While most Penn students are able to identify, or at least acknowledge the presence of, LGBT groups on campus, few could specifically point to Penn Non–Cis, a transgender awareness and support group on campus, as a major influencer in the community. Brennan Burns (C ‘20), the club’s new financial chair, hopes to change this. Brennan discusses the group’s evolution at Penn and how she plans on help it grow in 2018.
34th Street Magazine: What is Penn Non–Cis in a nutshell?
Brennan Burns: The very basic answer for what Penn Non–Cis is would be that we are a group for non–cis, trans people on campus. We provide a number of different events to talk about topics that people find interesting, just bringing people together on campus to create discussion as well as trying to educate various groups on campus. We’re saying “Hey, here’s what trans people are, here’s how you can create a comfortable space for these people.”
Street: What drew you to Penn Non–Cis as a freshman?
BB: I had had a lot of positive experiences with LGBT groups in my hometown that I found to be very helpful so I just wanted to continue being a part of something like that. It wasn’t exactly the same [back at home], definitely not as specific as Penn Non–Cis. It’s been a really big part of my first two years because I’ve been on the board both years. It’s just been good to stay involved with the general LGBT community—and specifically Trans community—at Penn. I feel like it’s something that I personally get a lot out of and I hope it’s something that a lot of people get a lot out of, beyond me. It’s just good to be a part of a community.
Street: How are you hoping to expand the organization as part of its leadership board?
BB: Basically what we’re trying to do is hold a lot more events. Before, we tended to hold big events a couple of times a year, maybe one big event a semester and then a couple of small study breaks. This semester, we’ve been trying to do a lot more….we’re having a couple smaller but still fairly serious events spread out over the course of several months. We’re also trying to hold more social events and trying to make our meetings a little bit more discussion based.
Street: What type of challenges, if any, have you faced as a transgender group at Penn, or as a trans individual?
BB: I don’t think Penn Non–Cis as a group faces a lot of challenges from the university. We’ve had discussions with a variety of different departments, and the success of those discussions has really been on a case–by–case basis, but I think that on a broader institutional level, Penn is fairly decent to us as a group. I think it’s a bit more complicated when you’re asking how Penn treats trans people. There are areas where there can still be improvement. We have tried to improve things to the extent that we can. It’s sort of disappointing to see that they’re aren’t a ton of gender–neutral bathrooms on campus, or that Penn’s name change policy is good but still not necessarily great. But, I think on the whole Penn is pretty good about it. A lot better than most universities by far. Personally, there was a period during freshman year where I had been out to my family for a while but I hadn’t come out to my professors. I still don’t really know entirely how you handle that. It is also frustrating, to a degree, trying to figure out the places I can go between classes where I won’t get strange stares in the bathroom, which is always a thrill.
Street: How does Penn Non–Cis create change or discussion regarding trans issues at Penn?
BB: A lot of the educational stuff is typically on a group–by–group basis. For example, we’re holding [a discussion] with Penn Dems next week. A more general, “for the public” thing would be our speaker series, which brings trans speakers to campus to talk about their experience, how being trans relates to their identity, and how they’ve been able to obtain success. We also do a yearly open mic night called “Gender Talk.” Some people read poetry, some people sing, some people just talk.
Street: What about your interaction with Philadelphia as a whole?
BB: A lot of our events are open to the Philadelphia community at large. We had a panel focused on sex work and how that affects trans people and that was all people from the Philadelphia area. One of our GBMs that’s coming up is going to be with the Mazzoni Center, a really cool LGBT health center in the “Gayborhood” area, to talk about trans health.
Penn Non–Cis meets every Saturday from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at the LGBT center.