Students protest UI deadnaming graduates

UIUC students protest the school's deadnaming of graduates and lack of support for LGBTQ students on Saturday, May 22. (Photos by Jada Fulcher)

The deadnaming of graduates during this year’s graduation ceremony is just one area where the University of Illinois is failing LGBTQ students.

For many University of Illinois students, graduation is a celebration of years of hard work and scholarship. However, for transgender students like Cyrus Arnieri, the ceremony was anything but celebratory.

Last Saturday, LGBTQ residents and allies came together to protest the deadnaming of transgender students at University commencement ceremonies. Organized by Arnieri and rising junior Linds Flood, the protest demanded the University respect the identities of its transgender graduates.

“I want [the University] to start caring about their transgender and nonbinary students, because it’s been shown that they don’t.”

UI students at the protest on Saturday.

Arnieri graduated this Spring with a bachelor’s degree in animal science, but that wasn’t before the graduate was deadnamed in front of his family, as well as on a livestream broadcast online by the University.

Not unlike other affected transgender students, Arnieri had been in communication with the University for months in regards to the changing of his legal name and what name should be announced at graduation.

“Before I walked, my mom told me that this might happen and not to get upset, but until she said that it never crossed my mind that this would happen because we made sure it wouldn’t.”

After the incident, Arnieri said he was given a CD of “Illinois songs” and a keychain, as well as the ability to walk the stage a second time. However by then much of his family could not attend the second in-person ceremony.

Emboldened by the plight of himself and his peers, Arnieri collaborated with Flood to put together a protest featuring themselves, other queer and trans students and community members.

Soleil Sanchez, a near-graduate at the University, was one of many planned speakers for the protest last Saturday. One class away from walking the commencement stage themselves, this incident was the exact thing they hoped to avoid.

“I opted for [walking the stage] in December because I was literally thinking about this exact thing happening to me and getting deadnamed at graduation,” said Sanchez. “I am fully aware of the processes that the University gives to the students to avoid that, but as you can see even those processes are full of flaws.”

The theme of a flawed university system rang through many of the protest’s speeches, with speakers chiding the University for its underfunded LGBT resource center, as well as its “inaccessible” mental health services for transgender students.

“I think it’s kind of inaccessible to transgender people a lot of times because it’s supposed to be a short term thing here at the University,” said Arnieri, speaking on his own experience with University counselors. “the person I got help from told me that she couldn’t see me any longer because it can’t be a long term thing, which is just not good for people and students in general, but especially from transgender people who need that to be able to fully transition.”

For many transgender students, notes from a therapist or psychiatrist are required to get hormones to medically transition, and in Cyrus’ case he required two years of psychiatry for his insurance to cover his top surgery.

On May 20, the Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Relations put out a statement addressing the deadnaming incidents.

“Due to changes in the timeline to produce a virtual Commencement celebration and stage crossings, the new registration system required that graduate data be uploaded in late March,” wrote Robin Kaler, Associate Chancellor for Public Affairs. “Some graduates did not have the opportunity to provide updated information that would have allowed them to cross the stage again using their chosen name”.

When contacted for further comment, the university re-sent out the statement as a response.

Arnieri has yet to be contacted directly in regard to the deadnaming incident, but he believes the statement doesn’t take accountability for their mistakes and “places blame” on the affected students.

While many protesters were appreciative of the community that came to support the University’s transgender graduates, they also knew there would likely be more hardship ahead.

“Most of the things trans people have gotten from the University have had to be fought for tooth and nail,” said rising senior Emily Lee, who gave an impromptu speech at the protest. “Hopefully this’ll be enough, but if it isn’t then hopefully people with step up and put more pressure on them, especially our cisgender allies.”

Jada Fulcher
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Jada Fulcher is senior studying journalism at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has previously been published by The Daily Illini and 805 Lit + Art magazine. She is also the writing director of The Fashion Network Magazine.