Just 16 years old, transgender activist Jazz Jennings has grown up in the public eye.
Jennings first received national attention in 2007 when she was interviewed by Barbara Walters on “20/20” and since then has become an eloquent spokesperson for trans youth.
She hosts a series of groundbreaking YouTube videos and stars in a TLC reality show, “I Am Jazz,” that focuses on her life with her family in South Florida as a transgender teen.
On Sunday, Feb. 26, Jennings will appear at Pride Fort Lauderdale and be recognized for her courage and leadership.
SFGN spoke recently with Jennings about LGBTQ pride and her experiences as a leader in the transgender community:
SFGN: What does “Pride” mean to you?
Jennings: Pride is about loving and embracing your unique qualities (what makes you who you are) and then sharing that love and pride with the community.
You were the Grand Marshal of the New York City Pride Parade last year. What was that experience like?
It was one of the greatest things I've ever done. Being able to unite with the LGBTQ community to represent our diversity and courage, and smiling at a sea of rainbows was just so surreal.
What message would you like to share with everyone at Pride Fort Lauderdale, who will be celebrating 40 years of Pride in South Florida?
I'd like to thank them for uniting as a community to celebrate our diversity. We can't progress and create change if we don't stick together.
As you have gotten older, how have your perspectives about the LGBTQ community changed?
The older I get, the more I come to comprehend the challenges that our community has to endure daily. When I was younger, everything was butterflies and rainbows, and in our community, it is still that (literally), but not everyone is accepting. I have so much respect for everyone in the LGBTQ community as they are all so courageous to overcome the suppression and discrimination and stand in their truth regardless of these inequalities.
How did starring in your own television show change your life?
My life really hasn't changed much. I'm still the same old me. It's just different when I go to big gathering or airports and malls because people recognize me. I'm very humbled by people whose lives I've touched.
Are there any challenges that come with your fame?
It's funny, because I never think of myself as famous. I don't feel any different than a normal teenager. Sometimes, however, being in the spotlight can be overwhelming. I don't really like attention, but knowing that my message is beneficial for so many other people out there motivates me to keep sharing my story.
Many older trans people didn’t realize they might be transgender until much later in their lives. Have you had many opportunities to speak with them? What do you talk about?
I've spoken with many older trans people. I'm even friends with several that hold special places in my heart. We often learn from one another. I admire their courage for being true to themselves after hiding who they are for so many years and I tell them how proud I am of them. It's funny because they say the same thing to me for the complete opposite reason.
Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to other young trans people?
I encourage young trans people to love themselves and embrace who they are. You need to love yourself and don't worry about what others think. Your happiness is more important than what society thinks. Don't be afraid to come out of the shadows and show the world how beautiful you are.
Have you given any thought to what career you might like pursue?
There are so many things I like to do. One day, I want to be a filmmaker and, the next day, I want to be a fashion designer. I'm glad I don't have to pick one.
What other projects do you have in the works?
Well, the Jazz Jennings doll, designed by Tonner Dolls, was just announced. It's going to be available for purchase this summer. She's the first transgender doll. It's so exciting and groundbreaking. I have a few surprises coming up in the next few months. I've been working on some cool projects, but for now I'll just keep it at that. Stay tuned!
Jazz Jennings will appear at Pride Fort Lauderdale on Sunday, Feb. 26 at Fort Lauderdale Beach Park, 1100 Seabreeze Blvd. The festival is free and open to the public. For more information, go to PrideFortLauderdale.org.