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UA Institute of LGBTQ Studies spearheads two transgender initiatives

Tony+Bishop+holds+up+a+sign+in+solidarity+at+a+vigil+for+the+Orlando+victims+on+Sunday%2C+June+12%2C+2016+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.+Bishop+identifies+as+transgender.
Sydney Richardson
Tony Bishop holds up a sign in solidarity at a vigil for the Orlando victims on Sunday, June 12, 2016 in Tucson, Ariz. Bishop identifies as transgender.

The UA Institute for LGBT Studies will be hosting the first ever international transgender studies conference this fall that will focus on gender, embodiment and sexuality.

Part of the transgender studies initiative launched in 2013, Trans*Studies is a four-day interdisciplinary academic conference that will encompass keynote speakers, panel discussions, round tables, performances and exhibits of visual art.

“Part of the reason we’re hosting the first ever international transgender conference at the UA is because we’re creating the first ever trans study program, so we’re creating a conference to bring people together and draw attention to the work we’re doing,” said Eric Plemons, assistant professor of anthropology and chair of the conference program committee.

Plemons said the conference will incorporate perspectives from across multiple disciplines and the globe, with scholars, community activists and people outside the realms of institutions, who are very knowledgeable about trans history.

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Around 200 people will be be presenting at the conference and Mauro Cabral, a leading international transgender rights activist and Sandy Stone, the founder of the academic discipline of transgender studies will be keynote speakers, according to Plemons.

“I think engagement in academia largely needs to extend beyond the classroom,” said Mel Ferrara, a gender and women’s studies graduate student who identifies as non-binary and member of the conference steering committee.

While Ferrara’s research focus is in transgender studies and intersex studies, they said up until this year the exposure to trans narrative, trans experiences and trans justice has been surprisingly limited.

“When you’re looking at LGBT rights you’re not necessarily looking at queer and trans justice,” Ferrara said. “Largely the trans community has dropped off mainstream LGBT studies and rights initiatives.”

Ferrara said the conference is a really great opportunity to start having institutional and international dialogue about what trans studies is because there’s not exactly a clear definition available.

According to Pelmons, with all the recent international and nation attention being paid to transgender people, their rights and the history and politics of the group, it’s a vital time to be holding the conference.

“I think the timing is excellent to bring folks together from a variety of institutions who have been working on these institutions but have not really had a space or a formal conversation,” Plemons said. “The conference is meant to bring those people together and allow some connections go be made.”

Spearheading the conference and bringing so many people together has been, Susan Stryker, director of the Institute for LGBT Studies.

Stryker who initially came up with the idea to hold a conference has kick started the initial project by bringing multiple people on board from around the world.

“I have been the point person who has pulled most of this together, but I hope to hand over leadership as soon as feasible,” said Stryker in an email, who is currently traveling around eastern Europe. “I remain involved in consolidating what we’ve already started, and feel committed to helping the UA become a leader in this area of study.”

Although she is unclear of any future transgender initiatives the UA will create, Stryker said if they will accomplish a lot if they finish what they’ve started.

“I think [Stryker] personally has worked for years to get us to this point, but there’s so much work to [still] be done,” Ferrara said.

The Institute for LGBT Studies is also currently in the works of a Transgender Studies Master’s Program, which could launch as early as fall 2017.

“We don’t yet have the institutional structure in place to be offering any credentials at this point, so we are actively working to get a curriculum in place,” Plemons said.

Depending on what credentials they want to offer, they won’t need Arizona Board of Regents certification, according to Plemons.

“There’s been a lot of institutional support given to the trans studies initiatives and so this is a great way for the UA to showcase that commitment and bring more eyes to it,” Plemons said.


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