A busy board meeting at Grand Rapids Community College turned emotional today as 13 members of the GRCC community spoke on transgender equality.
These community leaders, students and staff used the open comment section at the end of the board meeting to respond to the comments made by Trustee Richard Stewart on the college’s existing transgender policy at last month’s meeting.
Faculty Association President Frank Conner was met with a long applause after he prefaced the open comment section in his Faculty Association update.
“There’s a group of students here today who rightfully so believe that their rights as GRCC students have been violated,” Conner said to the board. “As a representative of the faculty, I hope you listen to them with your head and your heart because these students are GRCC.”
GRCC’s LGBT+ student club StandOut President Beau VanSolkema was the first to use his three minutes at the podium.
“I’m not here to fight hate with hate,” Vansolkema, a transgender student himself, said. “I came here to show you what a statement, like his, says to the world and more specifically the United States. It embraces hatred towards transgender individuals and is why murders and suicides happen to this culture.”
StandOut member Esmerelda Dunn was moved to tears when she listed off some of the 270 names her and Vansolkema gathered of transgender people who have been murdered.
Jonathan Farman, president of Gays in Faith Together, told the board he was there to stand in unity with the transgender community.
“What I know is that words mean something,” Farman said. “Words that compare transgender people to sexual predators are so far from the truth that it’s unsettling at best.
“A representative from this board of trustees said that they were a voice for the community,” Farman said. “Well, I am a member of this community and that is not the message that I support.”
“It is okay to disagree,” Farman added. “In my opinion, we must evolve together in a way that starts with our carefully selected words and ends with our love.”
The board also heard from StandOut Adviser Simon Kittok, StandOut member and transgender student Malcolm Joseph, community member Adrian Johnson, Student Alliance Officer Maleny Crespo, GRCC alumni Chelsie May Frazer, True North Campus Ministry Coordinator Nancy Janisch, StandOut member Amanda Zirrili, a GRCC alumni, Student Alliance President Jose Garcia and GR Pride Center board member and transgender woman Ellie Webster.
All the comments mirrored the same idea: transgender people are humans, just like anyone else.
“A generalization was made that trans women are nothing more than predatory men,” Webster said to the board. “There’s not a single case of a transgender person assaulting somebody else in a sex-segregated space. The people who are being assaulted in those spaces are trans people. We’re being assaulted, raped and murdered at unprecedented levels for who we are.”
During final board comments, trustee Stewart thanked those who commented and told them he was “deeply moved.”
“Every student here is of equal importance, deserves the very best that this college can deliver for them,” Stewart said after the meeting. “I value each person … of infinite worth made in the image of God, with the utmost importance, every person, I really believe that.”
VanSolkema said Stewart approached him after the meeting with tears in his eyes.
“I do think that it moved him,” Vansolkema said. “I think it shocked him.”