BY SHEBATI SENGUPTA ’19 AND MADELINE FITZGERALD ’21
In an effort to increase awareness around queer history, Smith College hosted several events surrounding Transgender Day of Visibility last week, including a screening of the documentary “Major!” and a talk with the film’s subject, LGBT rights activist Miss Major. An iconic figure in the fight for transgender rights, Miss Major was a participant in the 1969 Stonewall Riots and today is the executive director emerita for the Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project. Today, she focuses primarily on mass-incarceration and the way it intersects with issues of racial justice and queer activism. Miss Major is also a prominent advocate for prison abolition, an issue which was featured heavily at the talk.
The event was structured around a conversation between Miss Major and Dean Spade, a writer and the founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, a non-profit law collective that provides free legal services to transgender, intersex and gender non-conforming people who are low-income and/or people of color. The conversation was moderated by Smith College queer studies professor Jennifer DeClue.
Several Mount Holyoke students attended and reflected on the issues raised at the event. Gina Perry ’20 said, “it is so important for young queer people to see older queer people, especially older gender non-conforming people. It is so important to know that we can survive.”
Ben Sambrook ’19 emphasized Miss Major’s historic contributions to LGBT activism as being particularly important to him. “[I am] interested in Miss Major’s perspective as a radical trans elder who I am personally and politically indebted to as a member of the trans community.” Sambrook also said that he left the talk with a “deep validation of [his] own identity.”
The speakers placed specific emphasis on prison abolition. The idea that no one is disposable was a takeaway for Perry, who said that, “prisons really were meant to punish, not to reform.” Milo Ward ’19 said he learned from the talk that “the prison system is doing exactly what it’s supposed to do, which is to inflict violence upon people who have most likely already had violence inflicted upon them.” Sambrook said that he “came away with a renewed commitment to abolitionist politics, recognition of the power of community aid, excitement for organizations and movements that expose state monopoly on violence.”
The students emphasized how helpful it was for them to hear advice from elders in the LGBT community. Their advice required what Sambrook described as “a deep commitment not only to asking, but truly listening,” and left him and many other audience members with “a sense of utter celebration of trans survival.”