New Initiative Aims to Provide Free Gender-Affirming Products to Students in Need
New Initiative Aims to Provide Free Gender-Affirming Products to Students in Need
Learn more about the program at today’s BIPOC Wellness Fair
A BU student who asked to remain anonymous recently shared what it was like to wear a chest binder, a compression garment that can create a flatter looking chest:
“Receiving this product has helped me feel more comfortable and confident in my body,” they said. “Gender-affirming products are so crucial to treating body dysmorphia and gender dysphoria. When I wear my product, I can look in the mirror and see someone who looks closer to the person I feel like on the inside.”
The student is among approximately two dozen who have benefited from the new Gender-Affirming Product Program, run by the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Advocacy Committee, an arm of the Queer Activist Collective (known as Q). Launched this semester, the program’s aim is to raise money to help transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex (TGNCI) BU students who need assistance obtaining free gender-affirming products like chest-binders, tucking underwear, and femme shapewear.
In 2019 the Trevor Project conducted a national survey on LGBTQ youth mental health that found that 54 percent of transgender and nonbinary youth had reported seriously considering suicide in the last year, and that 29 percent had made a suicide attempt. Gender-affirming care has been shown to help reduce self-harm and mental health struggles in transgender people, underscoring the importance of a program like this.
In addition to helping students buy products, the program also offers consultations with gender-affirming product experts, spreads awareness of gender-affirming products, and addresses what they see as gaps in BU’s support of TGNCI students. The initiative will have a table at today’s BIPOC Wellness Fair at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground. Students can sign up to receive free gender-affirming products, and Q members will be on hand to answer questions and provide measuring tapes and products will be on display and can be ordered. Those unable to attend the fair can contact Q directly for more information about how to order a product.
These products can be significant and life-changing to trans and nonbinary youth, Q vice president Kris Berg (CAS’22) says. “Presentation is really complex,” she says. “It’s a very individual experience for each person, but it’s a very tangible and meaningful way to have such an important impact and provide such an important resource.”
Berg says the idea for the program came from conversations she and other Q leaders had with trans and nonbinary students who experienced challenges finding and purchasing gender-affirming products. Some products are expensive (breast forms, for example, can cost upwards of $200), making it difficult for many students to afford. In addition, they may be unsure how to size themselves correctly, or which product is best for them.
“A lot of people are still trying to figure out what feels affirming to them and what products work for them best,” she says. And since products usually have to be ordered online or have strict return policies, that’s a lot of money to spend on something that you’re not sure you want to keep. What’s more, she says, some transgender people fear for their safety should someone in their household find out they are buying one of these items.
“So there was a demand,” Berg says, “but not a resource to help remedy the issue.”
The TGNC Advocacy Committee circulated an interest form last May to see how many students would benefit from a service like this. Within 48 hours they received more than 30 responses from students who said they faced one or more barriers in accessing gender-affirming products and noted that they would greatly benefit from the program.
Armed with that information, they started looking into potential funding options. The team entered Innovate@BU’s Community Impact Challenge last semester, a contest where student teams come up with innovative ideas focused on emotional, social, and physical well-being, and won $500. The Student Government Mental Health Committee gave some financial support to provide products during the LGBTQ+ Wellness Fair in November. And they were amazed when they received a $10,000 grant in December from the Massachusetts Commission on LGBTQ Youth.
“We are so, so grateful to the Commission and to the Community Impact Challenge because we wouldn’t have been able to do this without their support,” says Christa Rose, Q’s president.
The organizers say that while there are similar programs that give out need-based gender-affirming products, fulfilling a request can be a lengthy, complicated process. When they checked to see if other colleges were running similar models, they couldn’t find any.
Students can place individual orders through an extensive order form on the Q website. Rose says they have a few sample products students can try on, as well as measuring tapes since most of the stores that sell these products are online-only (whenever possible the group works with trans-owned small businesses).
Students helping students
Berg says that Q’s mission is to support LGBTQ+ community members. The group is pushing the University to create a professionally staffed resource center for LGBTQ+ students that would provide them with resources and community-building opportunities similar to the LGBTQIA+ Center for Faculty and Staff that opened this past fall.
The group has created several comprehensive, and frequently updated, resource guides dealing with mental health, sexual health, housing instability issues, and financial needs. Hundreds of students have accessed the guides, according to Berg, demonstrating that transgender nonbinary students are an underserved population. “Students experience misgendering and deadnaming on a regular basis,” she says. “And I think most of us have experienced some form of LGBTQ+ microaggressions in the classroom.”
The long-term goal of the Gender-Affirming Product Program is securing funds that allow it to continue years after the current leaders graduate. “I think there’s a lot of people who are really worried about how we make sure that this is going to outlive this group of people,” says committee member Lena Broach (CFA’25). “We’re trying to get actual programs in place, rather than just initiatives.”
Broach says there are hundreds of videos on YouTube of transgender people trying on a chest binder for the first time and seeing “their chest flat and the way it should be, and the emotional reaction that they have is heartbreaking to me,” she says. “So I think that’s really why it’s important.”
Representatives from Q’s Gender-Affirming Product Program will be at the BIPOC Wellness Fair, Wednesday, February 16, from 10 am to 3 pm, at the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground, 808 Commonwealth Ave. The event is free and open to all BU BIPOC community members. A BU ID, green badge, and mask are required for entry. Unable to attend the event or wish to talk one-on-one to someone? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Howard Thurman Center is mobility device–accessible. All-gender bathrooms are on the building’s first floor. Contact Q at email@example.com for questions about accessibility or to request an accommodation.
This is so meaningful! Everyone has the right to feel safe in their body. More schools need to take note of this because it is imperative for them to be this inclusive. I hope other schools will follow BU’s example!!!
I hope they will take heed to this call.
Great article! Q sounds like a wonderful organization.
Congratulations to our student leaders from Q, BIPOC Wellness, and other student groups involved. BU Community is so fortunate to have your bold leadership. I only wish BU administration would follow your example or simply be the example by having paid staff designated to support students from these groups. BU needs to take note of other schools that actually hire experts to support LGBTQ+ and BIPOC students. I recommend that concerned faculty, staff, alum, and parents who support these efforts consider starting a fund to compensate students for their hard work. BU should be ashamed of having student leaders (although they do a fabulous job) bear the burden of such great work. It’s sound to me like unpaid labor that no institution should be proud to tout.
Fantastic initiative, clearly there’s a big need for it! I hope this becomes a long-term program at BU (and other schools)!