Beyond Pronouns: Supporting Transgender Members of the Campus Community

A Zoom meeting with four visible participantsA panel of staff and students shared their experiences as transgender members of the University community and offered their thoughts on what Pitt does well and what the institution and individuals in the University community could do better to affirm and support them.

Pitt’s Minoritized Orientation and Gender Identities Graduate and Professional Alliance (MOGI) hosted the March 26 Zoom event.

Anna Shaw, a graduate student in the School of Social Work and clinical social work intern in the University Counseling Center, moderated the discussion with Gracie Jane Gollinger, a Pitt IT staff member who supports the Department of Physics and Astronomy; MOGI founder Dylan Kapit, a doctoral student in the School of Education; and Drew Medvid, administrative assistant for Pitt’s African Studies Program, who graduated from Pitt in 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in history and political science.

Learn about the Pitt resources that aim to support the needs of the campus LGBTQIA+ community by visiting the Office for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion online. 

Reach out to MOGI via email to learn more about its work.

Panelists expressed a desire for more resources specifically dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community and better competency training—ideally led by transgender people themselves—among the ways Pitt could move toward a more affirming University-wide culture.

“How people with the most power set the stage really affects how transgender people are respected,” said Shaw.

Kapit agreed, noting that they feel valued in their program and have had no transphobic experiences in the School of Education, but that an inclusive culture needs to be set from the top down, rather than varying based on the culture of a particular school or program. “I don’t think it’s fine that we’re depending on individual environments in schools,” Kapit said.

Medvid, who was a student worker in African Studies prior to becoming a staffer, said he came out during his first week there. “Other departments could take a page out of UCIS’s book,” he said, adding that it didn’t fall to him to announce the change himself. “It was very much a culture where ‘This is how it’s going to be,’” he said. The welcoming environment prompted him to apply for employment there after graduation.

Gollinger said she was the first person to come out as transgender within Pitt IT—literally emerging from her office after changing clothes. At the time, the then-CIO sent a message to the entire organization, making it clear that Gollinger’s new name and pronouns were to be respected, and noting that there would be consequences for those who failed to do so.

“Be sure your entire chain above you is on board,” Gollinger advised. Consequences for bad behavior need to be addressed at every level, she said. If individuals persist after being reminded directly, “let their supervisor know.”

Looking back, Gollinger said, people who knew her prior to coming out sometimes did slip up and misgender or misname her. “I regret that I didn’t correct them in the moment,” she said. “If they’re messing it up in front of you, they’re messing it up when you’re not there, too.”  

She added that Pitt could do more to ensure that the University’s initiatives and policies are known beyond the Pittsburgh campus —both to the regional campus communities as well as to vendors.

“It should be noted that our vendors need to follow our rules of conduct and there should be consequences very explicitly written out about what happens if they don’t, so people who work with us know we’re serious about this and you should be, too,” she said. “Word needs to get out that Pitt is an inclusive environment.”

The panelists said that colleagues in the Pitt community should speak up when they witness microaggressions such as misnaming or misgendering occurring.

Kapit, who has used they/them pronouns for years, calls people out for misgendering them, but finds it exhausting at times. “I wish my cis ally colleagues would step up and intervene,” they said.

“The accumulation of no one else saying or doing anything does cause people to go back into the closet,” said Shaw. Recognizing microaggressions is important, they said. “It’s death by 1,000 cuts.”

Medvid said that he’s rarely misgendered now, but that several people around him would correct others when it occurred.

Students need to be encouraged to “see something, say something,” as part of caring for other members of the campus community.

“The worst thing you can do is say it doesn’t matter,” Medvid said.

Kapit said that support for transgender people can’t stop merely at respecting chosen names and pronouns. “It needs to go beyond basic human dignity,” they said. “Recognizing names and pronouns is the beginning of the conversation … it’s a small piece of the bigger puzzle of transgender inclusion.”

Shaw added that they’ve seen a shift toward a more social justice-oriented culture at the University in recent years. “Pitt is moving in a direction to really make these things important,” they said. “I hope we can not burn out as we are growing.”

View the full conversation.