I remember the day I decided to finally step out and be my authentic self in public, over two decades ago in New York City. It was approaching fall. I was looking for ladies like me, and I found them on 14th Street in the Meatpacking District, trying to survive. I could not believe that they lived like this from day to day, for it was there that I also first encountered extreme hate directed at me simply for being my authentic self. I had been a professional for years, with almost two degrees, and I had never experienced such hostility and violence in my life. I was like a young child who needed protection and guidance on the basics so that I could survive myself, and these ladies on 14th Street embraced me and guided me on how not to get hurt, beaten up and attacked by strangers who sought us out to do us harm. I never understood why people would seek us out to do us bodily harm without any provocation.

I remember so many young ladies being attacked and beaten up during those years, and in 2014 the number of attacks, violence and murders suffered in the transgender community is still the highest of any community. It has been almost 25 years, and my community is still being attacked and murdered in high numbers, with no clear resolution in sight. My heart belongs to the ladies on 14th Street who stood with me night after night, trying to survive and just be their authentic selves. I cry today for those ladies who are no longer here with us in 2014, but my heart remembers them. I still speak to one friend from those days. By the grace of God, she is still here, like me, to stand here and talk about our victory.

Dr. Marc Weiss, a former professor at Columbia University and an advocate for equality, wrote in the foreword to my memoir I Rise:

During my six decades of life, I have been an activist and advocate for economic, social, environmental, cultural, and political justice. Over the past half-century, I have been involved with and supportive of civil rights and equal opportunity movements for African-Americans, Latino-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native-Americans, women, senior citizens, young people, working families, low-income households, military veterans, gays and lesbians, people with disabilities, unemployed workers, welfare recipients, public housing residents, agricultural laborers, homeless people, and many other groups, both in the USA and, more recently, throughout the entire world.

The main thing I have learned from these profound lifelong experiences is that people are people. Everyone, everywhere, is basically the same. We all care about one vital concern: our own livelihood and well-being, and the livelihood and well-being of our loved ones. Transgender people, in spite of their relatively atypical appearances and lifestyles, are precisely the same as every other human being throughout the world, in terms of their fundamental humanity and dignity.

I think the transgender story is an interesting story of courage and faith. It is about a hidden society within American culture. Most people do not interact with transgender people daily or regularly in their lives. I want to put a face on a group that is hardly recognized. Statistics say about 0.3 percent of adult Americans are transgender. That's only about 700,000 people. And transgender people of color are an even smaller community, but we have value and worth, just like everybody else. We need love and respect and dignity, just like every other American.

I want everyone to respect transgender people as people. My story is one of just trying to become whole and become who I really am. I am a sane, logical, thinking individual who has had to match the outside of my body with the feelings inside my body. I am not crazy, nor do I have any mental issues that clouded my mind during my transition. Individuals seek love and acceptance for who they are. That is basically what we are looking for too. Respect me, and I shall respect you. I ask you not to judge me without giving me a chance. I respect all religious beliefs, but my God is one of love and acceptance.

We remember all those who lost their lives for being their authentic selves. I'd rather live authentically on this Earth than live in shame and fear. I will never forget all those who lost their lives, and I say to all my living transgender brother and sisters: Rise.

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Whitney Houston has been one of my favorite artists of all time since I met her in the 1980s, during my college years. She was very kind to me when I was at her concert all dressed up and looking a mess. So when I heard that Koko Jones, Houston's former percussionist (as well as The Isley Brothers' former percussionist) who's also a songwriter and lyricist, had embarked on her first album since coming out as a trans woman, I took notice and became very excited to talk to her about her life and music.

Koko has performed and/or recorded as a first-call percussionist for some of the best-known names in pop, R&B, jazz, house and African music. In addition to Whitney Houston and The Isley Brothers, her résumé includes names like Carlos Santana, Angela Winbush, Raul Midon, Marcus Miller, Randy Weston, Jose Feliciano, Buddy Miles, Clarence Burke, Louie Vega, Luisito Quintero, Michelle T. Williams, DJ Kenny Dope, Archie Shepp, and Reggie Workman. Her last two albums (released under the name Kevin Jones), Tenth World (2005) and Tenth World Live! (2008), drew major kudos from critics and audiences alike.

Her latest album, Who's That Lady?, which is her third album but her first since transitioning, showcases all her talents and takes the listener on a journey through time, exploring four decades of her personal evolution and artistic capabilities. It is a timeless musical narrative of her past, present and future.

The Nov. 18 release of Who's That Lady? happens to coincide with the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, and several tracks on the album reflect either her personal struggles as a trans woman or universal issues facing the trans community at large. "Why" honors those trans individuals who have lost their lives to violence or suicide, and "Turn It" pays tribute to the heroes, past and present, who strive for civil rights, justice and equality. "I'm Free" celebrates the joy of reveling in who you really are despite societal norms and constraints. And "Xtravaganzas" pays homage to the House of Xtravaganza, one of the most important cultural institutions in the trans community.

Koko and I discussed her courage to finally become her true self and the hardships she faced in the music industry once she began her transition. I found her spirit warm and inviting as we discussed the many difficulties of transitioning. We both are very grateful to be alive and able to fulfill our goals and dreams, but we remember all those we have lost along the way to violence, discrimination and hatred. Koko's love of self comes through bright and strong.

Listen to the live discussion between me and Koko Jones below:

 

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Being whole, honest and truthful is the key to a happy life. Love of self is the key for you to be able to love others on this Earth. Being who you were meant to be is a beautiful thing. Don't be afraid, and don't be scared to be your authentic self. You are loved and valued and accepted by God, and no man or woman can take that away from you. Stand tall and be proud, and good things will follow you.

Koko Jones' new album, Who's That Lady? (Motéma Music), is scheduled to be released Nov. 18. To learn more about Koko and her music, please go to kokojones.com.

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Fallon Fox, the first openly transgender female to compete in the MMA, discusses transistioning, fighting, her goals and being authentic. Fallon Fox is a professional Mixed Martial Arts Fighter specializing in the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Wrestling, and Muay Thai. She began training in 2008 after serving in the Navy as an Operations Specialist second class and currently has a record of 5-1-0. She is currently training and waiting on her next MMA fight.

Fallon knew as a young child she was different than other boys but it took many years later for her to understand what that meant. While a student at the University of Toledo, Fallon began to research transgender identity in order to better understand herself. Fallon struggled with being comfortable with the body she had at the time. Fallon physically transitioned from male to female in 2006, finally matching up her inner identity with her physical form.

Fallon bagan training jiu jitsu in order to get back in shape and find a way to defend herself physically. She gained a passion for jiu jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts and found empowerment. She later went on to study Muay. Fallon entered the MMA as a fighter in 2011. Fallon's goal is to be the best female fighter in the world and be a role model to others that anything is possible if you work hard and believe in yourself.

Fallon encourages transgender youth not to be afraid of your true self and be proud of who you are. The challenges are difficult but there is great joy in being authentic and real. Transistiioning is a process and can be frightening but there is peace, joy and satsfaction on the other side. Every transistion is different so began when you can do it safely and only when you feel ready.

To listen to the full conversation with MMA fighter Fallon Fox go here:

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Fallon Fox is one of the many transgenders on the move in 2014 and achieving great things. To read more about transgenders on the move in 2014 and living authentic lives please check out the new issue of Proud to Be Out-The Digital Magazine at http://www.proudtobeout.org. You do not have to hide or live in darkness for being authentic and your true self. Fallon's word of encouragement is Stand Tall and Be Proud and I echo that 100%. To learn more about Fallon Fox check out her website at http://www.fallonfox.com.

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Success is what we all strive for in our daily journey. I was told if I pursued my transistion there would be no love and no success for me as an African-American transwoman. I was constantly informed that my life as a transgender woman would amount to nothing and always be a struggle. I have found all those statements to be untrue and have no meaning in my life. I have found joy, happiness, love and fulfillment in my life and I thank God for that every day. I followed my heart and I have arrived on the other side of my transistion a much better and complete person.

My sister, Martine Rothblatt, a successful transwoman CEO followed her heart and passion. In 1994, Martine transistioned to become her authentic self without reservation and shame in a time when no one really knew what transgender meant. I read her first book, "The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender" in 1995 and then knew it was my time to come out of the darkness into the light. I had allowed shame and fear to cripple me most of my life but if Martine could do it so could Toni Newman.

Martine Aliana Rothblatt is an American lawyer, author, and entrepreneur. She graduated from UCLA with a MBA/JD degree in 1981, then began work in Washington, D.C. in the field of communication satellite law, and eventually in life sciences projects like the Human Genome Project. She holds a Ph.D. and is currently the founder and CEO of United Therapeutics Corp. Martine is the highest-paid female executive in the United States.

Martine and I discuss transistioning, being grateful for our lives when so many others are no longer here, and being authentic to yourself and your soul. Martine expresses a gratitude of life when so many transgenders have fallen along the way. She acknowledges her blessings and her acceptance in the business world. Martine is a profound author and has written several books in this order:

1) The Apartheid of Sex: A Manifesto on the Freedom of Gender-1995
2) Unzipped Genes (America In Transition)-1997
3) Two Stars for Peace: The Case for Using U.S. Statehood to Achieve Lasting Peace in the Middle East-2003
4) Your Life or Mine: How Geoethics Can Resolve the Conflict Between Public and Private Interests in Xenotransplantation-2004
5) Apartheid des sexes-2006
6) From Transgender to Transhuman: A Manifesto On the Freedom Of Form-2011
7) Human Destiny is to Eliminate Death ~ Essays & Debates on Immortality-2013
8) Virtually Human: The Promise---and the Peril---of Digital Immortality-2014

To listen to the full discussion between Martine Rothblatt and I go here:

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Our conversation centered around being authentic to self and authentic to your soul. There is no greater pleasure and joy until you follow your heart and soul. The word of encouragement to transgender youth are dont be afraid and dont feel shame. You were made by God and loved by God and you are beautiful.

You should wake up each morning and be your authentic self without any reservations.

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I recently talked with Chef Chris Trapani for the upcoming issue of Proud to Be Out: The Digital Magazine. Chris is the first transgender person to appear on the Food Network as a chef. He appeared on the show Chopped for the Great Food Truck Race, competing for $10,000. Chris made it to the second round before getting eliminated.

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Chef Chris Trapani is based in Austin, Texas, and is known as the "Urban Cowboy Chef," with a food truck and catering business. Chris Trapani is originally from Brooklyn, New York, and lived there for almost 30 years before moving to Austin a few years ago. He attended the Texas Culinary Academy and worked for several top catering companies in New York City and Austin in fine dining, corporate and casual dining. He has designed menus for celebrities, television networks, corporate facilities, film shoots and independent restaurant concepts. Chris is known for his kind and genuine approach to service and a deep love for the South and everything country. He has a diverse and passionate approach to food that is true to Texas and his urban roots.

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We discussed love, transitioning and his passion for food. Chris is now a proud and happy transgender male, standing tall and pursuing his passion with his partner of over 10 years. Chris' message to the young people who are transgender is: Do not let fear and shame control your life. There is indeed happiness on the other side if only you believe in yourself and be your authentic self. Chris believes perseverance and dedication pays off if you are willing to be true to yourself. His love and passion for food has always been constant for him, and now he is on his way to being the very best chef possible. His skills showcases his love for food.

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To hear the live interview and our full discussion about love, transitioning and equality, please check out the next issue of Proud to Be Out: The Digital Magazine. To find out more about Chef Chris Trapani and his food truck, please go to urbancowboyfood.com.

 

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Acting Director Kris Hayashi of the Transgender Law Center discusses trans equality in 2014 and where we go from here. As stated on the Transgender Law Center website:

Kris Hayashi has been active in social, racial and economic justice organizing for over 20 years. For the last ten years Kris served as the Executive Director/Co-Director of the Audre Lorde Project, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Two Spirit, Trans and Gender Non Conforming People of Color organizing center based in New York City. Previously he served as a Trainer/Organizer at Western States Center in Portland, Oregon and as Executive Director of Youth United for Community Action -- a youth organizing group in California, led by young people of color organizing for social and environmental justice.

The Transgender Law Center is one of the largest transgender advocacy groups in the country. Since 2002 their mission has been to make authentic lives possible. As stated on their website:

Transgender Law Center works to change law, policy, and attitudes so that all people can live safely, authentically, and free from discrimination regardless of their gender identity or expression. We envision a future where gender self-determination and authentic expression are seen as basic rights and matters of common human dignity.

My discussion with Kris is centered around trans equality now and the future. We discuss the inequality still facing trans people, especially trans women of color, and how we as a community move forward to progress to full equality and being treated fairly without bias and discrimination. The conversation focuses on moving forward and gaining ground on this tremendous visibility that we have in 2014 as a community. How do we uplift a community where so many of us are still living below the poverty level and struggling every day just to survive and exist?

Here are the questions I asked Kris:

As the acting director of the Transgender Law Center, where do you see the transgender movement going in 2014?

This is an exciting time for us with all this great visibility with Laverne Cox, Janet Mock and CeCe McDonald. We are making great leaps with policy and law as well. Yes, we have a lot of visibility, and that is great, but a majority of our community is still struggling to survive on a daily basis with high rates of violence, harassment and unemployment. Trans women of color are still being attacked and murdered at a high rate, and we have to find a way to embrace that community and support them. Transgenders are now able to get health care, and that is so vital for them to remain healthy and transition safely.

With the passage of the School Success and Opportunity Act in California, what will be the next piece of legislation for trans equality and why?

California has been amazing in the passage of transgender laws and helping transgender youth in schools to succeed without discrimination. The amount of access and the rights and the policies supporting transgender rights in California has been tremendous. The incarcerated transgender population have been some of the most vulnerable in our community, and the lack of access to education and medical assistance is still something we need to fix as a community. I believe providing the medical care they need and allowing them access to education is very beneficial and needed for this population.

For transgenders having such a hard time finding employment, what would you say to help them get into the workforce?

The lack of access to employment is due to structural barriers and ongoing discrimination against our community engrained into society, culture and institutions. We have made great advancements in last years with the passage of Title 7 protecting transgender individuals from employment discrimination. However, translating Title 7 into reality is still a problem for our community. There is continued work needed targeting employers and institutions that discriminate against our community. Many members of our community cannot graduate school due to high levels of discrimination and harassment in the education system. We will continue to make sure these laws and policies are actually implemented and enforced. Support systems that assist, help, encourage transgenders in finding employment is vital in our communities as well.

Minority transgenders, especially trans women, are facing such high rates of violence and discrimination. What can we do as a community to help them?

The trans community are facing discrimination from institutions such as the police and immigration enforcement. Police brutality is still a problem, and the violence trans women of color face on the street is very high. We have to call on these institutions to stop the violence and harassment towards trans individuals. The violence trans women of color face on the streets and our communities will take a cultural< society-wide change. We have to be seen as individuals with valuable lives in our society. The local community must set up support systems by both LGBT and non-LGBT organizations that embraces issues of trans rights. These support systems should be led by people of color and representational of their group.

Now that we have transgender actors, authors and entertainers receiving national attention, do you feel America has changed its opinions of the trans community today?

With the visibility of Laverne Cox on the cover of Time magazine, this is a great time for the trans community. The visibility is leading to a conversation about the trans community, both positive and negative. Society is talking, and this can only help the trans community being understood that our lives matter.

Listen to the live interview:

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The trans community has made great strides and should be proud of the advancements made this year, but remember, we have a lot of work to do as well. We cannot stand for any of our sisters and brothers being attacked and murdered for simply being their authentic self. No one should be afraid to be who they really are and follow their own destiny. We must continue the fight for full equality and fairness. Lauren Paulk, Reproductive Justice Fellow at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, wrote an article last week called "Beyond Equality: Combating Violence Against Trans Women of Color." In the article she wrote:

We must create a culture where transgender women of color are made to feel safe being who they are. In order to do this, we must speak out against voices that seek to misgender trans women and separate them from our communities. We must be vigilant against transphobia in our social networks, in our friend groups, and in our own language and lives.

For more information on the Transgender Law Center, go to transgenderlawcenter.org.

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Photo courtesy of Equality California

Recently I talked with Jack Lorenz, Deputy Director of Programs and Development at Equality California (EQCA), about transgender health care and equality in the state of California. We discussed where to go in 2014 after the passage of California Assembly Bill 1266 (the School Success and Opportunity Act) and the release of new guidance from U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights that explicitly places gender identity and expression under Title IX protection. (Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any educational program that receives federal funds.)

EQCA, which fights for the rights of LGBT persons in California, is the largest LGBT advocacy group in the state. Jack oversees all EQCA's programs -- educational, advocacy and outreach -- as well as development, fundraising, special events and sponsorships. For the 13 years prior to joining EQCA, Jack was Executive Director of the Gatekeeper Foundation, whose work focused on advocacy and programming related to the fair and appropriate treatment of immigrants and other vulnerable populations. Prior to his work with social justice and civil rights organizations, Jack was a film and television studio executive, having worked for Disney, Universal and Mandalay Entertainment. Jack holds a master's degree in humanities from California State University.

In our interview, Jack talks about the new direction and changes at EQCA in 2014. Rick Zbur, a senior partner at the law firm Latham and Watkins, is becoming the new executive director in September. Rick has served -- and will continue to serve -- as president and chair of the board of the California League of Conservation Voters, the political action arm of California's environmentalist community. He formerly served on the board of Lambda Legal and was a founding director and vice president at the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation. Jack sees the new direction for EQCA as pacts and programs for the organization, and the implementation of the laws that EQCA has helped pass. The Equality California Institute is a nonprofit advocacy institute supporting pro-LGBT-equality candidates and making sure that all the pro-LGBT bills that have been passed get implemented in California now.

"Ignorance" and "fear" are the two words that Jack used to describe the discrimination against transgender men and women in public school systems and in larger society. Jack believes that the transgender community is the most marginalized community in America, and that only with acceptance and understanding can society overcome its fear of the transgender community. For the past two years EQCA, in conjunction with the Transgender Law Center, has focused on passing pro-transgender legislation to help transgender persons get the equality they need to become successful Americans. The only way to ensure fair and equal treatment of transgender persons is through the legislative process and the passage of bills.

Jack oversees programs related to the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") through Covered California at the Equality California Institute. Transgender persons in the state of California are now able to get full health care and surgeries associated with medical transition. Jack suggests that transgender persons find a certified enrollment counselor in their area to get full details about health care through the Affordable Care Act. For the first time in history, transgender persons can transition safely with affordable medical care and attention.

Jack also oversees EQCA's five annual Equality Awards, a series of formal galas and cocktail events held in San Francisco, San Diego, Palm Springs, Los Angeles and Sacramento. Each year the Equality Awards recognize the individuals and organizations that have made an impact on the movement to secure full and lasting equality for LGBT people. Past honorees have included Facebook, Adam Lambert, Dolores Huerta, Molly Ringwald, Debra Messing, Arianna Huffington, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and California Gov. Jerry Brown. There are two more Equality Awards this year, in Los Angeles on Sept. 20, and in Palm Springs on Oct. 18. Jack says that the awards are a major fundraiser for EQCA and the institute.

Equality is for all, regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

 

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To hear the full conversation with Jack Lorenz, click here.

For more information on transgender health care, Equality California and the Equality Awards, go to eqca.org, or email Jack Lorenz at jack@eqca.org.

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Chloie Jonnson is a transgender female and CrossFit athlete fighting for her rights to compete as a female in the CrossFit Games. CrossFit has issued a statement explaining why they denied Chloie the right to compete as female but gave her the option to compete as male competitor. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has agreed that Chloie Jonsson meets all requirements to compete as a female athlete but CrossFit denies her that right as a female athlete. Chloie has filed a lawsuit for $2.5 million against CrossFit for violating her civil rights and she is represented by attorney Waukeen McCoy.

Chloie and I talk in a live conversation about transgender equality, acceptance, tolerance and respect. Our discussion is about why mainstream America continues to deny transgenders equality. The lack of understanding of the transgender people seems to be the main driving force behind the discrimination, disrespect and intolerance. One of the most important reasons I wrote the memoir, I Rise, was to enlighten and educate people about who transgenders are and to give visibility to a small community most often forgotten and lost in our society.

Chloie was very honest and candid about her desire to be treated fairly and equally without special consideration. Both the state of California and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognize Chloie as a female in all rights and privileges. So the real question becomes why does CrossFit deny her the right to compete as a female? We both agreed that mainstream America has a lack of understanding of transgenders in perspective to their day-to-day lives.

Transgenders are only being authentic to who they really are and living life in the most authentic way they can possibly do. Transgenders bleed red, cry when hurt, long for acceptance and love and only desires to be treated fairly and equally. Both Chloie and I agree if given the opportunity we are just like every other American living life the best way we can. The misconceptions about transgenders and their life causes transphobia and discrimination based off the lack of knowledge, and we all know knowledge is power.

To listen to the live conversation between Chloie Jonsson and I, go here.

Chloie and I encourage transgender youth and transgender athletes to not be afraid or scared to be who you are and we encourage and stand with you. We support you and your right to be your authentic self. Do not be controlled by the fear or shame for being the real person within your very being. We are all God's children and we (everyone of us) is equal under his eyes. Tolerance, respect and acceptance are the key to treating everyone equally (including transgenders). I leave for those who continue to hate and be transphobic against my transgender brothers and sisters, these words from my favorite poet, Dr. Maya Angelou (Reynolds Professor of Wake Forest University):

Excerpt from Dr. Angelou's poem, I Rise

"You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise."

I RISE

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I met Daniel Sobieray almost a year ago through the casting of the LGBT feature film Heart of a Woman, based on my memoir I Rise. Daniel was auditioning for producer/screenwriter Alton Demore, British director Keith Holland and casting director Dea Vise for the lead male role of Derrick, a male escort for pay who is trying to achieve success as an actor in Hollywood. Daniel was selected for the role of Derrick because of his openness to be enlightened and educated about people different from himself. The cast of Heart of a Woman also includes transgender actress Angelica Ross, Rachel Sterling, Elisabeth Rohm and Leslie Jones.

Daniel was an all-American high school hockey athlete from Colorado and received a hockey scholarship at the University of Michigan, graduating with degree in finance. Daniel is a former Calvin Klein and Hugo Boss model who worked the runways in Europe from 2006 to 2009. In 2010, Daniel appeared on the soap All My Children, and he is currently on the soap Days of Our Lives.

I have been speaking to groups for the past four years about being an African-American transgender woman and what it means to have been born male and to have transitioned to the female gender. I have found that the perceptions of mainstream America stem from fear and the lack of knowledge about transgender people. Daniel shares his viewpoint as a heterosexual male athlete from the Midwest who had no knowledge of transgender people in his high school, his community or his church. His background is typical of most Americans who have no direct knowledge or interaction with transgender persons.

The T in the LGBT family is the smallest group of them all. Since the population of transgender people is low, we are rarely visible in day-to-day life, so many Americans form their perceptions out of fear and a lack of knowledge, I understand the rationale behind the fear but do not understand hatred and discrimination and violence against another human being of any kind. Transgender people across the world only seek fairness, justice and equal rights, like any other human being on the planet.

Daniel said that all human beings should be judged on character, not race, sex or gender. He stated that his parents taught him at an early age that everybody is equal and the same and should only be judged by how they treat others, not by physical characteristics. He stated that kids who are transgender should have right to use the bathroom without humiliation and have the right to play sports, if they are athletically qualified, on the teams that match their gender identity. The acceptance of all human beings regardless of race, sex and gender must begin in the home. Hatred, discrimination and violence against any transgender person has no place in an equal society of fair-minded people.

I challenge every American to give every transgender boy or girl, woman or man, a chance at fairness. Transgender people are not seeking special consideration, just equal rights, so that they can be their authentic self. I don't ask you to agree with my choice of transitioning; that was my personal journey, and it's between me and God. I just ask for fair opportunity to be who I am without violence and discrimination.

For more information on Daniel Sobieray and his career, visit his IMDb page.

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