Alum returns to deliver powerful, personal Trans Awareness Week keynote speech

When a transgender student found herself misgendered by a preacher on her way to class, she tearfully called Annie Russell, director of the University of Rhode Island Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC). When she returned to the Quad after her 50-minute lecture, it had been covered in trans flags and people spreading their love and support to her.

“It was so amazing to see that support on campus,” Victoria Rose ’20 said when she returned to the GSC Tuesday night to serve as their Trans Awareness Week keynote speaker.

“Being in this building really helped me,” Rose said about the GSC, a place she found herself in often as a student.

URI provided her with the opportunity to meet open-minded individuals of different backgrounds and a community that she’d never had the chance to have in person before. In fact, it wasn’t until she became a URI student that she met another trans person.

Having the keynote speaker be an alum was something that drew freshman Lauren Boss to the event. 

“It’s nice hearing about trans experiences not just generally, but also [from] someone who specifically went to URI, so you can not only understand more about trans people generally, but also the specific people you might meet on campus,” Boss said.

Known on YouTube as Victoria Rose, she became a full-time content creator last year and currently has over 37,000 subscribers on the platform. Her channel focuses on “demystifying” transitioning, showing that trans people are normal and offering guidance to other trans people.

Rose said that she always behaved in a more feminine way, aligning herself with girls as a child rather than boys, who would then bully her for doing so. Trying to fit in and run from her true self, just made her feel “miserable,” and the idea of living as a man for the rest of her life made her feel “hopeless.” Rose said that she began experiencing suicidal thoughts and exhibiting self-injurious behaviors to “punish” herself for not being like everyone else.

In 2010, Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller founded an Internet-based nonprofit called It Gets Better. The project included over 50,000 video entries of LGBTQIA+ adults who shared their own stories with the message that “it gets better” in hopes to prevent LGBTQIA+ youth from attempting suicide. Rose recalled watching those videos and being struck with the realization that she was not alone.

“YouTube became my sanctuary and YouTubers became my friends,” Rose said. “Finally, there was another person just like me, who was looking into the camera like they were looking in my eyes. They were laughing, crying and growing with me. I knew then that one way or another, I wanted to be on the other side of that screen –– to be that person that I needed so badly.”

At 15 years old, Rose found herself making local news, as well as history, when she used the girls’ bathroom at Chariho High School, to which her principal had objected. Though it took months, through the help of many staff members, the school’s dean, Russell and several attorneys from GLAAD, she was able to set legal precedents in Rhode Island for transgender individuals to use correct facilities.

“While I was thankful to blaze this trail for those coming after me, I didn’t ask to be a trailblazer just to use the restroom,” Rose said.

In an attempt to put everything behind her and move on, Rose graduated a year early at 17 years old and went to URI, choosing to go “stealth.” This is a term trans people use to describe concealing their identity as trans in order to avoid discrimination and violence. Soon, she said it started to feel too much like the hiding she’d done pre-transitioning, and she worked to be more open, particularly in her gender and women’s studies classes.

“She really is a dynamic personality, someone who even as a young student on this campus was more than willing to speak truth to power, which is not something that is easily found,” Russell said of Rose.

One professor that she encountered in these gender and women’s studies classes was Donna M. Hughes. Rose shared that when she revealed herself as trans to her classmates and Hughes, she felt a “significant change in energy” from the professor, who began to ignore her, even when she was the only student in the room with her hand raised to answer a question. Her experience meant that Rose wasn’t surprised when Hughes published anti-transgender statements in March 2021, but she was disappointed.

“My concern is that the same person that wrote such a hateful article about gender is then going on to a state-funded university and teaching gender and women’s studies,” Rose said. “Teaching young students, the future of America, that trans people are freaks who are disfigured and coming to your children and invading your spaces.”
Rose highlighted a statistic that about 84 percent of Americans do not personally know anybody who is trans, meaning they learn about and form their opinions on the trans community through media and higher education. It is part of why being visible as a trans woman is so important to Rose.

This has also been linked to the record numbers of murders of trans people, particularly trans women of color. Rose said that, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 2021 is now the deadliest year on record for transgender individuals, with at least 45 trans people murdered, including her good friend and trans advocate Jahaira DeAlto, 42, who was stabbed to death in Boston in May 2021. Rose described DeAlto as “caring, loving” and a “mother figure” to many in the community, including herself.

“[Allies] of trans people have certain privileges that a lot of times trans people do not, so utilize that privilege to amplify trans voices,” Rose advised. “Not only talk with trans people, listen to trans people. If you are online, for example with what we have right now, it’s at our fingertips at all times. It takes a click of a button to share a trans person’s story.”
Sharing her story and helping others is exactly what Rose set out to do with both her YouTube channel and her keynote speech. However, she doesn’t use the word “bravery” for her advocacy and her ability to live honestly, but rather “determination.”

“Transitioning wasn’t something I did because I was brave; I transitioned out of necessity and bravery followed,” she said. “To be who I am means that I have to work hard every day. Bravery is non-negotiable because my very existence in this world causes friction and debate. It is determination that I have to establish myself to keep going every day, I will be determined to continue living true to myself. And that is the promise I will always keep.”

Rose had a videographer at the event and plans to share her speech on her YouTube channel.

The GSC is rounding out their week of events with queer Buddhist monk Kyle Parker sharing on LGBTQ+ healing in a hybrid/virtual event tonight at 7 p.m. Friday will feature a Trans Day of Remembrance vigil with lunch from 1-3 p.m. and the week will end with the annual Queer Prom from 8-11 p.m. All events will take place at the GCS.