Being transgender at UP: The fight to be accepted, and to be yourself

Being transgender at UP: The fight to be accepted, and to be yourself

Robin Aughney poses outside his house with a U.S. pride flag.

by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

For many people, their lives start when they are born. But for some transgender people, it starts when they can finally become themselves — a process that can take years, cost up to thousands of dollars and almost assures a battle for visibility and acceptance.  

This battle has become more apparent than ever over the last couple months as conversations about transgender people have become the center of U.S. politics, acting as both political fuel for conservative groups and a battleground for civil rights organizations

A bottle of testosterone next to a syringe, needles, and alcohol wipes.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Across the country, at least 83 anti-trans bills have been passed that target gender-affirming care, education, athletics, birth certificates and public accommodations like bathrooms. Oregon is one of only a handful of states seeking to protect transgender people with Governor Tina Kotek “taking a stand” this past legislative session by protecting gender-affirming care rights. 

Now, colleges and universities are faced with a dilemma: Become a safe place for transgender people to live or become a place where they can’t be their authentic selves without fear of emotional or even physical harm. 

At religiously-affiliated schools like UP, this issue is further complicated by centuries of dogma, doctrine and practices that can be in direct conflict with true inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. 

The University released a statement last February in support of students with “all gender identities.” It was in response to an inquiry from The Beacon after the Archdiocese of Portland issued a 17-page document that outlined “pastoral guidelines” on gender identity for Catholic schools and youth programs.  

“Catholic institutions and programs should not endorse gender identity theory nor enable any form of gender transition, whether social or medical,” the document said. “This means that names, pronouns, facilities use, attire, and sports participation should depend upon biological sex identity, rather than self-perceived gender identity.”

For the Gender and Sexuality Partnership Club (GSP) President August Stone, the Catholic identity of UP remains a source of division for UP’s LGBTQ+ community.

Gender and Sexuality Partnership Club (GSP) President August Stone speaks an intersectional justice display.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

For transgender people to feel safe and included on campus, there needs to be something beyond acknowledgement for wounds, past and present, that the school has caused, he says. 

Stone is transgender and alternately uses they and them pronouns. 

“They think they're supporting but I don't think that's enough,” Stone says. “A spirit of inclusion is not actual inclusion. No matter how good their intentions are, without proper training and understanding and taking the time to acknowledge past and current behaviors, specifically about trans students and their experiences on campus, they are not being the allies they think they are.”

Campus Ministry and GSP hosted a vigil on the night of National Coming Out Day in fall 2022, seemingly a marker of progress for both groups after the controversy with Fr. Dan Parrish

However, despite efforts to reconcile Campus Ministry and GSP, vice president Jesper Machi says it was GSP that initiated the reconciliation — not the University. 

Machi is transgender and alternately uses they and them pronouns. 

“I think that it has improved [the relationship between Campus Ministry and GSP], but I think a big reason for that is because of individual GSP leaders who have fostered that relationship,” Machi said. “The relationship that we do have with Campus Ministry is for events that GSP plans and funds. On paper, yes, we've collaborated with Campus Ministry on events, but behind the scenes, the vast majority of that time and emotional labor is being done by GSP leaders.”

Fr. Peter Walsh, who became the director of Campus Ministry last year, acknowledged that “there's an obvious rub between certain sexual identities or gender identities and traditional religious communities.” However, he strives for Campus Ministry to give all students, including transgender students, a feeling of belonging. 

“Our goal is always to continue to build that inclusive community,” Walsh said. “It can be a difficult conversation in [trans students’] own minds, between religion and their experience with their gender identity. We can be part of that conversation with them, and help them to understand or help them to at least figure out their path forward with it. We'd welcome our transgender students to be participants in what we're doing.”

Campus Ministry and Moreau Center office in St. Mary's.
by Gavin Britton / The Beacon

Beyond the work at Campus Ministry, Walsh said the pastoral residents who live in the dorms play an important role in helping transgender people feel more welcome and safe on campus. 

“It's a goal for us,” Walsh said. “We've had some conversations among pastoral residents last year on how we need to be a support for students, and especially with gender, sexual orientation and some of the more complicated identities [in] religion that can be difficult for students.” 

However, no inclusivity training has been given to pastoral residents to navigate those conversations, a suggestion made from GSP and other students in the past. 

“We have not begun a process of actual professional development training on that,” Walsh said.  “You know, one size doesn't fit all. So we can't just adopt a training from someplace else. We need to really develop it ourselves”

Machi thinks the University could do better.  

“I think the school thinks that they're allies, and they say that they're allies,” Machi said. “But thinking that and saying that is a lot different from showing that. They can't ‘thoughts and prayers’ their way into helping trans people.”

For example, Machi and Stone point to UP’s lack of gender-neutral accommodations. 

“We don't have gender-neutral housing, like anywhere.” Machi said. 

He believes that requiring trans students to make a choice between mens and womens dorms potentially threatens their safety, even in co-ed dorms where they are divided by floors and halls. 

Sophomore Robin Augheny, who is transgender and alternately uses they and them pronouns, had been living in his dorm for three months before someone told him there was a gender-neutral bathroom in his residence hall. 

“I could tell that my presence was making others uncomfortable,” Aughney said. “It didn't feel like I was supposed to be in there, but it also didn't feel like I was supposed to be in the men's either.”

Robin Aughney sits in his bedroom holding his cat Earl.
by Ryan Reynolds / The Beacon

Aughney believes that it is important for UP to make gender-neutral accommodations more accessible, something he believes will help other transgender students avoid the situation he was in. 

“I just wanted to shower,” Aughney said. “There is a difference between having this passiveness versus an activeness.”

Stone and Machi believe that one way UP could actively support transgender students is by adding “gender identity” to UP’s non-discrimination policy, just as other Catholic institutions have in theirs such as Gonzaga, Loyola University Maryland and Santa Clara

This would build on the progress made ten years ago when the Board of Regents voted to add sexual orientation to UP’s policy. The vote was in response to “Redefine Purple Pride,” a protest movement that included students, staff, faculty and alumni.

Activists also advocated for the inclusion of gender identity in the policy, but weren’t successful. Then-President Fr. Bill Beauchamp said at the time that gender identity “is an issue for the Catholic Church.” 

Despite the difficulties and ongoing struggles for acceptance, Stone and Machi are encouraged by the resources the Health and Counseling center offers LGBTQ+ students, including a peer support group. 

“I think the Health and Counseling Center is a very underrated resource on this campus,” Stone said. “I do think they care and will put in the time and emotional labor to do better.”

Kimberly Cortez is the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Editor for The Beacon. They can be reached at

Editors note: Stone, Machi and Aughney use he/they pronouns. In this article, they are all addressed with he and him pronouns for clarity and to be in accordance to AP Style. More information can be found here.