She is one of the most recognizable faces of the Transgender movement. And she happily calls South Florida home.
“I love living here,” said Jazz Jennings in a recent interview with SFGN. “The weather of course and there’s also a lot of great communities where LGBTQ people are accepted and treated equally.”
Jennings, 14, was assigned male at birth, but has always identified as a girl and has lived as such proudly supported by her family. She is a vocal activist for transgender rights and has appeared on television programs with Barbara Walters, Katie Couric and in an Oprah Winfrey documentary in addition to speaking in front of thousands at star-studded celebrity galas to advance the cause.
“Few people in the transgender community have articulated their true gender feelings with more clarity and passion than Jazz Jennings,” said Gina Duncan, Transgender Inclusion Director for Equality Florida.
For those reasons and many more, Jennings has been chosen to receive an Achievement in Excellence Award from the South Florida Gay News.
When she spoke to SFGN from her home, Jennings was her usual full of energy self. She was preparing for soccer practice, a right she had to fight for to be allowed to play with girls her age. She spoke eloquently about the charity she co-founded, TransKids Purple Foundation, and showed off her latest mermaid tail design, an artfully done creation out of silicone that helps fund the foundation.
But it is Jazz’s transition to a young lady that has made people take notice – a journey that has not always been cause to celebrate.
“I’ve faced a lot of discrimination along my journey,” Jennings said. “At first a lot of the kids didn’t understand and they made fun of me.”
In middle school, she’s been called an “it” and other names were hurled at her, names that her mother Jeanette does not want to see printed.
“Some kids are really mean and judgmental,” Jennings said. “I just wish more people would get to know someone before they create an opinion of them.”
Furthering education of transgender issues, Jennings has created a series of YouTube videos and co-authored a children’s book, “I Am Jazz.” She is quick to credit her family for their love and support, acknowledging their important role in her transformation. Jazz is the youngest of Jeanette and Greg’s four children.
“The most inspiring people to me our my family because they have taught me about unconditional love and that you have to treat everybody with respect,” Jennings said. “They have shaped me and without them I do not think I would be the same person.”
It is that strong family unit that fills Jazz with a spirit of gratitude as she and so many other transgender people cope with the recent news of the tragic suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn. Struggling with her identity, Leelah committed suicide during the holidays, leaving behind a note of feeling hopeless in her staunchly Christian conservative family.
“It’s a very sad story that we can all learn from,” Jazz said. “I wish she didn’t give up and she had kept on going. It really upsets me and I wish I could have talked to her … maybe she would have found the right person one day and lived a great life. I always say if you give up now you never know what is ahead.”