At noon on Friday, the Founding Director of Ithaca College’s LGBT Education, Outreach and Services Program Luca Maurer will be giving a talk co-sponsored by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes around their book, “Teaching Transgender Toolkit: A Facilitator’s Guide to Increasing Knowledge, Decreasing Prejudice & Building Skills” a detailed collection of best practices, lesson plans and resources for those who wish to facilitate trainings about transgender people, identities and experiences.
The Ithaca Times reached out to the renowned administrator and author, who has helped to build one of the most inclusive campus environments in the United States, on their role on campus and in the community and what Maurer hopes to accomplish with Friday’s discussion.
Ithaca Times: Just looking at the name of the department you oversee at Ithaca College, there seems to be a fairly straightforward mission of what the LGBTQ Center does at Ithaca College. What I’m interested in, beyond service, is outreach and education. What approaches do you, as the director of that center, take on in your role? Can you define what, exactly, outreach and education in this context means to you?
Luca Maurer: There’s a dual function in my role at IC. My primary function is to foster the academic success and personal growth of IC LGBTQ students, and to provide opportunities for the entire campus community to learn more about LGBTQ people and themes. This is to assist students to persist to graduation, pursue their academic and cocurricular interests with vigor, and avail themselves of all IC has to offer. Inherent in this is that most of the events my office sponsors are also free and open to the public. In that vein, outreach and education is about access: to movies through our annual Out of the Closet and Onto the Screen Film Series, speakers like our National Coming Out Day speaker and others throughout the year, and partnerships my office builds with businesses and organizations like Cinemapolis, Trumansburg Philomathic Library, the Latino Civic Association, Southside Communtiy Center, Planned Parenthood’s LGBTQ Health and Wellness program Out for Health, and Buffalo Street Books. These create opportunities for the campus and community at large to gather together, find and offer support and mentorship, and build meaningful community.
IT: What’s the greater role of the center in all of Tompkins County – not just at Ithaca College? Do you find it’s beneficial to engage everybody in the LGBTQ community here locally and if so, why is that?
LM: Building community happens when we build connection and a sense of belonging, reduce social isolation, and have opportunities to gather and work in solidarity. As the saying goes “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” My hope is that through these efforts students will aspire to be who they are and do what they want; which serves to counters the research that demonstrates that challenges and harassment in school causes many LGBTQ young people to drop out, have lower GPAs, and aspire to college less frequently than their non LGBT peers. And, for this to be effective this has to operate not just on campus but systematically throughout the community, which will also have a positive effect on everyone.
IT: I understand you do a number of workshops in the community open to anyone interested. What’s the intent behind these events? What do you hope people take away from these?
LM: I sometimes have awkward interactions in which people assume my IC role is to address all the information and education needs of not only the campus, but our entire community. I’m happy to do what I can, and this work is bigger than just one person can do. Fortunately, I’ve had the honor of providing events and learning opportunities boh through my IC position, and also as a consultation and author. I’ve had the privilege of working with educators, parents, health care providers, religious communities, community organizations, and businesses throughout the region and around the nation. And through my books, the hope is even more people will receive the tools they need toward better inclusion efforts, in whatever setting they may be interacting.
IT: Tell me about the event you’re holding this week at Buffalo Street Books. How common a conversation is this in Tompkins County? What resources are available locally to help broach these conversations?
LM: The event this week is an opportunity to learn more, in a relaxed setting, about creating transgender welcoming and affirming places and everyday interactions within our community. Transgender people have always been a part of our families, schools, and communities. They’re woven into the fabric of our society. Over the last few years media attention has increased around transgender people, but these representations are frequently sensationalized, contain stereotypes and misinformation, portray the experiences of only a small fraction of transgender people, and are one dimensional. Conversations are happening more and more across Tompkins county and throughout the nation - at kitchen tables, in workplaces, in schools, in faith congregations, and more. I want to help provide folks with the information, skills, and empathy to treat each other with understanding, dignity and respect. Being a transgender person isn’t what puts someone at risk of bias, harassment, and violence. It’s living in a society with rampant stigma and discrimination that causes these and puts transgender people at risk.
IT: What might people not acknowledge about the LGBT community here in Ithaca and Tompkins County? Is there any perception of an equity gap among the community and if so, what is it? How do people get to work solving it? Is there a consensus on how that should be done?
LM: This may be one of the most important questions! And one where assumptions may most vastly differ from reality. First, the intersectional Impacts are profound - transphobia, biphobia, homophobia are all amplified and exponentially compounded by oppression in all its forms. Most especially pervasive, structural racism, as well as misogyny, classism, xenophobia, islamophobia, anti-semitism, anti-immigrant sentiments. Folks don’t bring just their gay selves through my office door, they bring their whole selves. It can be difficult to understand and acknowledge this: people don’t silo or separate out their identities and experiences. Again I think media (unintentionally or intentionally) positions LGBTQ people as not people of color, not people of faith, not people seeking asylum, not people living in poverty, when in fact LGBTQ people are all of these and more. I really want to emphasize this. And that I truly believe that LGBTQ liberation must be intersectional or it will not be liberation at all. By way of example, statewide data help shed light on some of the disparities that face LGBTQ people right here in our local community - food insecurity, housing insecurity, discrimination in employment, education, and health care - right here in Tompkins county, where sometimes the belief is “oh, we are so progressive and wonderful here, that would never happen here.” But it does. These issues come up today for many members of our LGBTQ community here locally. And as with many complex problems with multiple roots of discrimination and stigma, there have to be multiple approaches toward change: one on one education and empathy building, professional training, enacting LGBTQ inclusive school, workplace and government policies and laws along with assessing effectiveness and building in accountability, and taking action to address inequalities and dismantle oppression. Recognize that LGBTQ people are truly everywhere, and that although much work has been done, there is still yet to do.