With her mind and heart set on making a difference for the LGBTQ+ community, University of New Mexico student Raina Harper is paving the way for greater transgender representation for UNM’s queer community.

As a multi-term senator for the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico (ASUNM), Harper is empowering UNM’s LGTBQ+ students every step of the way. One such move was resolution 3F, which illustrates ASUNM’s support for specific, long-term goals and actions on behalf of UNM to support LGBTQ+ students, which Harper said is a big step to support and empower marginalized communities.

When Harper was running for ASUNM, she prioritized a platform with goals of ensuring accessibility to student government and resources, encouraging involvement on campus and advocating for students of all backgrounds, according to her social media. 

“It meant a great deal to run on a platform about (LGBTQ+) acceptance and what it means to be trans or LGBT,” Harper said. “I think it’s something that can really spur positive change, especially with the platform that people in student government have in writing resolutions that reach UNM students, administration and faculty.”

Harper said UNM needs greater activism, education and normalization of LGBTQ+ identities.

“As a trans person, identifying with a different gender than assigned at birth, if you will, has been a stigmatized sort of identity,” Harper said. “But, such identities have always existed in history and all that needs to be fixed is people’s perception of it in order to make sure people are treated with respect.”

The LGBTQ+ community welcomes and embraces individuals who have similar feelings about their own sexuality or gender identities, Harper said. 

“When all gender identities and sexualities group together, there’s a stronger message for their validity and it helps people in the community find commonalities in their experiences,” Harper said.

According to Harper, wearing pride merch, having pride flags around and initiating important conversations on social media is a way that she educates and celebrates others.

“It was only through knowing positive examples of trans people that I came to realize my identity and it’s only something that needs to be improved for people who don’t see such positive representation in their lives or don’t have the resources or support around them,” Harper said.

Harper intends to use her political and community experience to continue empowering marginalized voices. She also encourages other LGBTQ-identifying individuals to advocate for and be a part of these conversations on queer issues.

“If people want to be supportive of LGBTQ+ identities, they need to listen to them, respect their identities, normalize the use of proper pronouns for everyone and advocate openly and forcefully for their equality in all areas under the law in terms of discrimination for gender identity and sexual orientation,” Harper said.

Even 52 years after the 1969 Stonewall Riots spurred the gay rights movement in America, six years after the Oberfell v. Hodges (2015) Supreme Court case required states to recognize same-sex marriage and over a year of a global pandemic, the queer community continues to illustrate courage and heart through it all.

Rebecca Hobart is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at culture@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @DailyLobo