When she first read – in an encyclopedia – about what “transgender” meant, Ja’briel Walthour says she finally had a word for what she’d been experiencing her whole life.
From a very young age, she said, she knew she felt different.
“When I saw that word and read about it, there was a sense of relief; before that I thought I might be the only person in the world who felt the way I felt,” Ja’briel said.
But, the sense of relief was quickly replaced with another emotion: fear.
“I closed the book, I didn’t want anyone to see what I was reading. I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, even though I knew I was transgender. That day started for me a period of almost a decade of denial.”
“I thought, no one in my family is going to understand this, no one in my church is going to understand this,” she said.
At that time, church was a very important part of Ja’briel’s life. She was in the choir, on the usher board and in other areas of church ministry, yet, she knew many there wouldn’t accept her if she told them she was transgender.
“I thought, I know now what this feeling is, but I am still trapped; because I still can’t be me,” Ja’briel said of that day.
It would take ten years and lots of thinking before Ja’briel was ready to start telling people who she really was. Her first step was to write a letter, which she planned to give to a small group of family.
She wrote the letter, but waited nearly two years to find the courage to send it. By the time she did send it, the list had grown past just a few family and included more friends and even her employer.
“I knew my life wouldn’t be the same after that. But, I wanted to tell my own story. People were talking about me, in my town and in my family, and I thought, I need to be the person telling my story, not someone else.”
While her family and many of her closest friends have accepted Ja’briel for the person she truly is, she has still faced discrimination for being transgender.
Around the time Ja’briel sent her letter, she was being considered for a new position at work. She was very excited for the opportunity, because it was related to the master’s degree in social work that she had earned a few years earlier. Things seemed to be going very well, her employer even paid for her to get the necessary certification to be eligible for the new position.
However, after Ja’briel shared with her employer that she was transgender, the enthusiasm disappeared and she never heard about the position again.
And, because Georgia has no explicit statewide protections against discrimination for transgender people, there would be no recourse even though Ja’briel was qualified and sought to utilize her education and training in a better position.
More recently, Ja’briel was tentatively offered a new position and brought in for training at a social service agency near her town. Things were going very well and she and the director were discussing salary and scheduling. But, all that changed when Ja’briel mentioned her interest in working with two groups of people: members of the military and the LGBT community. Suddenly, the director said it might be better for Ja’briel to start her training again at a later date, and that she would be in touch soon to schedule the details.
But, Ja’briel never heard from the director again. After a few weeks passed, someone worked at the agency told Ja’briel that the director said knew she wouldn’t be a good fit once she heard Ja’briel talk about LGBT people.
Ja’briel has also faced discriminatory actions in trying to find an apartment to rent. Fortunately, a compassionate and understanding leasing agent at her apartment complex came to her defense and advocated on her behalf. Because of her actions, Ja’briel was able to find a safe and affordable place to live.
Today, Ja’briel is involved with a new church and it brings her great happiness to be involved in a faith community again. Family is also incredibly important to Ja’briel and she spends lots of time at her mother’s house, helping to take care of her grandmother, who is 101 years old.
Ja’briel was born and has lived her whole life in Georgia. Unfortunately, for transgender Georgians like her, there are no explicit statewide protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
That means that a transgender person like Ja’briel could be fired from their job, or kicked out of their home, simply because they are transgender.
If you believe that no one in America should face discrimination for who they are, get involved today!