The Department of Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) collaborated with Spectrum and Muncie OUTreach to host a Transgender Awareness Week Open Mic Night in the L.A. Pittenger Student Center Wednesday Nov. 17.
Lauren Szymczak, an intern for the Women’s and Gender Studies Department, organized the event under the supervision of graduate assistant Betsy Kiel. Szymczak said it was the first major event of the year geared toward transgender awareness.
“Transgender Awareness Week Open Mic Night is an event where people in the transgender community now have a chance to share their stories, hear other people's stories and express themselves in a safe, supportive space where they can be who they are,” Szymczak said.
The event featured four key speakers, all of whom are Muncie locals, who shared their stories — Dakota Pierce, Ren Walstrom, Addi Smith and Buddie Rose Jones.
Jones is currently an active member of the LGBTQ community and volunteers at Muncie OUTreach, which is Delaware County’s only LGBTQ youth group, according to its website. Prior to her involvement in OUTreach, Jones faced many struggles, including gender discrimination and abuse.
“At five years old, I realized I was transgender, and I [understood] that I had more in common with the girls I saw on television than I did did the boys,” she said. “For thirty years, I lived knowing that I was a man but dreading so strongly that I might face the same kind of violence bestowed by either my stepfather or myself, I kept myself hidden away.”
Part of Muncie OUTreach’s mission is “to provide an accepting environment to enhance the personal growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in the Delaware County area,” according to its website.
In the spirit of this mission, Jones invited LGBTQ community members to attend some of Muncie OUTreach’s events, including support groups for trans and gender non-conforming individuals Mondays at 6 p.m., as well as many other activities.
“[The event] went well,” Szymczak said. “We used the whole time, and we found four featured speakers. We had a good turnout, which is really encouraging.