WINONA, Minn. - In the last decade, support for the L.G.B.T community has grown, but there are still members of that group that struggle to be seen as equals.
Now Winona State University is taking steps to be more accepting of transgender people.
Tuesday, Winona State University held a "Trans Teach In," an opportunity for students and staff as well as community members to learn more about the transgender community and how to be more inclusive of everyone on campus as well as in the classroom.18329932
While acceptance may not happen overnight, participants said getting the conversation started is the first step.
For Winona State University sophomore Whitney Parlow, the fight for equality of transgender people is personal.
"I want to feel comfortable walking into the bathroom (and) I want to feel comfortable going to class," said Parlow. "(Just) being myself around other people (and) not having to be someone else."
She grew up always feeling different, but didn't begin making the transition from "Wade" to "Whitney" until right before she started college.
It was a change she wasn't sure everyone was ready for.
"I've had my share of harassment and bullying," said Parlow. "It was a lot more worrisome. I didn't know if I'd be accepted. I didn't know if the teachers would be OK. Thankfully they were. All of them so far have been."
Parlow and many of her classmates have become the driving force behind bringing transgender issues to the forefront at the university.
Tuesday's seminar tackled issues including how professors can make the classroom more Trans inclusive and the importance of more unisex bathrooms on campus.
Woman and gender studies professor Tamara Berg said there's a growing need to address these issues properly.
"Nationally, if you look at the statistics of transgender and gender non-conformity, they have increased dramatically over the last 10 years," said Berg. "It's definitely increasing as an institution here. Students were asking for it."
And for Parlow, while change may not happen right away, she hopes one day everyone can be seen as equals.
"That's all we are really," said Parlow. "We're not these demons or devils that people make us out to be. "We're not rapists and pedophiles. We're just trying to exist and trying to be ourselves. We're just this way and we're just normal people."
Parlow still has a few years left of her studies. She hopes to one day run for office on a national level or be a career activist.
This year was the first year for the "Trans Teach-In" seminar.
Educators hope to continue the conversation with other training sessions and school events throughout the year.
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