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Trans Teen Jazz Jennings Steals Show at EQCA Gala

by Cynthia Laird

Jazz Jennings speaks at Equality California's San Francisco gala
Jazz Jennings speaks at Equality California's San Francisco gala  (Source:Rick Gerharter)

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra told the largely LGBT crowd that he'll continue fighting for their rights as he accepted Equality California's Vanguard Leadership Award last weekend in San Francisco.

Gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) touted his successful law that instituted a ban for non-essential travel to states with anti-LGBT laws that the attorney general's office compiled.

But it was Jazz Jennings, a trans teenager and reality television star, who stole the show at the May 6 San Francisco Equality Awards gala with her heartfelt message for equality.

Jennings, 16, whose "I Am Jazz" show is broadcast on TLC, received EQCA's Visibility Award.

She told the sold-out audience of about 700 people at the Westin St. Francis that she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria disorder at age 3.

"Finally, when I was 5, I began my social transition to become the girl I am today, in kindergarten in 2006," she said, drawing laughter from the audience.

Her family has been fully supportive, she said, explaining that her parents have had to fight to let her use the girl's restroom at school. She would often pee her pants, she said.

"I just want to pee in peace," Jennings added.

Jennings told the audience she has battled depression and isolation and experienced bullying.

"In the end, the obstacles made me stronger," she said.

And to those who have seen her YouTube videos or TV show, she acknowledged that giving up her privacy for life in the spotlight has not always been easy.

"I'm willing to give up some of my privacy if it helps other trans people," she said.

In the current political environment of President Donald Trump, Republican-controlled Congress, and may GOP-controlled statehouses, Jennings said it's "a tough year for kids like me, and the whole community, in fact."

"But we won't be bullied - you hear that, Mr. President?" she said. "Our community has already shown the world we live authentically. We will not give up."

In accepting his award, Becerra, who was appointed by Governor Jerry Brown after former Attorney General Kamala Harris was elected to the U.S. Senate, pointed out he was one of the few who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 when he served as a congressman. But he wanted to look to the future.

"I hope you're giving me this honor not for stands I took 20 years ago," he said. "I hope you're doing this because of what I will do to continue the fight."

He pointed to religious liberty, which he described as "an important and cherished value." The First Amendment, he said, gives people the right to exercise their religious beliefs, but not to force those beliefs on someone else.

"The moment I hear 'discrimination' I get wound up," Becerra said. "We need to stand up and get in the way, as [Representative] John Lewis says, and that's what I will do."

Other honorees at the dinner included Michael Dunn, chairman and chief executive officer of Prophet, a consulting firm that redesigned EQCA's logo, and Washington Post opinion writer Jonathan Capehart, who received the Leadership Award.

EQCA Executive Director Rick Zbur said that the gala was the organization's largest in San Francisco. An EQCA spokesman said the event raised $400,000, $75,000 of which came from a pitch during the dinner.

Zbur told the audience that California will protect LGBT undocumented people, and undocumented people in general.

"We know what we need to do - protect and defend our community. We're fighting the erasure of LGBT people from federal programs, which is what they want to do," Zbur said, referring to the Trump administration.

He also noted that there are seven congressional districts in California that are represented by Republicans but were carried by Hillary Clinton in the presidential election and are in the Central Valley, Orange County, and San Diego, and pledged that EQCA would get to work educating constituents with the goal of flipping those districts in next year's midterm elections.


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