ITHACA, NY – Luca Maurer, Program Director for the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services at Ithaca College, knows what it’s like to be a student feeling isolated and discriminated against — and what it means to know you have someone in your corner.

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Throughout middle school and high school, Maurer says he felt like the education system failed to acknowledge that LGBT people even existed. When he got to college, he faced bullying and discrimination from fellow students, but administrators either could not or would not do anything to help.

“They would say, ‘You’re out, what did you expect? You brought it upon yourself.’ It was a lot of victim blaming.” Maurer says. “Or they would would say, ‘We’d love to do something, but it’s not really against policy.’”

Even when he had to call the public safety office due to threats or actual physical violence against himself or vandalism of his room, help was not forthcoming.

At one point, during his sophomore year, he’d decided he’d had enough and packed his bags to leave. He didn’t think anyone would notice or care that he’d gone.

But people had encouraged him to visit one particular administrator before he left. Maurer told her he thought no one would even notice if he was gone.

“This woman looked me in the eye and said, ‘It matters to me that you stay… Things aren’t going to get fixed overnight but we need to address what’s going on. I don’t care what policy isn’t in place, it’s not right to hurt people,” Maurer recalls.

“From that moment on I said, ‘I want to figure out how to make it easier for people.’ Long story short, that’s why I do what I do.”

Maurer’s role

Since 2001, Maurer has served in his role as Program Director for the Center for LGBT Education, Outreach and Services at Ithaca College.

Maurer’s job involves supporting prospective and current LGBTQ students directly, helping them face any challenges, hearing their ideas — and celebrating their successes, such as the recent drag show, which supports the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention organization.

Maurer’s office also works toward broader structural and policy changes, such as the recent open-housing policy that will allow students to room together, regardless of gender.

“It’s really all about access. My job is to figure out what policies and practices and services we need to put in place and we need to shore up so that students can go through their days here doing what they want,” Maurer explains. “So that they don’t have to waste energy, like I wasted so much energy and time, that I couldn’t devote to my schoolwork. I want to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Maurer also creates programming directed toward educating the community about LGBTQ issues.

Those efforts have apparently been pretty successful — Ithaca College is rated as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly schools in the country. Which is not to say that issues never arise.

“It’s not perfect here. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen, it just means that we have an identified, written policy in place for students and employees can seek redress if they want,” Maurer says.

“Flagrant abuses, luckily, are not very common. But the everyday insults, to me those are just as important. Those are what cause wear-and-tear on the soul,” Maurer added.

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The Teaching Transgender Toolkit

With the help of the Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes and Out for Health, Maurer and co-author Eli Green recently release a new book, “The Teaching Transgender Toolkit,” which was released in November.

Maurer shared a convening statistic that perfectly elucidates why this book is needed. According to GLAAD, 90 percent of Americans are aware they know a lesbian, gay or bisexual person in their life. But only 16 percent of Americans are aware there’s a transgender person in their life.

A statistic released by the Pew Research Center says that that percentage is the same number of people who say that they’ve seen a ghost.

“That’s not because they aren’t there. It’s because that person doesn’t feel safe to tell them,” says Maurer. “That’s part of the empathy and education disconnect. That’s what we’re trying to deal with.”

The book provides background and foundational information, lesson plans, assessments and best practices designed to help organizations of all sorts who want to learn more about transgender issues.

“We knew that people were having these conversations. People in Ithaca have been contacting my office for years, for help around navigating these issues and serving the transgender people in their lives,” Maurer explains.

The book includes a massive repository of information from broad “frequently asked questions” to identifying specific documentaries that tackle specific issues of the transgender experience.

In the wake of the recent North Carolina law banning transgendered people from using the bathrooms of their choice, the Teaching Transgender Toolkit released a free chapter of the book exploring the issue.

“The difficulties that face trans people aren’t about being trans,” Maurer says. “They’re about living in a society that stigmatizes and discriminates against them. Folks sometimes don’t make that connection. That’s why this book is needed.”

Transgender Day of Visibility

March 31 is the 6th annual Transgender Day of Visibility.

According to Maurer, the Transgender Day of Visibility grew out of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which started in 1998.

“The whole purpose of that day is to recognize the lives of transgender people who have been murdered or who have committed suicide. I cannot think of too many other communities that have an observance like that,” Maurer says.

“I see young people who cannot see their future. It’s very hard to find a story of someone like, ‘My family is really supportive,’ or ‘My religious community rocks,’ or ‘Let me tell you about this teacher at my school who went out of their way,’” he explains. “Those things happen, but they don’t make the news. Stories that make the news are people who die by suicide or those who are murdered.”

The Transgender Day of Visibility is a way to address those missing, positive narratives. A way to highlight the strength and resilience of transgender people and convey the message that transgender people cannot not only survive, but thrive.

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Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.