For Pride Month, we wanted to shout out trans celebrities, activists, and powerful figures who’ve inspired us for being true to themselves and out and proud. In fields including entertainment, sports and government, these transgender Americans are standing up for themselves and the trans community with their work, visibility, openness, and advocacy.
The actress, activist, and producer has been on a roll. After rising to fame for her role on Orange Is The New Black, for which Cox became the first transgender person to be nominated for a Prime Time Emmy in an acting category, Cox has since graced the cover of Time magazine and has been an executive producer on the 2020 Netflix documentary Disclosure, directed by Sam Feder. Cox is currently the host of the podcast, The Laverne Cox Show, and has numerous entertainment projects in the works. Of posing nude for Allure, which she initially turned down, Cox said, “Black women are not often told that we’re beautiful unless we align with certain standards. Trans women certainly are not told we’re beautiful. Seeing a black transgender woman embracing and loving everything about herself might be inspiring to some other folks.”
Activist, educator, and entrepreneur Aydian Dowling became the first transgender man to appear on the cover of Men’s Health in 2015 when he was part of their magazine’s Ultimate Men’s Health Guy competition. Though Dowling lost the competition, he won the Readers’ Choice award and received international media attention. Dowling documented his transition on his YouTube channel along with doling out fitness advice geared toward transgender people. Dowling has since started a transgender clothing company, Point 5cc, using proceeds to help other trans people pay for gender-affirming surgeries. Dowling told Profiles in Pride, “With redefining masculinity, I feel like there’s always going to be people who identify as male and people who identify as female, and now we’re learning and being able to express more of this in-between, the queerness, the nonbinary people, the agender people. But there’s always going to be the male and female, so how do we make that more open so we can express those things? Redefining masculinity is really just redefining humanity and what it means to be a human in the world today. Because I identify as male, to me, that’s redefining my masculinity.”
Laura Jane Grace
The Against Me! frontwoman came out as transgender in 2012 and has been outspoken about her own journey and transgender rights ever since. Punk rocker Grace, author of the memoir Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, burned her birth certificate on stage in North Carolina to protest a state bill that would require people to use the restroom denoted by the gender on their birth certificate. Rather than boycott the state, she made a statement and told Vogue of the move, which she didn’t tell her bandmates about in advance, “I was always taught by punk to think for yourself and to question authority. That’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
Transgender teenager Gavin Grimm, with the help of the ACLU, sued his Virginia school district in 2015 for the right to use the boys’ bathroom, claiming they had violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause and Title IX. Grimm’s case made it all the way to the Supreme Court and according to the ACLU, “the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of Gavin on all his claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the ruling in favor of Gavin on August 26, 2020.”
However, in 2021, the school district is still trying to fight this case. Grimm said of the recent attempt to roll back transgender rights, “I graduated four years ago — it is upsetting and disappointing that Gloucester County continues to deny who I am. Trans students in Gloucester County schools today should have the respect and dignity that I was denied. Whether it’s using the right restroom or having transcripts that reflect who we are, we all deserve to go to a school that’s free of harassment and discrimination.” Grimm, who is now 21 and serves on the ACLU Board of Directors, has been steadfast in standing up for the rights of trans students and a necessary voice for young people.
Jazz Jennings, 20, has been in the public eye for most of her life, starting with being interviewed on ABC News by Barbara Walters when she was just six years old. Since then, she’s become a vocal and ardent supporter of transgender rights, authoring the children’s picture book I Am Jazz and the memoir Being Jazz: My Life as a (Transgender) Teen, in which she describes knowing she was a girl from the age of two. Jennings even has a transgender doll modeled after her. Jennings and her family have been the stars of the TLC reality TV show I Am Jazz for six seasons, exploring Jazz’s activism, friendships, relationships, and gender confirmation surgery. Asked by the New York Times what she hopes viewers take away from the show, Jennings said, “I hope they understand the importance of unconditional love. That’s always been the core of my family’s message. You just have to love and appreciate all people for who they are, including our differences. We’re all beautiful and unique and we just have to learn to embrace that.”
Dr. Rachel Levine
Pediatrician Dr. Rachel Levine, assistant secretary for health under the Biden administration, is the first openly transgender person to hold such a high office in the U.S. federal government. As secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health prior to the federal appointment, Levine led the state’s COVID-19 response. Levine has made it clear she will work toward ensuring fairness for the trans community. Levine told NPR, “I will do everything I can to advocate for transgender and LGBTQ youth, to educate people and states about LGBTQ and specifically transgender issues and work towards fairness and equality.”
Janet Mock is all over the world of entertainment, as the writer, director, and executive producer of FX drama series Pose, about New York City drag ball culture, now in its third and final season, with many new projects in the work. Mock signed a three-year, multi-million dollar deal with Netflix in 2019 for rights to her TV series and first look at film projects, making her the first transgender woman to sign such a deal. Mock, who’s also the author of the memoirs Redefining Realness and Surpassing Certainty, was an executive producer and director on Ryan Murphy’s series Hollywood, and is slated to direct the film Scandalous! Of the impact of Pose on transgender viewers. Mock told Entertainment Weekly, “I think a lot of people were surprised by the deep feeling and heart of our show. That’s always been so fulfilling to me — to hear from a lot of trans women, specifically, who had never heard their stories and conversations we have with one another be put on a mainstream platform and for people from all walks of life to receive it and feel it and [have it] resonate and sink in deep with them. [There’s also] the educational and inspiring piece of it too.”
The acclaimed model and actress became the first transgender model signed to IMG at age 22 back in 2015, and went on to have a regular role in the TV show Transparent, walk the runway for Gucci, and advocate for trans rights. Nef told Interview in 2016, “I’m an actor, model, and activist. Media outlets…were calling me an activist before I called myself one. I was skeptical at first. I thought, “Hey, I’m not an activist, I’m just trans.” As my career progressed, so did my impact on trans discourse—a discourse I inherited. Apathy was never an option; self-interest and altruism became one and the same. I advocate for my community, so I advocate for myself.”
When the Juno star Elliot Page came out as transgender in December 2020, he almost immediately became a major voice in the fight for trans rights and awareness. Page told Time, “I’m really excited to act, now that I’m fully who I am, in this body. No matter the challenges and difficult moments of this, nothing amounts to getting to feel how I feel now.” On social media and in interviews, Page has highlighted statistics about violence against transgender people and advocating against anti-trans legislation. Page told Vanity Fair of embracing his transgender identity, “For the first time in, I don’t even know how long, [I am] really just being able to sit by myself, be on my own, be productive, and be creative. It’s such an oversimplification to say it this way, but I’m comfortable. I feel a significant difference in my ability to just exist—and not even just day to day, but moment to moment.”
Hunter Schafer didn’t set out to become an actress with a starring role on HBO teen drama Euphoria; the acclaimed model was set to study fashion design when the opportunity to audition came up. Playing new-to-town trans teen Jules, best friend of Rue (played by Zendaya), was too irresistible to resist, and Schafer, who transitioned in early high school, has wowed audiences with her portrayal. She told Variety of the role, “There need to be more roles where trans people aren’t just dealing with being trans; they’re being trans while dealing with other issues. We’re so much more complex than just one identity.” Schafer, 22, was a plaintiff in 2016 in an ACLU lawsuit fighting against North Carolina’s restrictive “bathroom bill.” Of that legal and social justice struggle, she wrote in an essay for i-D, “It touches the founding tenets of our country’s social structure, and the ideas of gender within which our society functions. Trans youth and activists are slowly but surely breaking down the social binary through our own empowerment, thanks in part to the conversations created by our oppression.” Regarding her gender identity, Schafer, who’s modeled for such major designers as Dior, Helmut Lang, Vera Wang and Marc Jacobs, among others, told The New York Times soon after Euphoria’s debut in 2019, “[A]s I’ve learned more about my community and come to understand gender as a spectrum, and the gender binary as something that’s nonexistent and a construct and a product of colonialism, I have sort of let go of the idea that I need to do the one or the other — and just let myself be.”
Brian Michael Smith
The actor, one of the stars of Lone Star: 9-1-1 on Fox, where he plays transgender firefighter Paul Strickland, also starred on Queen Sugar, and came out as transgender in 2017. Of the way his character being trans is treated on the new show, Smith told The Advocate, “That’s something I really like about Lone Star, is that they allow my character to just be who he is, while also at other times exploring his trans experience and giving room for that as well.” He told LGBTQ San Diego County News that in his lifetime he’s seen entertainment become more open to showing the full humanity of transgender characters, saying, “In the generation that I came up in, everything had to be a secret. So, I was thinking for a long time that I’m not going to be able to do what I want to do: performance, being an actor, and being fully myself. Then slowly I came to realize, because of trailblazers that went before me like Laverne Cox, that, “Wait, we can. And maybe I can be a trans actor and maybe I can play a trans character.” And not just a trans character who’s a victim or the butt of a joke, or a villain, or a side character. A whole series regular.”
Whether you’re a member of the LGBTQI+ community or an ally, we wish you a Happy Pride!
We support the ACLU in the fight for social justice, civil liberties and LGBTQ+ rights.
Join us by rounding up your purchase in-store or donating online from June 5th– June 13th, and we will match your generosity with a donation of up to $50,000 to the ACLU.