"Transgender rights are human rights. We are capable of facing the crumbs they throw at us."
Janet Mock, a transgender activist and journalist, came to UCF Monday night to encourage transgender men and women to speak up and be activists in their own community.
"I always tell people to let your experiences serve as the root of your own podium," Mock said. "Never be afraid to stand up for who you are."
Growing up in Honolulu, Hawaii, Mock had known she was different at a young age. She came out as a transgender woman when she was a teenager, never once questioning who she really was.
"When I came out as trans, all people talked about was my gender instead of talking about who I was as a person," she said. "Even though I was different, I owned being different. That was the key to my survival."
After high school, Mock was accepted to NYU, becoming the first person in her family to go to college. Graduating with a degree in journalism, she accepted her dream job as the editor of People magazine at the age of 25.
"Being at NYU and People was liberating, for I felt like like a normal privileged woman, not just a trans woman," Mock said. "But I knew there were transgender men and women like me who were living in poverty and being abused, and I didn't want to ignore that. I wanted to share my story to inspire others to tell their own."
In 2011, Mock told her story of her ups and downs during her transition to becoming a woman in Marie Claire magazine. The response was so positive, she decided to follow the magazine article with a book to detail her experiences. Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love and So Much More became a New York Times Bestseller.
Among talking about her own transition, Mock touched on the daily struggles transgender men and women face and how to not turn a blind eye to injustice. She discussed how transgender women are victims of unfair profiling, where in New York City being a black trans woman out at night with more than two condoms in your purse can get you arrested for prostitution. According to the National Transgender Center for Equality, there are 6,450 people in the United States who are transgender, with 47 percent of them being suicidal.
"I'm glad Janet talked about suicide prevention, for the younger kids that feel as if they have no other option, it breaks my heart," said Brandi Branson, a transgender woman who drove from St. Petersburg to see Mock. "If you don't have the right support system with friends and family, it can be a challenge just to wake up in the morning."
Amanda Lange, a health sciences major, came to see Janet in support of her friend Brandon Carr, the director of the Pride Coalition at UCF who invited Mock to come speak.
"My brother is gay and is a gay activist," Lange said. "I feel like we can all be activists if we truly support a cause. It's important to stand up and get the word out."
To encourage neighborhood activism, Mock spoke about the Stonewall police riots, a historic uprising in 1969 New York City that marked a turning point for gay rights. Sylvia Rivera, a drag queen who spoke up at Stonewall, is one of Janet's biggest inspirations, for she taught the new 1960s transgender community how to have a voice.
"We must never forget these women in history, for they are the legacy of our survival," Mock said. "We need to learn from them, and dare to be different, dare to fight back. We must think about using our education and experience to advance this conversation."
Gina Avile is a Contributing Writer to the Central Florida Future.