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Right-Wing Misinformation Threatens Transgender and Non-binary Obies and Ohioans

by Reggie Goudeau

Features Editor


Right-wing propaganda regarding the transgender community indicates a horrifying trend that endangers all LGBTQ+ people in America. This has been further exacerbated by the recent Nashville shooting committed by a transgender man, and conservatives’ allegations towards trans people of child grooming and pedophilia.

Oberlin students are especially vulnerable in this climate given the College’s political reputation and large population of trans and non-binary students. One of these people is my partner, third-year Makayla Riggins, who has seen the impact of transphobia and misinformation firsthand as a longtime resident of Oberlin (and currently Elyria).

Riggins is generally saddened that this country is going back on trans issues despite being unsure of policies and laws in individual states. “The general vibe of all of them is to go against trans people for no reason,” Riggins mentioned.

Riggins is also a casual bystander on the conservative app, iFunny, and had words about their adamant hatred of trans people. “On iFunny there’s been a lot of general trans hate, saying that they’re stopping the evil trans people from indoctrinating their children,” Riggins claimed.

Riggins also mentioned iFunny’s celebration of the recent Nashville shooter’s trans identity, since it promotes their horrid agenda. According to Riggins, the app generally features “a lot of people saying being trans is a mental illness.”

Beaux Watwood, a fourth-year and Studio Art major, is another Obie that has been particularly worried about the future of gender-affirming care and life outside of the gender binary.

“I’m concerned that a lack of healthcare for trans youth will lead to a higher rate of suicide for queer children and teens,” says Watwood.

Watwood also wishes to be a role model to young queer children and an example that trans people can have fulfilling lives even in the face of hatred. “I live for the moments when trans and queer kids and teens see me and feel validated by my visible queerness.”

Although circumstances seem dismal, Watwood does not intend to cease their transition or change their lifestyle. “Any anti-trans laws passed in any state I lived in would only emphasize to me how important it is to be loudly joyful in my trans existence—to let kids like me know that there is love and acceptance for them out there as their full selves.”

One more person on campus impacted by the increasing transphobia throughout America is Benny VanDerburgh (he/they), the Assistant Director of Religious and Spiritual Life in the Office of Spirituality and Dialogue. They were hired recently in February, and are one of many staff members at Oberlin tasked with supporting the spiritual and religious queries of students, along with other needs.

VanDerburgh was born in Maine, but they noted that Ohio was “one of the most threatening spaces they’ve ever lived in” by email. They have had demeaning and discriminatory experiences with the healthcare system here too.

“I am happy to (and do) work with students to help them find the appropriate homes, archives, and sites that can cultivate more cosmological belonging,” said VanDerburgh.

VanDerburgh has also been working on a number of other projects to support trans individuals on-campus. This includes his progress in making a group for trans students to meet regarding spiritual and religious care. He even has guides to provide trans, questioning, or trans-allied students who would like to reference material that affirms their dignity within a religious, practical, and academic discipline.

Furthermore, VanDerburgh has had a number of concerns with the rising transphobia locally and nationwide besides their safety. This included topics from the safety of trans youth to what VanDerburgh described as “the coercive force against the lands and waters many of us are settlers or descendants of settlers on.”

“I think my call to elected officials would be to humble themselves, and then humble themselves a thousand times more, and then act in accordance with the real and regular truth,” said VanDerburgh.

Given his work in ministry, VanDerburgh tries not to hold ill-will towards those promoting transphobia and passing laws that threaten their livelihood. As they put it in email, they are “called to be a witness to the goodness of life even amidst threats, traumas, and violence.”

“The truth is there are so many issues that need to be acted on quickly, and that figuring out how to encumber and humiliate trans people and their families is not one of them” mentioned VanDerburgh.

Even in the face of discrimination, VanDerburgh is determined to help trans students on campus. “If you are trans and at Oberlin, know that student life is entrusted to affirm your individual, particular humanity. If you need someone to talk to, email me and I'll make the time, connect you to resources, try to help lower the stakes of whatever is up.”

The world may continue to move in this direction of bigotry for LGBTQ+ individuals, but even so, trans and non-binary Oberlin students, faculty, and staff will not be stopped from identifying however they please.

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