Debra Davis (right) with her daughter, Lisa, at the
Rainbow Families Educational Forum.
Rainbow Families - One
Journal for lesbian, gay, bisexual and
transgender parents & prospective parents
By Jenny Simmonds
I lived in two totally different worlds. It was a fractured time when there was two of me. I decided to be out at work. I needed to just be one person, explained Debra Davis at the Rainbow Families Parent Education Forum at Family & Children's Service on June 2nd.
Debra Davis, Executive Director of the Gender Education Center, joined her daughter to speak publicly for the first time together at this intimate forum. The duo took turns sharing their coming out experiences and what their current relationship looks like. Lisa, now an adult with three children of her own, shared candidly about her experience growing up with a transgender parent. I had two loving and gentle parents growing up, Lisa explained. That is probably why I took it so well when I was told. I was raised to respect diversity. When asked whether Lisa had any early recollection of her father being transgender, Lisa remembered she and her sister finding jewelry and make up hidden in her fathers toolbox. They suspected that there was either some strange affair happening or there was something going on with dad. Lisa was 13 years-old when she learned that her father was transgender. However, despite Davis coming out to close friends and family, she remained living in two worlds for many years.
In 1998 she made the decision to come out at work and live as a woman permanently. But unfortunately she was outed at work slightly earlier than she was ready. Being a Minneapolis Public School librarian at Southwest high school, the news spread quickly that there was a transgender employee in the Minneapolis Public Schools who was going to transition while maintaining her current position. An immediate decision had to be made as to what to do. Davis remained adamant that she wanted the same job in the same school at the same library. I did not want to be put in some basement answering letters.
Davis left the school on a Friday as a man and returned on Monday as Debra Davis. The man was never to exist again- if he ever really existed in the first place, she recalls. Everyone in the school was involved with her transition, from the bus drivers, to the kitchen staff, teachers and engineers. She wanted to avoid as much misinformation and innuendoes as possible so the day following her public debut at work as Debra, the students in their home room period had a twenty-minute education forum on transgender issues including a six page question and answer handout for teachers to use with their students. The school principal, teachers, superintendent and students were all very respectful and receptive to the librarians transition.
Davis found her advocacy voice early on because she has been a pioneer and crusader among the transgender community for over 15 years. Now a retired Minneapolis Public School employee, Davis is founder and executive director of the Gender Education Center. She spends her life work educating, supporting and advocating for differently gendered people. She speaks openly to groups all over the country, including Universities and workplaces. In the last 15 years she has given over 800 presentations in over 20 states and has won dozens of awards. She is one of this years 2005 Pride Award winners.
When Davis is not out changing the world to make it more equitable and just, she spends time with her extended family. Lisas three children beg to see Debra on a regular basis. Her grandchildren lovingly refer to their grandmother as Debbie and there is little confusion in their minds about her gender identity. Her granddaughter was three when Debra transitioned and asked questions that were answered honestly and openly. Debra recounted a story of her granddaughter counting the boys and the girls in the car. When she got to Debra the young granddaughter paused for a moment and said, Grandpa, youre a girl.
People sometimes ask how I can have such an open mind, said Lisa, To me its quite simple. There is no other way to be.
For more information about Debra Davis or the Gender Education Center, go to her web site at www.debradavis.org or stop by her booth at this years Pride Celebration and say Hi to her and her grandchildren.
Jenny Simmonds is a training and Curriculum development specialist for Family & Children's Service. She is also a Rainbow Families member and volunteer.