Sharing Our Story at Trevor Project

Posted on Jun 10, 2015 | 0 comments

Jackson-family-at-Trevor-Project-Gala-2015

My family was invited to attend the TrevorLive Gala in New York City in June. I met David Bond of the Trevor Project earlier in the spring at HRC’s Time To Thrive conference where he heard me mention Avery trying to jump out of our car when she was four years old. He asked if I could also speak at TrevorLive to let their supporters hear how trans kids can be suicidal at an extremely young age because of their dysphoria and a lack of acceptance.

I hope that our story made enough of an impact on people in the audience that they made larger donations than planned to support children like ours.

 

Here is my speech from that evening:

My name is Debi Jackson. My husband and I have two kids: our 9-year-old son Anson, and our daughter Avery, who just turned 8 last week. I was raised in a Republican, Southern Baptist family and we are privileged to have many blessings in our life. Our environment always seemed to provide a safe haven for my family, until a few years ago. If you had told me that one day I would be speaking in support of an LGBTQ organization like The Trevor Project, I wouldn’t have believed you. But I stand here tonight, filled to the brim with love, empathy, and gratitude for the life-saving work you all do.

The truth is, a few years ago, I found out that our then 4-year-old child was suicidal.

As a toddler, our daughter told my husband and me that she is really a girl on the inside. Soon, Avery began fixating on a grim obsession: death. “Mommy,” she would say, looking up at me. “If I die, would I get the chance to come back in a different body?”

The questions became more frequent, and the intensity of her focus grew, and grew. “Are some ways of dying more painful than others?” she asked. Would she die, or only get hurt, if she fell out of the car? What if it was going slow? …Fast?

Then, the day came when she took a step far beyond inquiries and words.

I was driving down the interstate and Avery discreetly unbuckled her seat belt, grasped the car door handle, and pulled with all of her 4-year-old strength. Her brother started yelling, “Stop the car! Stop the car! Avery is trying to die!”

It’s still chilling to remember this moment. Deep in her small, innocent heart, she truly wanted to stop living – and unless something changed, she wasn’t giving up.

Back then, we had limited knowledge about transgender youth, and didn’t know about The Trevor Project. Still, we knew that Avery’s health — physically, mentally and emotionally — depended on allowing her to live freely as her true self. In our hearts, we knew that God blessed us with this extraordinary child because when living authentically, she could open other people’s hearts to the beauty of human diversity.

It’s true that in recent years, we’ve seen public perception shift. In fact, just one year ago when our story was first made public, we received messages like “I hope your kid gets cancer from its fake vagina and dies a slow, painful death.” Since then, we have seen the birth of a global discussion about gender identity powered by celebrities, actors, sports figures, activists, and other regular families like ours sharing similar stories. A few weeks ago when Avery decided to tell her own story in a video that went viral, the comments were all supportive.

For many, this momentum would seem like proof that we were out of the woods – that from this point on, the hate and discrimination facing children like my daughter would dwindle away and cease to exist. Maybe, we thought, the world was ready to accept the trans community. But now, we know that isn’t the reality facing us today. There continues to be pushback, trials, and struggles: especially in the South – especially for our youth.

There is a new generation of young people who are growing up in a world where the internet can hurt as much as it can help; where family rejection is still a major fear; where it’s still far too easy to feel alone, unwanted, and hopeless.

It’s hard to believe that children as young as mine are struggling through suicidal feelings, even though we may not read their stories. Despite supportive families and close friends, young people hit countless milestones that can shift from positive progress to difficult challenges.

As the parent of a trans child, I know that my daughter is just starting her journey. Soon comes first crushes and first dates, then comes the question of when to tell a love interest about being trans without putting her heart – or her safety – on the line.

This experience, along with making new friends, going through puberty, getting through school and finding a job, can be trying for any pre-teen or teen, but for LGBTQ youth, it carries unique concerns that may increase their risk of attempting suicide one day.

It’s acknowledging the reality of Avery’s future that made me realize: there needs to be a place where my daughter – and others like her – can feel safe, no matter what. And those safe havens are organizations like The Trevor Project.

I dread the day when I’m not able to take control of the steering wheel and change the course for my amazing daughter. Thankfully, I know that Trevor will be there – and that’s because of all of you. You will be there to answer her call, text, chat. You will be there to offer suicide prevention services to keep these beautiful children alive.

Thank you so much for being here tonight to support young people like Avery through Trevor’s crucial programs. When our story started, I felt alone – now, as I look around this room, I realize that I’m not. My family isn’t. Avery isn’t.

Thank you for letting me share our story. Thank you for all you do to help each individual youth you serve, and thank you for helping to change the world.

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