Last week, six members of the Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance (BQSA) attended First Event, an annual conference held in Marlboro, Massachusetts dedicated to the transgender and gender-variant community. The event is in its 37th year, but this was the first time a group of Bowdoin students attended. 

Gabi Serrato Marks ’15 served on the event’s steering committee for the Youth and Family program and invited Bowdoin students to attend. 

The conference aims to create a sense of community and solidarity among youth who identify as transgender or gender-variant. It also provided a space for participants from across New England to ask questions about gender identity. 

“My boyfriend is transgender, and being at the conference was a nice way to be around other trans people, as well as to work on creating more equality and opportunity for trans people,” Serrato Marks said.   

Bowdoin students attended panels, discussions and lectures within the event’s Youth and Family program. Serrato Marks spoke at one panel dedicated to relationships and dating. Rayne Stone ’18 said the panel was one of the most meaningful parts of the conference, and hopes to create a similar event at Bowdoin. 

“We don’t ever really talk about the specific experience of being trans and trying to navigate dating,” said Stone. 

The conference also featured a keynote address by minister and activist Louis Mitchell, who spoke about privilege within the gender-variant community. 

“That was something that hit home for me,” Stone said. “It is something that I see happening at Bowdoin … as well as in my own experience as a white-passing trans person.” 

Several Bowdoin students who attended the conference said that one of its most empowering and meaningful moments was a fashion show that took place on Friday night. 

“Seeing everyone express themselves in a way that made them feel comfortable, even if they don’t feel safe expressing themselves that way at home, was really joyful and it was a really great space to be in,” Stone said.  

Students had the opportunity to speak to the husband of one of the show’s participants after the show. 

“He was cisgender and straight, but it was interesting to hear his point of view as an ally and a partner,” said Fiona Doherty ’20. “He was very supportive.”

Serrato Marks hopes to make the conference, which was mostly attended by white transgender women, more diverse in future years. Additionally, she plans on working with BQSA to create a program specifically geared towards gender-variant people who are college age.

“There’s this big gap between youth and adulthood … this college-age part was really missing” said Sophie Sadovnikoff ’19. “College can be a really difficult time and a big transition.” 

BQSA is working to create a month of activism and awareness during February, called Februqueery. Stone hopes to share the messages of acceptance and pride that students experienced during the conference. 

“It’s important to have empathy for other people,” said Stone. “It’s important to have compassion and empathy for yourself, and it’s important to try to recognize your own positions of privilege to use your privilege in a way that is constructive to other people.”