opportunity to actually put it into practice, they didn’t. Two weeks ago, these people were pledging to stand up for their peers, but today, they stayed seated. Two weeks ago, these people were asking what they could possibly do to show their solidarity, but today, they ignored us when we provided them with an answer. Two weeks ago, these people were promising to use their privilege for good, but today, they didn’t use it for anything good at all. Two weeks ago, these people were reassuring their friends that they would always be there for them, but today, they proved to us that they weren’t.
I’m not asking for the cisgender and heterosexual people on this campus to change who they are or feel shame in their privilege or apologize for having an advantage in society that us queer and trans people do not. All I’m asking is that you come to the events that we put on: the panels, the workshops, the vigils. All I’m asking is that you refer to us with the pronouns that we have told you to use, whether or not we are there to hear them. All I am asking is that you listen to our voices, which is not hard, because we are literally screaming in order to be heard. All I am asking is that you care.
Ari Mehrberg is a member of the Class of 2020.