The GenderCool Project started when founders Gearah Goldstein and Jen and John Grosshandler teamed up to create an organization dedicated to spotlighting the stories of transgender teens across the country under the banner "Who we are, not What we are."
"We just could not sit back any longer," said Jen Grosshandler. "GenderCool is filling a gap in a national conversation, and we are succeeding beyond imagination. We are cutting through the inaccurate, sensational anti-trans noise by helping the country actually meet our children. We know that when people see who these children are as thriving, successful, altruistic young people, their minds open up and they want to be supportive."
"Even when the administration is hyper-focused on restricting people who identify as transgender, we continue to do what we have always done," said Goldstein, who identifies as transgender. "These young people are living their truths and working every day to help replace people's opinions with the experience of actually meeting a person who identifies as transgender. These kids are writers, future politicians, athletes, scholars and Broadway hopefuls and want to be treated like any other young person."
Currently the organization has six championsDaniel and Gia, from Connecticut; Nicole, who lives in Massachusetts; Landon, from Texas; Stella, who lives in Washington; and Grosshandler's daughter, Chazzie, from the Chicago suburbs. Chazzie's family story was the inspiration behind the campaign.
Daniel said his coming out process has been smooth across the board and he plans on going to college and supporting causes he cares about.
"My biggest hope for the future is to be in a happy, healthy relationship and have one or two kids," said Daniel. "Being a part of GenderCool makes me feel like I am able to be a role model and help others feel more comfortable in their own skin."
Gia said she was worried about how her parents would react when she came out to them, but when she slipped a note under their bedroom door they were very supportive and immediately helped her get the medical services she needed. What surprised Gia the most is the support she has gotten from the conservative town where she lives.
"I want to do more public speaking about GenderCool's message to show who transgender kids are, not what we are," said Gia. "As for the future, I want to go to college and be an entrepreneur with my own business. I like to think outside of the box."
Gia explained that being a part of GenderCool has been amazing because she is able to advocate for herself and other transgender people on a national platform.
Landon explained that he is grateful to have the support of his family, friends and school since he came out.
"This has allowed me not only to survive, but to thrive," said Landon. "I am able to use my voice and tell my story as a way of not only giving back to the transgender community, but also being the person for others that I needed when I was younger. The GenderCool Project is affecting real change through increasing awareness about transgender youth, in addition to conveying that we are multifaceted people who are not defined solely by our transgender identities."
As for Landon's career aspirations, he said he is considering social work, law or media. He explained that doing advocacy work for marginalized communities on the whole will always be a part of his life.
Nicole said she has a very supportive mom and school "with administrators and students who 'get it.'"
"My school principal said I was his greatest teacher because I taught him to be a better person," said Nicole.
When Nicole is not studying or doing GenderCool and other social justice advocacy she can be found performing as a singer, which she has done since she was five years old, and onstage, having done more than 40 musical theater productions. Nicole explained that she would be performing the national anthem for the 2018-19 Boston Bruins season and has Broadway aspirations in her future.
"I am proud to stand with the other Champions to change the conversation about who transgender kids are," said Nicole. "This campaign is making a difference in moving the narrative by focusing on the positive things about being transgender teens and the amazing experiences we have had."
Stella has also received support from family, friends and her school throughout her journey. She said she wants to be the first transgender U.S. president. Stella explained that she fell in love with history after listening to the Hamilton musical soundtrack.
"I love the mix between music and history and it is a fun way to learn," said Stella.
Being a part of GenderCool has been an interesting journey for Stella. She said that most times she thinks of herself as an average teen but then it hits her that she has this platform to speak out to a national audience.
Although Chazzie was born into a household full of male role models ( three older brothers ), she knew as soon as she could communicate that she was a girl. With full family and community support, Chazzie socially transitioned in 5th grade. Her mission now is all about paying it forward.
"I want to help others be their true, authentic selves," said Chazzie. "I tell people it is ok to be you because you are awesome."
Recently, the Champions gathered in Chicago to meet with employees and senior executives at Fortune 500 companies Allstate, Citibank and Conagra Brands.
The Champions said these meetings were an amazing experience because they got to talk to everyone about what it means to be a transgender person. Landon explained that it was great to hear that many companies that operate in places like Texas, where there are no laws protecting LGBTQ people, makes him feel better about his future employment prospects.
"Having people come up to us afterward to thank us for being there with them was great," said Daniel. "Even though I was nervous, I felt better afterward because of what people took away from the experience."
"Someone came up to me after we gave our presentation at one of the companies and said I changed their views and was an inspiration and should keep doing what I am doing," said Gia.
"The fact that they invited us to speak about our experiences in order to better their policies and inclusion efforts across the board was so empowering because we felt like we were heard, especially since we are young," said Landon. "It is great to know that we are playing a part in how these policies are going to affect others now and in the future."
They also toured the city and the Center on Halsted, saw the Howard Brown Health queer mural, and were present at the unveiling of the Legacy Walk's newest bronze plaques honoring Marsha P. Johnson and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky in October. Local transgender icon Gloria Allen was with the champions during the dedication ceremony and mural visit.
After the Legacy Walk induction ceremony, the Champions said they were honored to be included amongst the others in attendance.
"To be able to take a look back in history and see who worked to make the world safer for the LGBTQ community was very powerful," said Daniel. "Visiting with Mama Gloria was a true reminder of the privilege and safety I have felt in my life. I felt supported and loved being in the city of Chicago."
"The ceremony was an inspiring event," said Gia. "Meeting Mama Gloria, who has gone through so much in her life, gives me a new perspective on how things have changed throughout time. The recognition of transgender icons with plaques shows that Chicago supports us."
"Being able to witness history with the completion of the Legacy Walk was an unforgettable moment, especially in the current climate where transgender rights and existence are under attack," said Landon. "I felt a deep sense of pride and power when the Marsha P. Johnson plaque was unveiled."
"The dedication ceremony and talking to Gloria were very emotional and overwhelming experiences," said Nicole. "It was incredible to see how far we have come but also how much more work has to be done. I felt honored to meet everyone and hear how our work as the Champions has helped them."
"It was pretty overwhelming to be in a place that is centered around the LGBTQ community," said Stella. "The Center on Halsted tour was incredible and the Legacy Walk is hard to put into words for me. To see the people who created a pathway for me to feel safe and accepted was significant and powerful. Chicago will always feel like a special place to me."
As for what they will incorporate into their lives going forward, they all said spreading their positive message in their own communities and the wider world are vital to educate more people about their lives both together and separately.
GenderCool has also been covered by a number of mainstream media outlets including the Today Show, the New York Times, Rolling Stone Magazine, People, ABC News, NBC News, Pink News and WGN-TV. Additionally, more than 43 countries have reached out to the campaign with messages of hope and gratitude.
See gendercool.org/ .