Last Thursday night, Rowan held an event called “An Evening with Layshia Clarendon,” where WNBA player and non-binary activist Layshia Clarendon sat down for a virtual conversation with Rowan professor Kate Harman.
The event was a part of Rowan’s National Girls and Women in Sports Celebration that takes place throughout the month of February and is organized by Rowan’s Women’s and Gender Studies Council.
Clarendon — who is a star point guard for the New York Liberty and the first vice president for the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA) — is a very outspoken person on social topics like racial injustice, transgender rights and identity.
This is why Harman, who played a huge part in organizing the event, thought they would be the perfect person to come speak to Rowan students.
“I actually first thought of Layshia over the summer because I was listening to a podcast they were on. And just listening to the podcast I was thinking ‘This is the kind of person I want to come to campus, this is the kind of person I want our students to hear from,’” Harman said. “I just thought their story is so interesting and the way they talk about identity is so interesting. So for me, Layshia was my number one choice all along.”
Harman also cited the fact that there aren’t many people like Clarendon who have the high profile in sports like they do, who are also openly non-binary and gender non-conforming, as a reason why it would be important for the students to hear from them.
This is likely why the first question Harman asked them that night was about their identity.
“I identify as a Black, trans, non-binary person who is Christian, who is gender non-conforming, who… the list can go on and on and on,” Clarendon said. “My pronouns are she/her/they/them/he/him, I use all of them, I appreciate for people to interchange them, I don’t prefer one over the other, I prefer everyone use every single one of them.”
Harman and Clarendon also had conversations about topics like the WNBA’s activism this past summer and where Clarendon hopes it goes, performative activism compared to actually doing the work, the response to Clarendon’s announcement to their top surgery and representation in sports.
When speaking about representation in sports, Clarendon mentioned how it shocked them when they first realized that people of all ages were impacted by hearing their story, which just adds to why it is so important for them to share it.
“There just wasn’t a lot of that the way there is now, which is part of the reason why I do want to share a lot of my story, to make sure people — not only kids, but so much of the older generation — [have the representation they deserve],” Clarendon said.
They also got to share their thoughts on a very hot button issue at the moment: the attempt to ban transgender athletes from joining teams that match their gender identity on the state level.
“There are a lot of attacks on young trans girls who are just trying to play sports and it overwhelms me in so many ways to tackle the fight,” Clarendon said. “But we have to ask ourselves the critical question of why aren’t we seeing the fight attack trans men and boys in a way, and that is because we didn’t think anyone born female can ever possibly compete in the men’s league. But someone born male, we have this idea or this myth… this man is coming, this LeBron is going to try to play in our league, when that’s a very gross, dangerous stereotype because trans women are women first and foremost.”
Despite the fact that the event had to be virtual, which is different from how they held these types of events in prior years, Harman still thought it ended up being successful and even found the positives of this change.
“We had 50 people [in attendance]… honestly last year when we did this in person we had 50 people, so I don’t necessarily know if the virtual aspect hurt turn out or helped turn out,” Harman said. “I will say we wouldn’t have been able to bring Layshia to campus because while Layshia plays for the Liberty, they live in California, so we would not have been able to do that. For me, any time we can have a group of people listen to that type of message, if it gets across to one person, I am thrilled.”
If you are interested in supporting Clarendon’s favorite organization, Gay & Lesbian in a Transgender Society (G.L.I.T.S.) you can learn more here.
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