Texas SB 17 is officially in effect, bringing an end to the Galerstein Gender Center and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Trans students have been left with far fewer on campus resources; some now turn to student organizations like Pride for support.
As part of UTD’s adherence to the state law, identity-based workshops and Diversity Dialogues once hosted by the GGC will no longer be offered, Raul Hinojosa, assistant vice president of OCRS. Before Jan. 1, UTD’s trans community closely collaborated with the former Gender Center and ODEI to organize community events, including the annual Trans Day of Remembrance. What the Office of Campus Resources and Support will continue to support and host is still under question as campus administrators attempt to follow the law outlined in SB 17.
Yvette Pearson, vice president for Office of Campus Resources and Support and former vice president for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion will lead the new office with an emphasis on supporting faculty and students from diverse backgrounds.
“It is a critical component of the university’s efforts to be a place where members of the community from all backgrounds are welcomed,” Pearson said.
In their Dec. 5, 2023 presentation to student government, Raul Hinojosa said that programs such as the Life Transitions Closet and the lounges, study areas and other facility resources may continue to be available upon approval by the UT system. UTD continues to allow students and faculty the ability to update their legal names and preferred names through the Atlas service portal.
“UTD was the first place I felt like it was fully safe to express myself gender wise,” alumnus Danny Laboda said.
From 2020 to 2022 UTD was ranked as one of the best colleges for LGBTQIA+ students in the entire U.S. according to the Campus Pride Index’s Best of the Best rankings. UTD, along with all other Texas and Florida schools, failed to make the 2023 ranking because of what the Campus Pride Index describes as laws “that effectively ban LGBTQ+ inclusive policies, programs and practices” at colleges.
Other advocacy groups have denounced the over 40 anti-trans bills introduced in Texas, including Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. PFLAG recently sued Gov. Greg Abbott after the passage of a law that would classify transitioning as child abuse. Data collected by the Trevor Project indicates that when trans individuals are provided with affirmation and support, the chances they attempt suicide, which are roughly 1 out of every 5 trans individuals, decrease by approximately 43%. ECS student Andromeda said these laws make her feel UTD is not a welcoming environment for trans students. Andromeda asked to stay anonymous because she fears the family members she lives with will be hostile towards her trans identity.
“What do all these people pedaling transphobia have to gain? It is one of the great cruelties of American society, that cruelty shown to those who some deem degenerate, those who some deem weak, and those who some deem dangerous gets thunderous applause,” Andromeda said.
UTD’s trans community has faced both acceptance and rejection as reported by interviewed trans students. Trans student Laboda was able to interact regularly with the resources provided by the gender center for an overall beneficial experience.
“My friends all knew my pronouns up front, and nobody who knew me ever messed them up,” Laboda said. “Even those who didn’t know me defaulted to they/them pronouns because I suppose I didn’t seem cis? I was never given any grief for being queer. I don’t know if many of my professors knew I wasn’t cis! They all called me [by] my name no problem.”
Former treasurer of Pride Cassandra Millicent Palmer said the organization helped her connect with others and form close bonds with officers; she also began transitioning while at UTD and found the process to be easy and accessible. Since graduating, Palmer has moved to New Mexico.
Students have also faced challenges regarding their access to things such as the testing center. Computer science sophomore Rainier Pederson said that there have been instances during which professors are unable to know whether Pederson has registered for an exam since the course uses his preferred name while the RegisterBlast software used by the testing center exclusively uses his legal name.
“[The Testing Center] feels the need to exclusively use my legal name, even when that makes things harder for everyone involved in the process,” Pederson said.
The American Psychological Association President Frank Worrell said he suspects that Abbott continues to attack the trans community as a way to garner political support, and that the physical and mental risk to trans people in the state may grow.
“Every day I see a new transphobic bill slither its way into a geriatric state congress full of bloodthirsty bureaucrats,” Andromeda said. “Every day I see new arguments on why trans women aren’t women. And every day I see more and more people, whether they be recent immigrants or the goddamn richest man in the world fall for this mass hysteria. There are so many people, good people, people I love, that are far deep in the transphobic rabbit hole.”