By Ja’han Jones
When a recent memo was revealed exposing the Trump administration’s proposal to begin strictly defining gender, LGBTQ advocates and allies around the country decried its apparent intent to erase transgender people.
But for activists like Jazz Jennings, the 18-year-old star of TLC’s reality show “I Am Jazz,” the threat of erasure is far from new. Long before networks began chronicling her life and tracing her every step, Jennings, a trans woman, was a relatively obscure trailblazer at her elementary school in South Florida.
Jennings began living as her authentic self at age 5, and with the aid of her parents, she asserted her identity as a girl while demanding her school treat her as one. Jennings has since ascended into a role as one of the nation’s foremost trans activists, and in a recent video posted to her popular YouTube channel, she defiantly criticized the Trump administration’s memo.
Jennings discussed the memo and its implications further in a follow-up interview with HuffPost. She also spoke of her beginnings as an activist, her approach to trans activism under the Trump administration and whether there is room for optimism in such a bleak period for the trans community.
You’ve long been politically inclined and politically active. What was your first instinct when hearing about the Trump administration’s anti-trans memo? How do you craft a response to someone who’s literally making a claim that you don’t exist?
I just sighed right away. It feels like the Trump administration keeps saying one thing after another, and this was a tipping point for me. I was over it, you know? My community — the transgender community — has already experienced victimization and been vulnerable in so many ways, and now the government is here trying to come after us directly. We don’t need that extra discrimination; we don’t need the government going against us when we already have society telling us we can’t be who we are. So if anything, we need more support — more administrative and legal action on our side ― and the opposite is happening. It’s annoying.
Has your method of engagement as an activist changed under the Trump administration, which carries more outright disdain for the trans community than the previous administration?
My only focus is on love and support. I’m not gonna give my attention to the Trump administration and people who are not supportive of the transgender community. Instead, I’m trying to speak with others out there and tell them not to be afraid of being who they are. I tell them not to worry. The government doesn’t have power over you ― people have power over the government. And you’re the people. So you be you, and be free, and be who you are, and don’t let anyone undermine that, even if the government isn’t on your side. So that’s the focus of my advocacy: the love and the uplift.