By Gigi Cassel
I was born in Boise, Idaho, and grew up in La Grande in rural northeast Oregon. I was raised by strong, independent women. My mother was active in the women’s rights movement and served as an early model of political activism and volunteering.
My mom was my saving grace when I started struggling with my gender identity at the age of 7. I loved wearing her clothes and makeup, and she would let me be myself around our house. But I couldn’t dress this way outside of the house, because she was afraid for my safety. I tried to dress in the most gender neutral clothing I had when I went out the house.
Those moments in my house were so freeing as a child. They were my few precious childhood opportunities to be the woman I knew I was.
They didn’t last long.
When my grandmother and my other relatives heard about this, they started pressuring my mom to make me dress in a more masculine way. Under pressure from them, I tried my best to hide my true self throughout high school, even as I continued to doubt my gender and sexuality.
For many transgender people, their story ends somewhere around here. Because of lack of acceptance from family and society and outright violence, 40 percent will attempt suicide in their lifetimes. Tragically,many are successful.
For me, this was only the beginning of a new chapter.
In December 1997, my mom died. I knew I couldn’t stay in La Grande, so I moved to Portland and found work with the help of a friend there. One day, that friend was designing a new dress and asked me to model it. As soon as I put that dress on, I felt that childhood freedom of being my true self again. I felt like me again.
Thanks to the work of transgender advocates at Basic Rights Oregon working in partnership with the community, transgender Oregonians on Medicaid could no longer be denied healthcare starting in 2014.
That was the year I got involved as a volunteer, and I haven’t looked back since. Whether I’m phonebanking, lobbying at the Capitol, or helping around the office, my volunteer work is about helping to chip away at the exclusions transgender Oregonians face, until the day when there are no more exclusions.
And I want you to join me as a volunteer.
As a presidential administration promising to roll back LGBTQ equality takes office in less than two weeks, Basic Rights Oregon needs volunteers now more than ever.
As we enter the 2017 session in Oregon with transgender justice at the top of our priorities, we need volunteers now more than ever.
And as we work around the clock with immigrant rights groups in Oregon to shore up our immigrant communities, we need volunteers now more than ever.
We know that transphobia and homophobia, racism and xenophobia, aren’t just in Washington, DC. They’re here in Oregon, too.
Thankfully, we have Basic Rights Oregon as our first line of defense, and us, the volunteers, to help keep this organization strong.
Gigi is a transgender health care activist and a volunteer at Basic Rights Oregon.