Cameron Kinker’s extraordinary commitment to LGBT rights and racial equality
Senior Cameron Kinker arrived at Washington University in St. Louis a committed advocate for LGBT rights and leaves an activist for racial equality.
“What I’ve come to understand at WashU is that all fights for social justice are interconnected,” said Kinker, who helped found WashU Students in Solidarity after the shooting death of Michael Brown and frequently participated in protests on campus and in Ferguson. “Discrimination is discrimination.”
Kinker graduates this week with degrees in anthropology and in women, gender and sexuality studies from Arts & Sciences. He is a Gephardt Institute Civic Scholar, a residential advisor and leader of SafeZones, a student organization that promotes LGBTQIA issues. Kinker received a Shepley Award for his outstanding leadership at the Chancellor’s Dinner May 16 and has been awarded, along with senior Heidi Chiu, a 2016 Humanity in Action summer fellowship. Ultimately he would like to get a degree in social work, law or both.
“There is academic activism and street activism,” Kinker said. “I’ve been able to combine those both in a way that I hopes makes a positive change.”
For his honors thesis, Kinker studied transgender health care. He learned in interviews with health care professionals that many doctors define gender so narrowly that trans people cannot access the care they need. But he also learned the doctors acted out of ignorance, not malice.
“Recognizing someone’s humanity is key — everyone is trying the best that they can,” Kinker said. “But these doctors are also part of a broken system. Medical education does not really address these issues. So instead of saying, ‘This doctor did this or said this; it’s their fault,’ it’s really more about improving the underlying system so everyone can have the care they deserve.”
Kinker was writing his thesis just as the North Carolina bathroom battle was heating up. The state law, which bans trans people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity, both dismayed and heartened him.
“This is an interesting cultural moment to witness,” Kinker said. “People thought there was nothing left to do after the right to marry was won. But marriage wasn’t the issue for the trans community. These laws just show that now is not the time to let up.”
Kinker said his work as a Civic Scholar not only shaped his values; it taught him how to serve as an ally.
“For a lot of students, college is a time to learn to stand up and speak out, but I’ve learned when to step back,” Kinker said. “There is a difference between advocating for and advocating with someone. Learning that distinction has been a humbling experience. I remember a protest where the microphone was being passed around and I ended up speaking. I didn’t say anything I don’t believe in but I recognized afterwards, I wasn’t the one who needed to be heard. It wasn’t about me. It was a small moment, but it reminded me what it means to listen and support others.”
by Diane Toroian Keaggy