Illustration by Neo Clark

Portland State’s response to anti-trans threats lacks clarity

PSU needs to address how they will protect trans students

Anti-transgender provocateurs have recently visited campus, inciting deeper questions about the university’s response to such incidents—Portland State students deserve clarity from the university administration about how they plan to protect trans community members.


On April 26, 2023, PSU’s Director of Queer Student Services, Murph Murphy, posted on Instagram that the Queer Resource Center (QRC) had been informed that transphobic provocateurs were aiming to target the PSU campus. In both the original post and in the comments, Murphy explained that an unnamed “monetized group of YouTubers” were planning to instigate and record debates regarding access to gender-affirming care to generate clickbait for people with anti-trans views.


“These folks are trained to stay calm and within their rights to share their opinions on public property under the First Amendment,” Murphy wrote. “Legally, we cannot stop them. But, we can ignore them and not give them what they want: a reaction from us and further polarization.”


To avoid garnering support for this transphobic organization, Murphy did not provide the name of the anti-trans group and urged those feeling upset about this situation to donate to the QRC Foundation Account, where funds would go directly to support a “bigger, better, and more inclusive Trans Days of Empowerment, Resistance, and Resilience in fall of 2023.”


Publishing the names of transphobic organizations will only serve to grow their platform—it appears that ignoring such individuals is the only way to keep them from causing harm. Yet, in order for community members to fully protect themselves, those who feel at risk have the right to know who is potentially targeting them. The anonymous Instagram account PSU Times posted on April 30 that a disgraced PSU professor was part of a group that came to campus with a video crew last year and provoked the community.


Aside from an emailed statement on April 27 from PSU President Stephen Percy that indicated the school’s support of its trans students, nothing more has been said publicly about these provocateurs with plans to target campus. As a queer PSU student, I have not interacted with or heard about any transphobic provocateurs in the area whatsoever. Optimistically, this is because they decided not to show up after all—perhaps the public outcry about their presence was enough to scare them off.


Judging by the recent news surrounding trans healthcare, however, this will likely not be the last instance of transphobia in the campus community. As reported in President Percy’s statement: “anti-trans bills in legislatures across the country have doubled since last year, with 469 bills introduced and 38 new laws on the books in 13 states. Many loud voices have made no secret of their desire to target trans, non-binary and gender diverse people.”


Trans people are under attack in the United States—there is certainly no debate about that. Though I do understand the need to avoid amplifying the voices of transphobes by paying too much attention to their threats, I do wish there was more clarity around this situation. Specifically, some sort of statement from the school on how, exactly, they plan to actively protect their trans students would have put my mind at ease.


To be honest, I have felt on edge since seeing the QRC’s initial instagram post. Though 

I generally feel safe on campus, I have begun feeling deeply uneasy on certain occasions when I am walking alone. Over the past few weeks, I have regularly caught myself on high-alert, checking my surroundings for video cameras and middle-aged white men. Many questions—with few answers—have been swirling around in my head these days: are we still being targeted? Have they given up, or will they show up unannounced when nobody is expecting it? What, if any, plans are in place to protect students in these situations?


In a perfect world, LGBTQ+ people would not have to fear for their safety at such a disproportionate rate. Since this world is far from perfect, however, LGBTQ+ people like myself are forced to be fearful and watchful of those who do not think we should exist. Trans people are tired of being afraid, so it is time for organizations like PSU to make their plans to protect trans lives very clear. Without this clarity, trans people will continue to live in fear, wondering who will stick up for them when their safety is at risk.


Though President Percy’s statements in support of PSU’s trans community were reassuring, something more must be done to ensure that all students feel safe on campus. Just a few short weeks ago, it was announced that transphobic people were coming to campus and, as of yet, there has been no formal follow-up to this announcement. I am grateful to have been notified of this potential incident, but I wish there was more of an effort made to ensure I felt safe. It is great to know I have the support of my school and its faculty, but that is simply not enough these days. I need to know if they will protect me.


However, this is not to discount any of the work done by campus organizations. The QRC does incredible and important work on campus and in the community, and they deserve to be commended for their continued support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ students. Institutionally, on the other hand, PSU needs to make more of an effort to protect their trans students. I do not know what the solution here may be, but I do know that the school’s response to these transphobic threats did little to reassure me that my school would have my back.