This past week, UNCG’s Residence and Housing Life set up a Lemonade “Stand” in the bottom of the Moran Commons Cafeteria. This cute phrasing was meant to show the political nature of their booth. Their stand celebrated International Day of Pink, an event which raises awareness about homophobia and transphobia in an effort to stop these issues.
At this stand, you could pick up a festive pink lemonade drink, as well as fill out premade signs saying what you will do to fight homophobia and transphobia. In promotional emails sent out by the school, event planners also encouraged students to wear pink as a way of showing their support. The email was fairly vague about what would be happening, only really listing the time and location along with bullying statistics, so I was not sure what to expect from the event.
I visited the booth myself to see what exactly it was all about, and was disappointed to find that there was not any more to it than what the email had let on. There was no money being raised, no information or resources being distributed, not even a promise of action from its organizers.
As a trans individual on this campus, feeling safe and legitimately welcomed as I am is difficult, particularly in our state and national political climate. House Bill 2 is still fresh in people’s minds and I cannot miss the stares and uncomfortable altercations I face when entering restrooms. Because of this, more often than not, I have been forced into spaces that make other people comfortable, rather than myself. To make a long story short, this campus and its facilities generally are not places where I feel that I can be open about my identity.
When I saw that this event would be hosted by Residence and Housing Life I was hopeful. I imagined that there would be goals and initiatives being advertised and advocated for to eliminate homophobia and transphobia in campus spaces. Perhaps that the RHL administration would be advocating for trans-specific housing based on gender rather than sex, restroom facilities, etc. I wanted to see them changing to an environment that welcomes queer students and makes them feel safe in their new home. But nothing like this was even touched on.
I understand that there is little the administration can do as a state-funded institution in North Carolina; no matter what the Supreme Court says, our legislature can pick and choose what to do with their money. Legislators and UNC system board members alike have made their opinions on queer politics clear, some openly saying they would retract funding from schools supporting transgender bathroom rights.
But that does not excuse the slacktivism that RHL seemed to advertise as support of the queer community. There was nothing being done at this event to combat transphobia and homophobia- the whole point of International Day of Pink. They merely admitted that these problems exist, which does nothing to fix the problems themselves. If you want to create change, you have to act. You have to advocate for change through reforming our institutions, both physical and ideological.
Surface and self-congratulatory gestures do nothing for disenfranchised groups; they only support lazy liberalism under the guise of activism. Those with privilege, be it in their identity or their position in an institution, must use it to advance those aforementioned groups. That is how you can fight homophobia and transphobia. Distributing pink lemonade does not seem equivalent to advocating for institutional change.