Trans student hopes report will bring recognition, results

Student in attendance at sexual violence report presentation says policy-building only a first step

While response to the U of M’s recently-released report addressing sexual violence on campus has been mixed, the question period after it was presented illuminated some of the campus community’s concerns.

Phoenix Nakagawa, a faculty of agriculture student and transgender woman, spoke up during the question period, telling university president David Barnard she heard “a lack of minorities being spoken about” during the presentation.

“What are we going to do for the black women? What are we going to do for racialized students out here who face discrimination every day?” she asked.

“What are we going to do for the queer community, for the trans community, non-binary people? And what are we going to do for the disabled community?”

Barnard said while the report was not “intended to be all-encompassing of everything,” it does contain responses to some of Nakagawa’s concerns.

The report, which was released to the public following the Sept. 17 presentation, includes a recommendation that the university “acknowledge that while sexual violence affects all members of the [U of M] community, sexual violence and its consequences may disproportionately impact those members who experience intersecting forms of systemic discrimination on such grounds as, for example, Indigenous identity, disability, ethnicity, racialization, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”

Nakagawa told the Manitoban her decision to come forward came from “a place of absolute anger and personal experience.”

“I am an intersectional person — so I identify as Indigenous Amami, which are from the south of Japan, on the islands of Amami Ōshima [and] Tokunoshima, and I also identify as a trans woman,” she said.

“And so those two identities are very key to me in realizing that even though I am a trans woman, there’s so many different sides to me as well that can be discriminated against and that can be used to oppress my community as well as many of my friends’ communities.”

Nakagawa said that for the last two years she has dealt with being “deadnamed” — when a person who has changed their name while transitioning continues to be referred to by their legal name — at different levels of the U of M community, including administrative levels.

“I keep getting deadnamed from the system, even though they’ve implemented this preferred name policy.”

Starting in 2018, the U of M has offered a self-service preferred name option for students and staff.

While it will change an individual’s name through services like UMLearn, their legal name is still used when required.

“Every time I win an award, or every time I get a job at the university, it reverts back to my deadname. And every time, I have to state ‘This is not my name, this makes me very uncomfortable and makes me dysphoric,’” she said.

Changing her name is not a fiscally feasible option right now, Nakagawa said, and said the act of deadnaming is inherently violent.

“It is a violent act that discriminates against me and the trans community and our human rights,” she said.

She said she hopes the release of the report will result in greater recognition of the unique struggles faced by marginalized communities on campus.

Nakagawa said ideally the recommendations will go beyond policy-building and influence the university’s decisions on all levels, saying she hopes the next steps forward will focus on “not only how we act on the sexual violence, sexual assault and sexual harassment policies but [on] the actions of the university itself.”

“I would also love to see accountability held by the university, not for the perpetrator, but for the university itself as well as accountability held against our education system, from the K to 12 system,” she said.

“Because this is not a ‘one person, one bad apple’ issue.”