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  WINDY CITY TIMES

Grayson Alexander talks history-making role, politics, future plans
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2019-08-23

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When Grayson Alexander was growing up he never dreamed he would make history as the first out transgender person to become an Illinois General Assembly page, an accomplishment he achieved in a work-study program during the second semester of his senior year at Springfield ( Illinois ) High School.

Alexander did not know this was the first transgender page until he was preparing to testify in front of the Senate Public Health Committee and someone mentioned it to him.

"I was stunned and proud because I had broken a barrier," said Alexander.

Alexander was able to both be a page and advocate for the LGBTQ community after getting clearance by the Clerk of the Senate as long as the additional work did not take place on the state's time.

The process involving the Modernization of Vital Records Act—which allows transgender people to correct the gender marker on their birth certificate without surgery—happened while Alexander was a page, and he advocated for the bill with Equality Illinois and the ACLU.

"It was my first lobbying experience," said Alexander. "I went to watch advocates speak with legislators, but ended up sharing my story. A little later on, I spoke at a press conference for the bill, met with my representative, lobbied the Republican leader, wrote op-eds and eventually testified in front of the Senate Public Health Committee alongside Sen. Toi Hutchinson. I got to be on the floor when it was voted on, and seeing it passed may be one of the most emotional moments of my life."

The seeds of Alexander's advocacy work began at an early age under his mother's guidance. He spent his childhood in Springfield, where his mother primarily raised him and his two older sisters. Later on, he gained two step-parents and four older step-siblings when his divorced parents married others.

"I did not fit in school, but my mom helped me redirect my discomfort into serving others," said Alexander. "Some of my earliest memories are helping her cook and distribute meals for the homeless who slept at Springfield's library, and climbing into our car to go get groceries with a blind senior citizen she had been paired with through a volunteer program.

"I was absolutely stoked when I realized politics could help uplift people. I vividly remember watching a 2008 Obama campaign speech and being inspired by the hope for a better future. I immediately grabbed a piece of paper and wrote down everything I would change to make the world better."

This became personal for Alexander when he entered high school and was assured by the administrators that he would be able to use the men's restrooms. That all changed when Alexander was stopped by a security guard two weeks into his freshman year when he was leaving the men's bathroom.

"When I went to the school's administrators, I found myself sitting outside the office for three hours while listening to my rights being stripped away inside," said Alexander. "I went home defeated, and with access to only a single-stall restroom in the far annex of the school. For the next two years, my mom and I fought to regain my bathroom access, and won. My junior year, I sat down with the administration and superintendent to affirm transgender students' right to the restrooms that align with their gender identity."

Alexander is currently a junior at Loyola University where he majors in political science and minors in sociology. He explained that being a page made him realize that he loved public service. He plans on working in policy development or a lobbying position to improve the lives of Illinoisans, especially hoping to ensure that marginalized groups are treated equitably.

From 2016 to 2018, Alexander worked with the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance's Youth Committee, where he planned and executed their annual Action Camp for LGBTQ youth and allies, hosted two workshops and was a camp counselor.

Alexander was also an intern in both Reps. Kelly Cassidy's and Ann Williams' offices, where he primarily interacted with constituents to navigate state agencies on their behalf. He called these experiences "transformative" and said, "It was eye-opening to see how much we rely on the government for vital services, and how important it is that those services run smoothly."

"This last semester, I got to sit in on some meetings about the recreational cannabis bill when I interned with Cassidy, and I am so proud to have been able to provide support to her office as that massive bill was moved through the legislature and most recently signed into law by Gov. JB Pritzker," said Alexander.

Alexander has been an Equality Illinois Community Advisory Group member since October 2016. He participates in monthly conference calls, volunteers at events and attends legislative advocacy days in Springfield. Recently, Alexander was at the Equality Illinois Springfield Pride Fest booth doing a petition drive for the LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum bill and gender neutral single-stall bathrooms.

For the past year, Alexander has also served as a member of Rep. Robin Kelly's LGBTQ round table where he attends meeting and gives Kelly feedback on ways she can best support the LGBTQ community.

Last year, Alexander was named one of this publication's 30 Under 30 award recipients.

Alexander carves out time to watch political theory video essays on the internet, dramas on Netflix and infotainment comedy shows. He also loves to paint, write, explore Sangamon County and lounge around with his dog Millie.

Alexander's message to everyone is, "Say yes when opportunities arise, even if you are scared or unsure where they will lead."


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