On Stage

Revolving Fund supports HIV Positive business owners

Reporting is hard work.
Reporting is hard work.

KAMPALA, UGANDA — St. Francis Nsambya Home Care treats more than 7,000 HIV-positive clients annually. This year, due to budget cuts from foreign donors, the clinic discontinued most of its community outreach and HIV education programs. The only remaining program is the Revolving Fund which provides financial assistance to HIV-positive business owners in Kampala and nearby communities.

Since 2011, money from the Revolving Fund has helped 68 HIV positive business owners increase their capital, beef up their product selection and ultimately provide more for themselves and their families. Check out the video here.

View the rest of my (and my awesome classmates’) reporting and blogs from Uganda here.

A Mother’s Mission, Indiana Daily Student, Fall 2013

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The audience was silent as Judy Shepard recited the victim impact statement she read in the trial following her son’s death, 15 years ago.

“He was my son, my first-born and more — he was my friend, confidant and constant reminder of how good life can be and also how hurtful,” Shepard said.

In 1998 Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson murdered her 21-year-old son Matthew, fueled by anti-gay hatred. Matthew was kidnapped, beaten and tied to a fence near Laramie, Wyo., where he was discovered unconscious 18 hours later.

The crime struck the Shepard family and the country by surprise, inspiring a movement that continues to this day.

Shepard urged students, faculty and community members to speak out against hate Tuesday night in the Whittenberger Auditorium in the IU Memorial Union.

For 15 years Shepard has toured America and the world, telling Matthew’s story and encouraging safety and acceptance.

“Hate starts with fear and ignorance of things we don’t understand,” she said.

Hundreds of audience members filled the auditorium to maximum capacity, with dozens of students standing in the doorways. It was sponsored by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Student Support Services along with several other organizations around campus.

Director of the GLBTSSS Doug Bauder, along with junior Kaleb Crain, introduced the event.

“I’m not a professional speaker,” Shepard said. “I’m a mom with a story to tell and opinions to share.”

She said the night she got the call was something she’d never forgot.

Shepard was living in Saudi Arabia with her husband at the time, and she thought it was simply a late-night call from Matthew.

He could never work out the time difference between the countries, Judy Shepard said.
After hearing the news of the crime from the hospital, she had to wait days to travel and see her son, not knowing if he was alive or dead.

“Waiting to see Matt felt like an eternity,” Judy Shepard said.

When she saw the figure in the hospital bed, she knew it was her son underneath the bandages.

He still had the cute little bump on his left ear, but the twinkle of life wasn’t there, she said.

Matthew Shepard died on Monday, Oct. 12, after being in a coma for several days.

“All of our hopes and dreams for Matt were killed for twenty dollars,” she said. “There are days I think I cannot go on. But I know the love of my family and friends will support me, and it’s my duty to Matt to go on.”

Shepard said she struggled with the decision to publicize her son’s story, but she knew it was what Matthew would have wanted.

“We wanted Matt to be the martyr,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t hide.”

Judy Shepard said she is determined to use her grief over her son’s death to make the world a more accepting place for everyone.

She started the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization dedicated to replacing hate with acceptance and compassion through educational and outreach programs.

All proceeds from her speaking engagements directly benefit the Matthew Shepard Foundation.

The images of burning crosses and Matthew’s face appeared in the background as Judy Shepard’s voice spoke to the silent audience.

Her message was poignant and serious, yet she maintained a conversational tone.
“I consider myself a private, shy person,” Judy Shepard said. “I have to think that Matt is up there helping me do this.”

Shepard said she thinks society has become silent, indifferent and complacent to hate.

She encouraged students to tell their own stories in order to encourage acceptance of all individuals, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation.

“If there isn’t a problem being discussed then there is not a solution being discussed,” Judy Shepard said. “We can profess anti-bullying policies and counseling, but if the community is not on board then it is all for nothing.”

She said with the government shutdown, the nation has lost precious time and momentum in passing legislation protecting LGBT individuals, specifically those in the workplace.

Individuals can still be fired for being gay in 35 states, she said.

She said she hopes students can be not only advocates for legislation, but also be leaders in their own communities.

“Engaging today’s generation is a challenge,” she said. “Don’t let your personal bubble prevent you from branching out.”

Judy tells her story to thousands of individuals each year, but true change can only come if students speak up.

“As much as I don’t want there to be any more Matthew Shepards, I don’t want there to be any more Aaron McKinneys and Russell Hendersons,” Judy Shepard said. “And you can change that.”

 

Transforming Identity, Indiana Daily Student, Fall 2013

Check out the follow-up story I wrote here.

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Junior Ethan Jackson was called out in the middle of his Kelley School of Business class and accused of cheating on a test last year.

He was registered in the course under his preferred name — Ethan — but because of University policy, his student identification card still had his legal name, the name he no longer responds to, printed on it.

Jackson, who declined to provide his legal first name, works as a Resident Assistant, is a business major and is also part of IU’s transgender student population living on campus.

“The name on my ID card didn’t match the name on my professor’s roster, so there was no documentation proving that I was Ethan, the person supposed to be taking the exam,” he said. “When I walk into a classroom, I never know if the name my professor
has on the roster will be my legal or preferred name.”

Although IU policy allows students to list a preferred name alongside their primary or legal name in official academic records, some online databases such as OnCourse rosters automatically use students’ primary names, Senior Associate Registrar Lisa Scully said.

A transgender student advocacy committee recently drafted a policy proposal calling for a centralized process to accommodate anyone using University information systems that choose to identify themselves under a preferred name.

Currently, students can register a preferred name with the bursar office, but other data management entities such as the Health Center and Parking Operations often pull information that uses a student’s legal name.

Assistant Director of Residential Life and Diversity Education Barry Magee, along with graduate student Nicholas Clarkson, presented the first draft of the proposal to the Bloomington Faculty Council on Monday.

The proposal focuses on the idea that information technology systems should prioritize student ID number and preferred name and hide an individual’s legal name in as many instances as possible.

“In certain areas the University doesn’t have policies addressing transgender and genderqueer issues and how to effectively accommodate students that don’t fit within the gender binary,” Magee said.

When applying for acceptance into IU, individuals are required to indicate their gender based on two options: male or female.

“We are all raised in a world dictated by our gender,” Magee said. “Right from the get-go all the people around you say, ‘is it a boy or a girl?’ From there we choose games, clothes and activities based on fitting into one of those two boxes.”

Only when students begin to apply for housing do they encounter an additional gender option of transgender.

More than 12,000 students fill out the housing application each year, and an average of 20 students self-identify as “transgender,” according to records at the Office of Residential Programs and Services. The number of transgender students has increased during the past decade, said Sara Ivey Lucas, assistant director for housing assignments.

“RPS continues to be a leader in pushing campus to think about breaking the gender binary,” Lucas said.

RPS now offers gender neutral bathrooms or individual “pods” with a toilet, shower and sink in every residence center on campus except for Eigenmann, Jackson’s residence hall for the past two years.

Magee said not all trans-identifying students share the same opinions on matters such as housing.

“We have mixed signals in our systems throughout the University,” Magee said.
University policy states that it will not discriminate against a student’s arbitrary characteristics, such as gender and gender identity.

In August, the nationally-recognized nonprofit organization Campus Pride released its annual list of American universities deemed as having the safest, most inclusive environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender students.

This year, IU didn’t make the cut.

Institutions are ranked using the Campus Pride Index, which allows colleges to self-assess their resources through a set of questions based on eight different LGBT-friendly factors, including policy inclusion, support and institutional commitment, and housing.

This year, IU scored five stars overall but lacked an “accessible, simple process for students to change their name and gender identity on university records and documents, LGBT housing options and themes, and insurance coverage for students transitioning from male to female and female to male to cover hormone replacement therapy,” according to the organization’s website.

“The first year the list came out, we were in the top five schools,” Magee said. “If one year someone forgets to fill out part of the application, then our rating is affected by that.”

But students like Jackson attribute IU’s slip in the rankings to a specific cause: IU’s discrimination of transgender people.

“It makes me happy that IU fell off the top 25 for LGBT-friendly schools because that’s an acknowledgement to IU’s lack of policy in place right now for transgender students,” Jackson said.

He said his leadership position as an RA allows him to keep a conversation going that challenges gender stereotypes.

“Most of the discrimination I face isn’t from the student body, it’s from the institution,” he said. “Curiosity leads to some rude questions, but I’m all about educating people from my experiences.”

This is the second year he and his coworkers fought the policy of the University Information Technology Systems that demands RAs use their legal name when filing incident reports.

As a part of his job, Jackson said he was not able to  identify himself with his preferred name — Ethan — on any official paperwork.

“Last year we had a giant battle with UITS to get my preferred name used,” Jackson said. “When they redesigned the entire program this year, I faced the same exact issue — no one thought to include the preferred name clause again.”

Follow reporter Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, Indiana Daily Student, Fall 2013

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As the sun set and the temperature dropped Wednesday night, almost 50 students, faculty and community members paraded down Kirkwood Avenue, holding candles in memory of victims they never knew.

They read the names of 300 transgender people who were murdered in the past year as the result of hate crimes around the world.

The event marked the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and it was the largest IU has seen since the event’s inception. Students began honoring the day in 1998, the year Rita Hester was murdered in Allston, Mass.

Participants chalked names of the deceased on sidewalks and buildings as they walked, writing things like “down with the gendered order” and “R.I.P Victoria.”
Sounds of snare drums echoed down the street as a line of five cars followed. As they pounded on drums, no one spoke.

Sophomore Ash Kulak and other members of the Gender Warriors student group led the group toward its destination: the Monroe County Courthouse. On its front steps,
Freshmen Josie Wenig and Tom Williams read aloud names of those killed.

The Gender Warriors is a student group offering a safe and confidential support system for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. They canceled their weekly meeting at Boxcar Books to organize the candlelit vigil.

Wenig said she hopes to raise awareness for people who aren’t yet involved with queer groups at IU.

“We live in a dangerous world for queer people,” Wenig said. “But we have each other, and we can come together on days like this.”

Kulak said violence against trans-identifying people in today’s world is a huge problem, something not everyone thinks about.

“Different ways to combat violence toward gender non-conforming people of color or other intersecting factors of minority status — that needs to be driven home to people,” Kulak said. “Let’s not just memorialize trans-white people.”

Before marching to the Monroe County Courthouse, the group gathered in Dunn Meadow with organizations such as Monroe County Middle Way House and representatives from Culture of Care.

Williams gave a speech to the group, reading a statement recounting the death of Rita Hester.

The African-American transgender woman from the Boston area was about to turn 35-years-old when officers found her dead in her apartment with stabbing wounds. To this day, her murder is unsolved.

“One theory is that Rita’s murderer was a suitor who became furious when he found genitals he did not expect,” Williams read. “But Rita left a legacy.”

Today, they aimed to remember those who have given their lives “daring to live a life of authenticity,” Williams said.

Members of the Indiana Queer Prisoner Solidarity attended the event and gave speeches advocating against violence.

Khalil, one of the group’s members who asked that his last name be kept anonymous, spoke of his time in prison where he witnessed first-hand violence against transgender prisoners.

“On November 21, 2003, I was on my way to jail in Miami, Fla.,” he said. “On the bus was a transgender man who was asked to reveal his biological sex.”
Khalil paused for a moment, looking out to the audience.

“For this, he was taken off of the bus and raped in the bathroom by the prison guards,” he said.

Later Wednesday night, about half of the group at the event would branch off to gather at the Monroe County Jail, chanting in protest of what they believe is the unfair targeting of the transgender population in jails.

After the final victim’s name was read aloud at the courthouse, the group was silent. Some candles still burned, while others lie in a puddle of wax on the cement steps.

“Nothing ever makes this better or will undo what has been done,” Kulak said. “But we will work. And it will get better.”

Follow Matt Bloom on Twitter @matthew_bloom.