Samson Lyons & Kavita Poduri: Inviting Cherríe Moraga to Campus was a Mistake

Photo courtesy of Natália Otto / San Francisco Foghorn.

On May 1, 2016, the Queer and/or Trans People of Color (QTPOC) Conference 2016 at UC Berkeley posted on Facebook apologizing on behalf of their keynote speaker, Cherríe Moraga, and her blatant disregard for they/them pronouns, as well as transgender people in general.

On December 1, 2016, UC San Diego invited Cherríe Moraga to host an event, because apparently we have learned nothing.

Cherríe Moraga is a highly regarded as a Chicana feminist – best known for her book, This Bridge Called My Back. She is well-known enough that when the Vice Chancellor of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, the Critical Gender Studies Department, the Ethnic Studies Department, and several other departments at UCSD heard she would be in Los Angeles, they naturally disregarded transgender people and invited her to campus.

The program started off with the organizers, Ethnic Studies PhD students Hina Shaikh and Pricila Rodriguez, introducing themselves and then asking all in attendance to do the same, to state their name, gender pronouns, department, and their reasons for being there. However, the room was full and by the time the introductions got to me, we had been asked to skip everything except the name and department. I gave my name, and my apparently very controversial pronouns – not to incite any drama but rather because, surprise, I don’t like being misgendered (called by a gender I am not).

Moraga began her talk by recognizing the indigenous land UCSD occupies. From there, the rest of her content centered around realizing the severity of the current political situation, standing with Standing Rock, and how these are creating a true revolution – one that “starts from the bottom up.” Spoiler alert — she wasn’t talking about transgender women of color, the group most likely to be a victim of hate crimes.

The fact that the event organizers asked for gender pronouns from the participants but failed to realize that Moraga has a history of anti-trans sentiment is darkly ironic. This information isn’t hard to discover; Moraga’s Wikipedia page has a section titled “Transgender Controversy”, and the apology posts from the QTPOC Conference of 2016 can be discovered with a simple Google search.

This article won’t convince Moraga to come around to our point of view; if she believes trans men of color are betraying womanhood, that’s her business, and we won’t convince her to consider trans women of color with a single opinion piece. That said, if UCSD wants to make a commitment to challenging transphobia, it should know better, and the fact that numerous departments neglected to do even basic research before offering support is not a good sign. That the Ethnic Studies Department and its numerous affiliates and related programs were unaware is bad enough, but that even the Critical Gender Studies program, whose literal area of study it is to evaluate topics like these, ignored Moraga’s history of transphobic literature and sentiment is unacceptable.

Whatever Moraga’s contributions to feminist literature might be, none of them can give trans people the luxury of ignoring her bigoted sentiments. Trans people, especially trans women, especially trans women of color, are assailed from all sides; if the many departments who invited Moraga to our campus want to make a real commitment to social justice, they have to prioritize the most vulnerable members of their communities, among them trans women of color. The Critical Gender Studies program, the Ethnic Studies Department, and the other sponsors have an obligation to apologize for providing a platform to a known transphobe and should make a commitment never to do so again.

I can’t claim to know the organizers of this event personally. I don’t know whether their willingness to ask for pronouns is genuine or perfunctory. But if the Ethnic Studies and Critical Gender Studies programs want to organize against Trump, if they want to build action, if they want to imagine a future, they cannot ignore the transgender community. Trans people have been a fundamental part of the modern gay rights movement since its inception, and a fundamental part of all communities of color. No UCSD department should honor the kind of person who would ignore trans women entirely, invalidate and insult the nonbinary trans community, and suggest that trans men lack the right to determine their own selfhood.

Sam Lyons is a gender-nonconforming activist and a UCSD undergrad. They also work at the UCSD Women’s Center; their views are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the center. Kavita Poduri is a trans woman and UCSD undergrad.

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Photo credit: Natália Otto/San Fransisco Foghorn via Flickr (licence)