Pictured: Zachary Kerr, Jazz, & Calliope Wong
In honor of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, whose recent suicide in response to her unaccepting family and time with unsupportive Christian therapists has encouraged activists nationwide to campaign against conversion therapy for LGBT youth, MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow is hosting a week focused on transgender issues. In his latest segment, he speaks with transgender activist Calliope Wong (and Out100 honoree) on difficulties trans students must confront when applying to single-gender colleges.
Wong, who has twice had applications to the historical all-women's Smith College rejected and returned to her unprocessed due to not having all of her documents identify her as female, details her experiences with the unfair expectations such institutions often hold for trans applicants.
Speaking about the infeasibility of having all government and school documents display a prospective trans student’s proper gender (some of which often require expensive, time consuming, and sometimes unwanted surgery) by the time they apply to college, Wong explains: “I think it’s quite unrealistic to expect that [of] students, typically seniors in high school around 17 or 18 years old, perhaps maybe without parental assistance and without cooperation from administrative staff at school.”
Instead, she advocates for acceptance of transgender students based on self-identification, a more inclusive model that is currently being adopted by colleges such as Mount Holyoke, Mills College, and Simmons College. “A student’s self-identification should be enough, and these transgender applicants, very bright young women, should be regarded and their applications should be reviewed in exactly the same way as a cisgender applicant’s.”
Expanding on this, Farrow explains that students at Smith generally seem to support accepting transgender applicants and abolishing arbitrary barriers to entry, citing protests at Smith in Wong’s favor. “The pace of Smith’s progress has been glacial, even after a decade of student activism that’s overwhelmingly in favor of trans women’s inclusion,” Farrow adds, quoting the first openly trans student who has been able to gain acceptance at Smith.
Watch the full segment below: