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 Relationships
Sean & Sarah Carroll • Durham, NC
Sarah and Sean have been partners for a long time. They met more than a decade ago at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia and connected quickly, bonding over their faith and desire to build a better world. Through their shared ministry, they became involved in their community, local and global, working side by side. Soon, they were engaged, and they married the week after Sean graduated from college.
The early summer of 2016 was an intense time for Sean. Severe anxiety made it hard to fall asleep, and once sleep finally came, it was interrupted by jolts of vivid dreams. Sean prayed every night, eager to seek clarity from God on a question that had popped up over and over again for years. “God, if there’s a way for this to come out to the surface, please make it happen,” Sean prayed. Eventually, after speaking with Sarah and having her undying support, Sean came out and began to live as a transgender woman.
The couple’s approach to anyone who hasn’t been fully supportive is also rooted in their faith. “We need to be extending grace to people, knowing that we were ignorant a mere few months before the transition,” Sarah said. “That has helped us have grace for people who are prejudiced. Maybe they just don’t know – and maybe that’s not entirely their fault. We need to be the exposure and let them learn from us.”
Visibility for Transgender People in the Workforce
Shaina Aisenberg & Lianne Prentice • South Tamworth, NH
Shana Aisenberg knows that she has made a different kind of impact in her daily life through her professional work as a music teacher at The Community School in a rural town in the Lakes Region of the state. She has helped educate her colleagues and experienced a welcoming community, led by Lianne Prentice, the director of the school, who believes all employers should support, encourage, and care for their transgender employees.
“With our school, the fact is that there have been trans and gender nonconforming kids in school before, and we live in a tiny, rural town in New Hampshire. I transitioned in 2012, so everyone knew me before I transitioned. I was hired about a year after my transition, and it wasn’t ever discussed – there was no issue or something to ever talk about,” says Shana.
Lianne adds, “If you can create that culture in your workplace to make everyone feel valued and safe to be themselves, you have to work hard against a lot of different stereotypes. If you can make the culture of your workplace respectful and intolerant of demeaning people, you can make it great for everyone, no matter who you are. And that’s something our culture has really got to work on.”
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 for Families of Transgender Children
Amanda Dewis • Johns Creek, GA
As a stay-at-home mother of three (including twins) in Johns Creek, Georgia, Amanda Dewis has more than enough to keep her busy every day. However, in Amanda’s case, she’s not only dealing with the usual issues between parents and children — she’s also working hard to make a safe and loving space for her daughter Lea, who is transgender.
As she grew up, Lea exhibited behaviors that confused her mother, such as wanting to wear dresses and immediately taking off her ‘boy clothes’ when she would come home from being out. At this point, Amanda says she began to dig deep and to have some difficult conversations with Lea, to truly understand where she was coming from.
“I asked her, ‘Even though your body is a boy, do you think your brain is a girl brain?’ And she said, ‘Yes, Mommy, and when I go to heaven, God is going to make me a girl.’ I told her she was made perfectly by God, but that I wanted her to be comfortable with who she was.”
Amanda understands that there may often be some fear and apprehension when transition occurs because as a parent, you always want your child to be safe and protected. However, Amanda has learned to view things through a different prism.
“As the mother of a transgender child, what I want to do is change minds. I think when you make an intersection in your life with a gay or trans person, when you sit and talk with them, it changes your perspective and it changes your life. I want trans people to know: God made you exactly as you are. Every single aspect of you. You are who you are supposed to be, and anyone telling you otherwise is just wrong.”
Visibility for Transgender Families
Dana Pizzuti • Scotts Valley, CA
As a board certified physician in the pharmaceutical industry, Dana Pizzuti has not only seen herself climb the ladder to be a Senior VP, but in the process she has also become her true self, transitioning on the job over 3 years ago to fully live as the woman she has always known herself to be. During that time, she has not only continued to be recognized for her work, but she has also become an outspoken advocate for transgender people.
In addition to her professional life, Dana is also a proud wife, mother, and stepmother. She has two grown children from a previous marriage — financial executive Nick and Loyola University economics major Sofia, and has been married to her current wife Stella for almost 3 years, becoming stepmother to Stella’s daughter Delaney, attending school for computer animation, and 14-year-old Hayden, a member of his high school’s varsity golf team.
“Regardless of my gender identifier, I try to be the best parent I can be to all of our kids.”
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 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 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 Elected Officials
Gerri Cannon • Somersworth, NH
Gerri Cannon is a transgender woman in New Hampshire, who was a key player and vocal advocate in helping shepherd the state’s transgender nondiscrimination law through to passage in 2018. Having previously been elected to her local school board, Gerri mounted a campaign for state representative in 2018, and won her race. In fact, she became one of two openly transgender women to be elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives!
“My life has changed drastically over the past ten years. My dreams and self esteem has grown. With the nondiscrimination law finally in place, our NH Transgender and Gender Variant Residents don’t have to face the discrimination that I felt in the past, and we can publicly be proud of who we are, without fear. I look forward to serving my constituents in the state house, and working to continue raising issues that LGBTQ people face.”
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.”