Club to host transgender education conference

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Jenna Liu

From 5-6:30 tonight, the RBHS United Feminists Association (UFA) will host the first annual Transgender Education Conference in the Performing Arts Center. The club has invited speakers to give introductory lectures on the transgender experience.
Sophomore Jacy Hightower, a member of UFA, said the idea for such an event came about because of a perceived need for greater education about transgender issues in schools.
“I personally believe that the majority of transphobia just comes from people not understanding how it works,” Hightower said. “A lot of people think being transgender is like, a guy who decides to be a girl,but it is so much more complex than that.”
For senior Oliver Smith, who is transgender, the event presents a welcome opportunity for students and teachers to learn more about the issues that he, along with many other transgender youth, face every day.
“I think that the conference is a super cool thing for spreading more awareness and for people who either are or aren’t out yet to have a safe place to talk about that,” Smith said. “I think it’s really cool that [RBHS] is doing this.”
Shawna Matteson, the teacher-sponsor for the club, said the students in UFA  took charge of all the planning and were largely self-reliant when putting the event together. As an educator, she sees particular importance in the learning potential available in the conference.
“I think we all expect the world to appear the way we experience it, and it’s hard to understand how someone could have a different perspective. The only way that we can ever really understand another perspective is to have our own perspective challenged,” Matteson said. “I think these conferences are important partly because it brings it to students here, in an environment where they’re comfortable.
Hightower agrees with Matteson’s assessment of how the conference can benefit students. She hopes the event can be an opportunity for inclusion and empathy, with an additional dose of education.
“[The conference] seems like a really wise idea to just educate people and what it means to be transgender so that they can at least attempt to be more understanding and less judgemental,” Hightower said. “It seems that the people who are unaccepting just haven’t attempted to understand it.”
Regardless of people’s opinions on transgender issues, Matteson said she wants all attendees at the conference to maintain respect for one another’s points of view.
‘I think the most important piece is just understanding how to be respectful,” Matteson said. “It’s not a matter of do we agree or disagree, it’s, ‘How can I be respectful of an individual and their feelings and their perspective of the world.’”
While this is the first time a transgender education conference has taken place at RBHS, Smith hopes the event can return again and foster a more tolerant learning atmosphere.
“[RBHS] is a really open school and there’s a lot of diversity here,” Smith said. “The fact that they’re having something like this, being like, ‘We accept you; you can come here and be safe’ is really, really important to people like me.”