Maria Franzblau | Guest Writer
On a hot afternoon in February, 200 students and faculty gathered on Graham Center lawns for a demonstration against Governor DeSantis’ education policies. The protestors’ grievances ranged from restrictions on how educators are allowed to talk about racism to the Governor’s threat to defund diversity programs. Students were also outraged by the revelation that several universities, including FIU, complied with a request by the Governor to turn over data related to transgender students who sought gender-affirming care on campus.
I gave a speech at that protest about my experience as a trans woman living in Florida and was candid about the toll it had taken on me. This year, our state legislature is considering bills that ban health insurance from covering my hormone medication while conservative activists speak openly about wanting “transgenderism” to be “eradicated.” I was born and raised here, yet I feel like my state government wants to push me either back into the closet or out of Florida entirely.
That same day, Dean Colson, chair of FIU’s Board of Trustees, gave a very different speech. Colson made no commitment to defending professors’ right to teach about racism or to preserving services for LGBTQ students. He also affirmed that he will cooperate with the state to implement their new measures while somehow also maintaining academic freedom. Of what comfort is this to our campus community?
Trans people in Florida have few allies in the political establishment or institutions. Where can we look for hope?
While trans people comprise only a small minority, the attacks on our rights will affect the majority of working people. House Bill 999, a proposed bill supported by DeSantis, would defund diversity programs, ban majors and classes related to “critical theory,” and make it easier to fire tenured professors. This is an attack on students’ and workers’ rights cloaked in an attack on “wokeness.”
Our hope, then, lies in each other, because working people are the majority, and we must recognize the leverage we have. Would FIU’s Board of Trustees be willing to fire professors for teaching critical race theory if they knew that doing so would trigger thousands of students to walk out of class? Would the state legislature be as bold in attacking trans people if it would lead to workers going on strike? History tells us that there is little we can’t accomplish when we organize.
This coming Friday, March 31st, will be Trans Day of Visibility. It is a day to celebrate trans people and our contributions to society. But this year, let us also make it a call to action. If you are a student, find groups that are organizing events and projects to support the trans community. If you are in faculty or staff, find out if your union is doing anything to resist the state legislature.
The protest was a great step towards building a movement for the rights of students and workers. It is in our hands to see that we continue marching forward.
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