Quinn Collins, the transgender man who inspired Chicago's first PFLAG ( Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays ) support group for parents of transgender kids, was buried last weekend by a family that set a community example by supporting him unequivocally through transition. Collins was killed in early hours of Nov. 1 in New Buffalo, Mich., when his stopped 2007 Honda Accord was rear-ended on I-94. He was 38.
Quinn "Q" Collins was born Nov. 17, 1971, on Long Island, N.Y. He was the fourth child in a family of five kids ( Thomas, Maureen, Kathleen and the late Michael, who passed away at a very young age ) . Described as a "typical middle child" by his mother, Arlene Collins, Quinn grew up playing tricks on teachers and friends. In high school, he got in trouble for cutting class and roller-skating through the hallways and for spiking the punch at a high school dance.
Collins spent much of his free time reading and writing. He loved music and foreign films. His family described him as a "fabulous dancer."
In 1992, Collins' family moved to Chicago. Collins lived between New York City and Chicago for years, but relocated to Chicago when his father, John H. Collins, became ill with a brain tumor and passed away.
A resident of the Andersonville neighborhood, Collins regularly attended "Formerly Known As," the queer Chicago dance party held monthly at Big Chicks in Uptown. In 2002, he came out to his mother as transgender and told her that he wanted to transition from female to male. She vowed to support him.
"He knew at a young age," Arlene Collins told Windy City Times. She regretted that she had failed to see her child wrestling with gender for years.
Quinn struggled through transition. He was self-conscious and feared for his safety. His family worried, too. Collins had reported being harassed by police and strangers.
Quinn wanted Arlene to have a community of parents who dealt with similar issues. After some convincing, Arlene attended a PFLAG meeting, but she found that most of the parents were dealing with having gay and lesbian kids, not transgender kids. Collins told his mother that there were countless transgender people whose parents had rejected them, and that there were many parents with transgender kids in need of spaces to talk.
Arlene decided to open her home to them. In January 2009, she held the first PFLAG group for parents of transgender children. "I thought I was going to be sitting here by myself for the first meeting," she said. But other parents came, and the meetings grew slowly. Arlene began speaking publicly about her son.
Heartened by his mother's effort, Quinn, too came regularly to the meetings. He educated parents who were afraid to ask their own kids about transgender issues and used his own experience to counsel them through difficult questions.
"He was such an inspiration to other parents because he was so open," Arlene said. "It wasn't that he was loud. It wasn't that he was boisterous. It was that when he spoke, he said something."
In June 2010, Quinn moved to New Buffalo in search of peace outside the city. He told very few people that he was transgender. One night while driving home from work, Quinn was randomly stopped by a police officer. The officer questioned Quinn about his identification until Quinn conceded that he was transgender. Quinn had not broken the law, so the officer let him go. But after that, Arlene said, Quinn worried for his safety. He feared that the officer might out him as trans in the community. Arlene said that Quinn was probably avoiding the road where he got pulled over when he took I-94 home on Halloween. But no one knows why he pulled his car over. The road was dark, and Quinn's car was black. A woman driving with her family in a van failed to see the car, which was partially sticking out into her lane. Quinn was killed on impact.
Quinn's sister, Maureen Piechaczek, said that her brother had only recently come into himself. "He was at his peak," she said.
Quinn was in the process of moving out of his family's house in Michigan into his own apartment. He was working a job he loved as a waiter. His transition had gone smoothly, and he was passing as male. He was confident for the first time, Arlene said.
Arlene Collins said she will continue the PFLAG transgender support group. She also said she intends to fight for transgender rights and speak out more. " [ People ] can't assume that a family is embarrassed because their kid is trans," she said. "That is unforgivable."
Occasionally, Quinn would lament that he was 38 years old and had yet to do the things he wanted in life, like write more and find a close community. But Arlene told him that he was actually young because he had only recently transitioned. "I told him, You just started your life,'" she said. "He was himself for the first time."