Transgender Symposium

Transgender. With recent news over gender-neutral bathrooms and other events, this has become a familiar term for many in the CU community.

However, this weekend the Fourth Annual Transforming Gender: Transgender Symposium offers an opportunity for those interested to come learn more and challenge their assumptions.

Events begin Friday afternoon and continue all day Saturday. They include award-winning speakers Rev. Malcolm Himschoot, Tristan Taormino and Dylan Scholinski. There will also be a screening of the documentary “Still Black” and an Interactive Theatre Project performance. Submitted work from local artists will be on display in the UMC for the duration the Symposium.  All events surround the general idea of transgender issues and gender expression.

Now in its fourth year, the first Transgender Symposium was funded by a grant from the gender studies department, acquired largely because of Associate Professor Polly McLean. Since then, Director of the GLBT Resource Center Steph Wilenchek says money has dwindled, but participation and vigor has not.

“My hope is that the turnout is going to continue to increase,” Wilenchek said. “At the same time, it’s interesting our funding has decreased.”

Angela Palermo, CU staff person at Norlin Library and part of planning for all four symposiums, says that attendance has risen each year, despite resources. She says that improved marketing tactics have helped.

“Part of it, too, is creating a critical mass of people who know about trans issues and want to come to a conference like that,” Palermo said.

Wilenchek and GLBT Resource Center Assistant Director Kevin Correa both see increased attendance as a sign of higher awareness of the transgender community, though not necessarily of a more informed or accepting public.

“People might lack the details or not talk about these issues in a truly eloquent way, but there’s an awareness that these issues exist,” Correa said. “There’s still a lot of unawareness or plain ignorance about transgender issues and gender expression.”

Wilenchek said that she also sees an increased cognizance of the topics the symposium addresses, and is hopeful that it is one way that positive change is occurring on CU’s campus.

“There’s still a lot of challenges [for transfolk], a lot of things that are going to take years to change,” Wilenchek said. “Even this symposium is a good thing.”

Though the face of the symposium may have changed since its first, highly-funded year, the goal of education and awareness has remained much the same.

Kyle Inselman, a junior queer studies and film studies major, said that the speakers will help place a face to transgender topics for those who attend.

“The goal [of the Symposium] would be to provide a taste of the diversity that goes beyond basics, and really brings out the human aspect,” Inselman said.

The organizers said that a theme tends to organically develop each year. This year there are some intersections of the presentation regarding sexuality in the transgender community.

Palermo said that she was inspired by Angie Zapata, a transgender teen who was killed in Greeley. She chose speakers that would explore transpeople’s place in the sexual landscape.

“It was a really emotional experience for me as a transwoman to be up close and personal with that kind of violence against us,” Palermo said. “So I was thinking of this conference in a way of examining transpeople and sexuality.”

Rev. Himschoot and Taormino offer two very different approaches to the topic of sexuality and gender, both which of their presentations will center on.

For someone interested in attending the symposium for the first time, who may be curious but not versed in transgender issues, those involved in its planning all said they agree it is a matter of personal taste which event to see, but have different advice.

“If you can’t make it to everything, and can make it to one thing, definitely make it to Tristan’s,” Inselman said. “Dylan and Malcolm are local, they’ll probably be back at some point or you can catch them at something else.”

On the other hand, Correa says that Tristan Taormino, an award-winning author and educator on positive sex and a pornographer, may not be the easiest introduction into transgender discussion for everyone, because some may need more background before benefitting from her presentations.

“For someone really new and just wanting to learn, I’d recommend the interactive theatre or even the film ‘Still Black,’” Correa said.

Regardless of what event is of interest, Correa says that the symposium can be helpful for all people, not just the trans or LGBTQ community and their allies.

“I hope to get people to recognize that everyone has a gender experience and gender identity, everyone can benefit from talking about gender,” Correa said. “All are welcome, we’d love to see as many people there as possible.”

Those involved in the organization of the Transgender Symposium had an additional motivation this year.

“This year’s will…to some degree, memorialize Tito Torres who died tragically in December of last year,” Palermo said. “There was an outpouring of grief, and we’re going to have a display of photos for him and at the start of the first session, we’re going to have a moment of silence.”

Torres, who was involved in the student group Stop Hate on Campus (SHOC), was very involved in the planning and funding of past Symposiums, Wilenchek said.

“His spirit will be very much alive this weekend,” Wilenchek said.

For more information, visit the GLBT Resource Center Web site.

Contact CU Independent Copy Editor and Speak Out! Editor Molly Maher at

CU Independent

The CU Independent, or CUI for short, is the student news outlet for the University of Colorado at Boulder. We cover news, sports, politics, opinion, arts and entertainment and more. Our mission is to provide news and commentary that's for students and by students — about the things we care about.

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