Solidarity Gathering encourages Washburn to celebrate Trans Visibility Day


Leah Jamison

Students wear their Pride apparel and surround the Kuehne bell Tower to listen to different members of the trans community speak about their experiences. The LGBTQ+ Solidarity Gathering took place on Thursday, March 31, 2022, on the East Union Lawn at Washburn University.

Thursday, March 31, students, staff and faculty joined together on the East Lawn of the Memorial Union on Washburn’s campus for a Solidarity Gathering built to show encouragement and support for students who identified as transgender or non-binary.
The Solidarity Gathering began at 4:30 p.m. and ended shortly after 6:00 p.m. The gathering was organized in three days by a handful of students in response to a social media post on Monday, March 28, shared by Michael Knowles, a conservative political commentator. Knowles was scheduled to appear on Washburn’s campus to speak about ending “this transgenderism madness once and for all”, which quickly brought stress to many students across campus.
“We were like, ‘What can we do? We want to do something’,” said Sierra Jeter, junior political science and Spanish major. “So we thought, at that initial moment, ‘Let’s make a GroupMe group chat, make it open to everybody, and then people started piling in.’ Sooner or later, we had 60, 80 and then 130 people who were in the group chat.”
By the time the Solidarity Gathering began Thursday evening, there were 136 members in the group chat organized by Jeter, Emma Morrissey, a senior forensic investigations major, and Mallory Hamilton, a junior criminal justice major.
“I didn’t know more than half the people who showed up on GroupMe,” Jeter said. “Yet we collaborated, we talked, we shared meaningful moments and I’m here with them. I’m here for my student body that I love and want to see grow and be protected so much.”

Thursday, March 31, was also International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day dedicated to celebrating transgender individuals and raising awareness of discrimination faced by those who identify as transgender.

Jeter was excited to see so many people lend their support toward the creation of the solidarity event. Dozens of volunteers brought hot packs, water, blankets and food to the event to help show their support on Thursday’s chilly afternoon.

“I think that this makes a good representation out of Washburn,” Jeter said. “And it sets a precedent that we are a very inclusive, diverse and strong community that nobody should be afraid of. But when something very hateful comes to our campus, it won’t be met with silence.”

Mary Smith, senior art education major and President of Queers & Allies, was also taken aback with how quickly the Solidarity Gathering was brought together. Smith expected around 50 people to appear during the event. That number grew to a few hundred.

“I was very surprised at how quickly we got this put together,” Smith said. “This event really just shows how big and how full our community is for accepting people who might be different than them.”
Even though the Solidarity Gathering was organized in response to Knowles speaking on Washburn’s campus, the event was not designed to protest the conservative speaker’s right to free speech, nor was it to limit or berate the views or opinions of students, faculty or community members who might have some aligning viewpoints with Knowles.

“We are not here to protest,” Smith said. “We’re not here to make a big scene. We’re only here to show support for people who need it. There’s no reason to not support transgender individuals. They’re valid and they’re real people. There’s no reason to spew hate all the time.”

Smith is one of many students who identifies as transgender and non-binary. Grey McCollum, a freshman psychology major, also identifies as non-binary and shared their experiences with the large crowd of supporters during the solidarity event.

“I was absolutely terrified to come out because I didn’t know how my friends and family would react or if they would be supportive,” McCollum said. “I knew that if I wanted to be happy, this was something I had to do. I wrapped my little pride flag around my shoulders and I made my coming out post. And ever since then, I’ve been happily my most authentic self.”

McCollum was born in California and struggled with their gender identity throughout high school. It wasn’t until McCollum transferred to Washburn for higher education that the term ‘non-binary’ came into light. This realization also led to their chosen name ‘Grey’.

“It felt like a weight was lifted off my chest,” McCollum said. “I learned that gender identity and gender expression was a spectrum. It was fluid, it was changing. It didn’t have to be male or female, masculine or feminine, black or white. Sometimes it was just gray.”

This was the first time that many Washburn students had experienced any supportive gathering for those who identify with the LBGTQ+ community. Olivia Higdon, senior legal studies major, came to the gathering to show support for transgender individuals on campus.

“Since Monday, my life has been dedicated to this event,” Higdon said. “One of my best friends is trans, so all of this is very close to home for me. I just wanted to share the love and make sure people at Washburn, our fellow Ichabods, felt safe and loved despite whatever’s going on.”

Other Washburn students spread the word of the Solidarity Gathering to their hometown communities. One student, Krystal Lassen, senior occupational therapy major, brought Zohreyha Masuch to the event. Masuch identifies as transgender and had to drive one hour to get to Washburn’s campus to attend the event and join the support system for others who struggle with their identity.

“It shows that we love everybody and that we don’t agree with the hate that the world wants us to share,” Lasssen said. “Not just today, but every day.”

For Haley Pearson, freshman social work major, Washburn’s student body is like another family to her as she is an out-of-state student.

“For those that are maybe still in the closet, or working on coming out, they’ll realize there’s this community here that loves them and supports them and will do anything to support them,” Pearson said.

While there were some technology issues regarding the sound system for the Solidarity Gathering, it didn’t stop students from speaking their mind and sharing their experiences with the crowd.
“Everyone was willing to support each other, no matter what happened today, and I think that speaks volumes,” Higdon said. “I’m really happy and I’m glad that, in my senior year, this is what I’m leaving with.”

Colorful flags, cheers and smiles were carried among dozens of students and faculty attending the event. Jeter says that by celebrating everybody’s lives, being respectful and listening to others, the community can love each other and prevent separating Washburn as a collective.

“The simple fact of the matter is that we’re here and we’re not going anywhere,” McCollum said. “We will continue to uplift each other, speak up for one another and take up space, because we deserve to take up some space.”

Edited by: Alyssa Storm, Glorianna Noland, Kyle Manthe, Ellie Walker