About This Story Collection
March 31 marks International Transgender Day of Visibility, an annual opportunity to reflect on the rapidly increasing awareness of transgender people in the United States and around the world. As pop culture, politics, and more continues to create spaces for transgender people to come out, share their stories, and express themselves, visibility for the community expands, and with that comes a vital need to educate people about what it means to be transgender, the challenges transgender people face, and the reason we need greater protections from mistreatment. To recognize Transgender Day of Visibility we gathered stories of 15 transgender people in more than a dozen states and took a look at one way in which they are doing their part to speak out, be visible, and change the world.
Visibility for Transgender People in the South
Malaysia Walker • Jackson, MS
“My name is Malaysia Walker. I have a husband and a family. I attend church, and I love God. I am a tax-paying citizen. I consider myself talented. I enjoy enhancing the beauty of things. I am a beautiful black woman, and I am transgender. I am Mississippi, and I belong here,” says Malaysia Walker, who lives in Jackson, Mississippi and work at the ACLU of Mississippi as coordinator of the Transgender Education and Awareness Program.
Malaysia knows how important it is for transgender people to stand up, be counted, and share their stories – especially in the South, where LGBTQ people face discrimination at disproportionate rates. Malaysia herself has experienced employment discrimination and has known other transgender people who have faced extreme violence. By raising her voice and being visible, Malaysia is staking her claim to her home in the Magnolia State and forging an easier pathway for transgender people in the future.
This week, to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility Malaysia Walker is joining with our Transgender Freedom Project on Tumblr to answer questions from everyday Americans about what it means to be transgender and how others nationwide can support transgender dignity and freedom.
Read her full story here, and check out her responses to the AnswerTime on Tumblr.
Visibility for Transgender People in the Military
Logan Downs • Portland, OR
At the beginning of 2018 as transgender Americans were permitted to take steps to enlist in the U.S. military for the first time, one of the first people in line was Logan Downs in Oregon, who took steps to enlist in the Air Force. Now, less than a week after the Trump Administration issued their implementation plan for their discriminatory, shameful military ban, it’s more important than ever that transgender people are visible and express their desire – and ability – to serve in the military.
“The community that has been brought together because of that ban has been really supportive and positive,” Logan told Freedom for All Americans. “It was so nice to see especially veterans coming out saying, ‘Look, I just want the best of the best. I don’t care if someone is transgender – I just want someone good fighting beside me.’ I think part of that support is just because the military is held with such great respect, and the fact that people in the service don’t care what you look like or where you’re from…they just care about job performance. I wake up every day and I’m super excited to get going because it’s one day closer to being able to serve.”
Read Logan’s full story, in partnership with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders
Visibility for Transgender People in the Workplace
Tricia Russell • Jacksonville, FL
When Tricia Russell transitioned to live as a transgender woman six years ago while in place, maintaining her job at Bank of America, she was nervous, even though she understood that she worked for a progressive company with visible senior-level leadership for gay and lesbian people. The company has a corporate-level policy prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination and has taken a stand for specifically transgender equality in the past few years. But even with a supportive company like hers, she knew she didn’t have city-level non-discrimination protections, and she feared what would happen if she told her employer that she is transgender.
Since then, her city of Jacksonville passed LGBTQ-inclusive protections, thanks to the leadership of the Jacksonville Coalition for Equality, which Freedom for All Americans was proud to support. And immediately after sharing with her supervisors her gender identity, she was affirmed and told, “Tricia, I want you to know that you may face many challenges as you transition. But job security is not one of them. We are not only OK with you transitioning – but we encourage you to bring all of yourself to work. We’ll be better for it. You’ll be better for it.”
“You can suffer through a lot of ugly discrimination and face those challenges,” Tricia explained, adding that no one should have to experience injustice. “But if you have a stable job, you can at least feed yourself, pay your bills, and you can maybe make it.”
Visibility for Transgender People on Television
Col Lockard • Anchorage, AK
The deadline to turn in ballots in the Anchorage municipal election is in just a few days – and ahead of this important moment for Fair Anchorage, the campaign to defend transgender nondiscrimination protections in the largest city in Alaska, one transgender boy is sharing his story publicly, alongside his family, in a campaign television ad. Col Lockard, a transgender boy, is a senior at East High School. He came out as transgender four years ago. And now, his face is being streamed into living rooms to get the word out about the need to vote NO on Proposition 1 and defend protections for transgender people. Watch the ad:
For a young transgender person, Col’s decision to be visible in this way is commendable – and we applaud his family for standing beside him and speaking out for full non-discrimination protections in Anchorage. The deadline for ballots in April 3.
Visibility as an Advocate for Transgender Dignity
Tracee McDaniel • Atlanta, GA
“For me, doing the work I do is not a choice,” activist Tracee McDaniel told Freedom for All Americans in early 2018. “It’s an innate part of being born and who I am. My passion comes from being born transgender. I am who I am, and that’s not going to change. Seeing the stigma that trans and gender non-conforming people face on a daily basis, I wanted to be part of the solution. That’s why I do what I do. There is no reason anyone should be treated as less than.”
McDaniel is at her core an activist, one committed to improving the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming people. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Juxtaposed Center for Transformation, Inc., an advocacy, consulting, and social services referral organization specifically designed to empower the largely diverse transgender and gender non-conforming community. A huge part of that work is being visible, sharing her story, and empowering others to share theirs. “I understand many transgender people want to blend into society and live our lives, but I don’t think that’s a luxury we can afford at this moment,” she said. “Leadership and people in power have continually discriminated against us. If we’re not showing up and visible, we have people who continue to choose to be ignorant.”
Read Tracee’s full story here, produced in partnership with the Trans People of Color Coalition
Visibility in a History-Making Campaign
Jahaira DeAlto • Pittsfield, MA
A transgender woman of color who began her transition at 16, Jahaira is a college student who does intersectional advocacy and activism in areas of gender, race, and sexuality — work she calls multifaceted. One of the biggest parts of her work is helping to, in her words, “normalize” the transgender experience for those who might be unaware of what the community endures on a daily basis.
“It’s important to be visible,” she said. “It is still vitally important we leverage our privilege to provide educational opportunities for people to learn more. The more we humanize ourselves for those who don’t think they’ve encountered a transgender person, the more we’re able to remove the stigma and fear surrounding the perception of what trans people are. Education is our greatest weapon against ignorance. After having the experience of meeting Jahaira DeAlto, you can no longer say you’ve never met a trans person.”
Visibility for Transgender People in the Police Force
Greg Abbink – Houston, TX
When Greg Abbink came out as transgender after 10 years at the Austin Police Department (and after a stint in the U.S. Army), his coworkers treated him with great respect, and he is proud to have blazed a trail as the first openly transgender police officer in Austin. In recent years, he’s developed a training program for cadets and field officers on best practices for interacting with transgender people. Part of that class confronts anti-transgender myths conflating transgender people with public safety – myths that have long been dispelled by statistical data, dismissed as a low-blow smear tactic by opponents of transgender equality.
“My hope is that people who may not know what it means to be transgender can be open to learning about my life and journey and realize that at the end of the day, we are all human,” he said to Coming Out From Behind the Badge. “Another hope that I have is that someone will read about me and know that they, too, can have an extraordinary life! They don’t need to be afraid- there are so many people who will support and encourage them. If my story can touch even one person, then I will feel like I have helped make a difference.”
Read Greg’s full story here, produced in partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality
Visibility in the Republican Party
Jennifer Williams • Trenton, NJ
Jennifer Williams has been working for years to increase visibility for transgender people and supporters of transgender equality within the conservative movement and the Republican Party.
In Summer 2017 she became the Chairperson for the Trenton Republican Committee, becoming the first openly transgender Municipal Chair for the Republican Party in the United States. Her activism has taken her to CPAC for several years in a row, where she has worked with other transgender Republicans to express that all conservatives, including LGBTQ conservatives, are on the #SameTeam.
“I believe that for me, there’s a reason why I am able right now to use my lifetime experience in politics, including making movies and speaking in the media and dealing with messaging,” she told Freedom for All Americans. “I’m here to help my transgender community make it through this period of strife. I want to move the needle to help the party embrace the LGBTQ community. If they know you, they’re going to be less likely to vote against you,” she said. “But they have to know you first.”
Visibility for Transgender Children in School
Aidan Pogue-Krabacher • Wilmington, OH
For the past year Aidan and his mother Sheila have been embroiled in a nightmare scenario for any transgender child and their parent – a lack of acceptance and fair treatment from their public school’s administration. While Aidan, a transgender boy, has been supported at school and in his wrestling practices for months, things changed once his team began conditioning and the wrestling coach complicated the situation by outing Aidan to his teammates as transgender, calling him by the incorrect pronouns, and refusing to allow him to use the boys’ locker room.
It’s been a challenging few months, no doubt, and for Aidan and Sheila, they’re learning that for transgender people, being visible often means bearing the burden of educating community members, including adults, about what it means to be transgender.
“I’ve provided the district with resources on how to treat LGBTQ students,” Sheila said. “They need help and training on how to support these students. Since we’ve gone public, we’re getting attention from both sides — some people are behind us 100%, and others are saying I’m ruining my child and trying to indoctrinate him into a lifestyle. Aidan doesn’t necessarily want this attention, but we’ve both talked, and we feel it’s important to share his story so that we can make it better for other people in this situation. People fear what they don’t understand. Everyone wants to feel accepted in their own skin; the most important thing we could get out of this is to have policies put in place that protect students. If we can help other students, this is all worth it. I’m a mama bear, and when you bully my kid, that’s unacceptable.”
Visibility for Transgender People Among Veterans
Sheri Swokowski • Madison, WI
The voices of transgender veterans have been essential in the past year, as the Trump Administration has led a brutal attack against transgender people serving or aspiring to serve in the United States military.
One of these voices belongs to Sheri Swokowski, who served for 34 years in the United States Army, the last 22 of which she spent on active duty and from which she retired as a Colonel. She is the highest ranking openly transgender individual in U.S. military history.
She continues to work to build bridges between people who are supportive of transgender equality and people who may not yet understand. “We need to help people understand – and to do that, we need to tell our stories,” Sheri told Freedom for All Americans. “It’s by far the best way, face to face, one to one, to explain our lives to people. We need to ensure people are looking at us as individuals, hearing our experiences, and hopefully understanding it.”
Visibility in Large Cities
Pauline Park • New York, NY
Pauline Park is the chair of the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy and president of the board of directors of Queens Pride House. She co-founded Queens Pride House in 1997 with several other LGBT community members in Queens who wanted to establish a community center in the borough, the first LGBT community center in the outer boroughs; she went on to serve as its executive director from 2012-2015, the first openly transgender person and the first person of Asian descent to serve as the executive director of any LGBT community center in the state.
People often assume that it’s easier to be LGBTQ or transgender in a larger city like New York, but Pauline has learned through her advocacy that it’s vital for transgender people everywhere to raise their hand, be counted, and make their story heard.
“We have to keep on pressing, not only for legal and policy change,” she said, “but for broad social change – the goal has to be nothing less than transforming the way society understands gender.”
Visibility in Rural Communities
Ashley Swartz • Malmo, NE
Ashley Swartz is a lifelong Nebraskan, a mother and grandmother, a farmer and volunteer firefighter, and to her, visibility includes speaking out as her authentic self even in her small town of Malmo, Nebraska.
It has been two decades since Ashley’s gender transition. Instead of uprooting her life in Malmo, she transitioned right there. Living everyday as a woman, she often got hate mail and glaring looks from neighbors. Talking to other firefighters about her transition, one said he would be uncomfortable going into a fire with her. “I believe our communities are strongest when we work together,” Ashley says. “So let’s work together to strengthen the state we love.”
Visibility for Transgender People in Politics
Philippe Cunningham • Minneapolis, MN
In November 2017 in Minneapolis, Andrea Jenkins and Phillips Cunningham became the first openly transgender people elected to serve on City Council for cities with a population of more than 200,000. Cunningham also became one of the two first transgender men elected to office, as well as the first openly transgender black man elected to public office. The historic nature of the election has come with a renewed level of visibility for Councilmember Cunningham, who has devoted so much of his life to building and strengthening community.
He understands the importance of visibility – and perhaps more importantly, the impact that visibility has on the way that non-LGBTQ people perceive LGBTQ people. “Both Andrea and I are respected as neighbors and as people,” he told Freedom for All Americans. “When we ran for City Council, we were seen as complete and full people – we weren’t just seen as trans people. We were elected to be two of the 13 people chosen to represent the city, and together, we represent 64,000 people from all walks of life – not just queer black folks, but all of our constituents. We were elected because people at the local level know us as humans who are qualified and would do a good job of being a representative of the entire community.”
Read his full story here, produced in partnership with the Trans People of Color Coalition.
Visibility for Transgender People as Local Elected Officials
Jess Herbst • New Hope, TX
For the past two years Jess Herbst has served as the Mayor of New Hope, Texas, a small town in the Lone Star State. She has been an active member of the Mayors Against LGBT Discrimination coalition, one of the core programs of Freedom for All Americans that brings together 300+ mayors from nearly every state in the country to push toward inclusive nondiscrimination protections.
“Today is a day for celebrating the trans people who have not only survived, but thrived. Trans people have thrived because of our visibility,” she said this week in celebration of Transgender Day of Visibility. “The more visible transgender and gender diverse people are in every aspect of our communities, the more opportunity we have to help our fellow Americans understand that we want what so many people want – to be able to work hard, to provide for ourselves and our families, and to be seen as individuals. As the first openly transgender mayor in Texas I am proud to lead the people of New Hope, Texas forward and to show in my small way that transgender people are just as able to represent their community as any other person.”
Visibility in the LGBT Movement
Masen Davis • Washington, DC
For the past six months Masen Davis has been at the helm of Freedom for All Americans, the campaign to secure LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections nationwide, serving as CEO. He is one of several transgender people to serve as a leader of an organization dedicated to LGBTQ equality.
“When I came out as a transgender man more than 20 years ago, I could barely imagine a world in which transgender people are seen and celebrated for exactly who we are,” Masen said today. “Despite a political climate that is hostile to transgender people like me, I know from personal experience – and from our nation’s history – that change is possible, and that our stories matter. On this year’s Transgender Day of Visibility, I am more committed than ever before to defending our hard-fought progress and continue to be deeply inspired by the bravery and courage of my fellow transgender Americans.”
“Despite unprecedented visibility of the transgender community, many Americans still don’t understand what it means to be transgender,” he continued. “The good news is that as lawmakers and voters get to know transgender people, they come to understand that transgender people want nothing more than to live their lives free from the fear of discrimination. Transgender people are courageously coming out and sharing their stories with their neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family members. Support for transgender freedom continues to grow by leaps and bounds, and the power of those interactions reveal that our values as Americans of fairness, compassion, and opportunity for all remain vibrantly held.”