More than 50 students and professionals from Philadelphia joined panelists to discuss transgender issues in education and the workplace on Penn's campus. The event was part of Philadelphia’s third annual Black Lives Matter Week of Action.
The event, "Supporting Trans Educators," was hosted at the LGBT Center on Monday evening. The panelists included educator and outreach specialist at the Attic Youth Center Hazel Edwards, social worker and therapist Sonalee Rashatwar, Black and Brown Workers Cooperative founder Shani Akilah, and Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education High School teacher Alma Sheppard-Matsuo.
Panelists discussed various topics, such as the importance of self-care for working transgender people and streamlining communication by encouraging inclusive pronoun use in the classroom.
Monique Perry, a member of the Trans Literacy Project and the Caucus of Working Educators as well as a Graduate School of Education student, said the event was a crucial part of the conversation during Black Lives Matter Week of Action, a campaign that began in Seattle in 2016.
“One of the thirteen guiding principles of the Black Lives Matter movement is queer-affirming and trans-affirming,” Perry said. “If we’re talking about ways to support trans educators, we should be talking about blackness, we should be talking about anti-blackness."
The event was organized by the Caucus of Working Educators and the Trans Literacy Project, which was created last fall by Penn graduate students to provide education on transgender issues within and outside the university.
Following the panel discussion, people broke into four groups and held 30-minute in-depth discussions with a panelist.
Sheppard-Matsuo also spoke about being a high school English teacher who is publicly non-binary. Sheppard-Matsuo added that openly talking about gender identity with coworkers and students creates a welcoming environment that encourages people to ask each other for their pronouns.
Participants included several professionals, such as nonprofit workers and psychologists. Mazzoni Center worker Tyunique Nelson said she attended the event because it relates to her work as a support system for LGBTQ+ youth.
She added that she appreciated Sheppard-Matsuo’s point that queer teachers can create welcoming spaces by encouraging pronoun use.
Nelson said she believed the conversations at the event should also take place at schools, so they could "talk about diversity, inclusion and ways that they can make their schools not only safer, but braver for LGBTQ+ youth and community members."
Addye Susnick, who works for education justice at Repair the World Philadelphia, said she hopes to take the event discussions back to the nonprofit sector.
“It was a really powerful experience for me in terms of hearing other perspectives,” Susnick said.