We’re at mid-winter already, and so far it hasn’t been too bad! For this month, I was able to interview Debi Jackson, businesswoman, wife, and mother to two children. She became an LGBT activist after her daughter, who is now 7, came out as a transgender girl when she was 4. Since that time, Jackson has established herself as a powerful voice, speaking locally and nationally in support of equality for LGBT people. She is a role model for activism from whom we can all learn.
1. Like many of our readers, I first learned of you from the powerful video recorded of you speaking about your transgender daughter in May 2014 at the Listen to Your Mother live reading show at Kansas City’s Unity Temple on the Plaza (http://listentoyourmothershow.com/). How have things changed in your life since that video went viral?
A better question is almost what hasn’t changed. Before, I had a very small group of supportive friends around us … actually, only two people knew about our daughter at all, so I rarely talked about any transgender issues. Once the video was out, everyone in our circle knew, and people started finding me on Facebook from across the globe. I received about 5,000 messages in less than a month from people on six continents! People shared with me how inspired they were by me, how they used the speech as a way to come out to their families, and how they changed their perception of their kids after watching it. I realized there was a huge need for people to connect with someone with a shared experience, so I decided to be as open to talking to other people as possible. I still get private messages from people in places like India and Pakistan at all hours of the night. They need someone who will listen to them, who they can confide in, and I try to offer them hope and reassurance. That’s certainly something I never expected to be happening in my life.
2. How has your family adjusted to all of the changes with your activism that this past year has brought?
We juggle a more active calendar, but otherwise the adjustment has been fairly easy. I have a lot of meetings to go to, a lot of conference calls, time on the phone or Skype for interviews, and I’ve started traveling to speak. So I cook a bit less and the kids have learned that when my earphones are in, I’m probably doing an interview, so they stay quiet. They get more pizza and movie nights with my husband as I run all over town.
3. You’re the newly elected president of Kansas City’s PFLAG (the organization for parents, friends, allies and LGBTQ people united for equality). What would you like to see the group accomplish under your leadership?
I have two big goals. First is to get into as many of the area schools as possible to offer LGBT training and leave materials for families who need support. Second is to do a better job connecting with the Latino and African American LGBT communities, because I’ve noticed that a lot of the LGBT groups and services are divided along racial lines, but we all have something to offer each other.
4. Kansas clearly has no laws banning reparative therapy (which aims to change a person’s homosexuality). At this point, does the LGBT community in Kansas need to advocate for a ban?
Yes! The LGBT community and every single ally we can get on board need to advocate for a ban. It has been proven to be such an emotionally destructive practice that I can’t believe it isn’t illegal already. It is an issue I am actively working on with several other organizations.
5. You are to be a featured speaker at the Human Rights Campaign’s Time to THRIVE conference, focusing on youth, in February! Congratulations! What was your reaction in being asked to speak at such a prestigious event?
Thank you. First, they emailed and asked if I’d like to attend. Less than an hour later, they called and said they wanted to be a bit more aggressive in getting an answer because they wanted me to be a main speaker. Then they mentioned several people –big names! — who knew who I was and wanted to meet me. I almost fell over in shock! It wasn’t fair. They really should have warned me to sit down before all of that.
6. Can you share the topic of the talk that you will give at the conference?
They just want me to tell our family’s story and speak from the heart as a mom. We’ve all seen the recent news and know stories of unsupportive families, people trying to force a child into being someone they are not. Our story is the exact opposite. I get to stand up and describe how happy and confident my daughter is now, how she’s really blossoming into an amazing child and is full of life. We have a success story to tell, and hopefully when people hear it, they will know what to do if their child ever comes out as transgender.
7. I was excited to see that you are able to share your experiences through your new website Trans-Parenting (http://www.trans-parenting.com/). Do you feel that the website fills an existing gap on the web for those parenting a transgender child?
Well, it’s still a work in progress, but I certainly hope it will fill a gap. Three years ago, I had to search multiple websites for days on end trying to find the answers I needed. I want my site to be one place that a parent can spend days reading a lot of information, learning everything they need to confidently support their child.
8. What can the LGB community do to help advocate for trans* rights?
For so long, the emphasis in LGB activism has been on marriage equality. I hope that once that battle is won, people will recognize that trans individuals still have other needs: the ability to get updated IDs without surgery, the right to use the correct bathroom in public, the right to decide what medical care and procedures are correct for themselves and to actually have it covered by insurance. There are so many aspects of daily life that cis people get to take for granted but that are a real struggle for a trans person. Until those issues are addressed, I hope the LGB community will stick around as advocates.
9. With a busy family, how do you manage to balance everything?
By not sleeping! Really, I’m fortunate because I work from home and we homeschool our kids. That means we can have a really flexible schedule. So if I need to be on the phone for two days straight giving interviews about trans teen suicides, I can do it because we can make up the school work and I can fit in my job once the crisis is over.
10. What do you like to do for fun during your down time?
I don’t really have any down time anymore. I seem to always be in at least two or three conversations with people needing support on social media at any given moment. But I do like to cook. It’s “me time,” so I put on my headphones and dance around the kitchen listening to Ricky Martin (of course)!”