I remember the first time I wrote my name and shared it with someone else publicly.
I was 61 years old, coming to terms with the fact that I am a transgender woman, and I had all but stumbled into a community meeting coordinated by an LGBTQ advocacy organization, Equality Utah.
As I entered the meeting, I was greeted by friendly volunteers and a blank name tag. I wrote out my name – my chosen and true name, Angie – and I smiled. In that space, at last, I could be myself.
As we anxiously await a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on whether LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination in the workplace, I’ve been reflecting deeply about my personal journey of coming out and finding pride in who I am. And I’m grateful that whatever the decision from the justices, here in Utah, LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination. In fact, this summer marks the fifth anniversary of our lawmakers passing
LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections. These protections give me a sense of calm – they’re one of the few things right now that I feel certain about, especially as we grapple with this year filled with uncertainty and instability.
That sense of calm is relatively new for me, and it’s definitely not something I remember feeling as I grew up. I spent all of my childhood confused and hurt, aware that I didn’t fit in but not entirely sure why. I overcompensated by being an overachiever. This motivation eventually propelled me to join the U.S. Air Force, and I served as a pilot for 20 years, flying rescue helicopters and assisting in combat support and special operations. I built what was, by many measures, a picture-perfect life, getting married and raising three successful children.
But I was still unhappy because I couldn’t really be my full self, and it wasn’t until I saw a counselor in 2010 that I found the word for what was different about me. The counselor shared stories about people who were transgender. “Is that me?” I asked. She said I was the only person who could answer that question. And I knew.
I took steps toward transitioning from male to female, but I had one major concern: my job. I loved my work as a special education teacher in the small town of Roy, and I worried that if I came out publicly as transgender, I would lose my employment and my livelihood. At the time, Utah didn’t have any state-level protections from anti-LGBTQ discrimination, and so I continued hiding. Everything I had strived so hard to achieve was on the line, threatened by this secret; it was like there was a brick wall in front of me, and I couldn’t see a way around it.
When I attended my first meeting with Equality Utah, I saw the way around the wall. I learned about a tool that would help me maintain my livelihood and allow me to come out and live authentically: A nondiscrimination bill that Utah legislators were discussing to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
I jumped right in to support the bill, and I began sharing more openly – first, over the phone, and later with lawmakers directly, including Senator Stuart Adams, a Republican. We talked about my military service and I shared my story, and he ultimately cosponsored the nondiscrimination bill.
The bill was passed in March of 2015. By bipartisan votes of 24-5 and 65-10, the Senate and House voted overwhelmingly to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. I’ll never forget those numbers for the rest of my life.
The new law was the push I needed to come out publicly. With the knowledge that I was protected from workplace discrimination, I met with the administrators of the school district, and we planned a pathway forward for me to transition and keep my job. I couldn’t have asked for greater support.
I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without the nondiscrimination bill that passed in Utah five years ago. Without protections, I certainly wouldn’t have this life today; I don’t know if I’d even be alive today. I might still be clinging to my nametag that read “Angie” from that very first meeting, the combat Air Force pilot too afraid to come out publicly.
I’m so thankful every single day that my state protects LGBTQ people from discrimination – and that no one is left vulnerable because of who they are or who they love. This law has granted me blessings more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.
Happy anniversary, Utah.