Caitlyn Jenner's presence on the glossy cover of the July issue of Vanity Fair magazine incited a powerful moment of visibility for the transgender community, including the one in Lexington.
But the moment was soon followed by a vitriolic backlash that affected more than the Olympian turned Hollywood reality star.
"I worked in social justice for 10 years and I got emotional reading some of the hate online," said J'Lissabeth Faughn, a Lexington-based transgender educator and social justice activist. "It's really vicious."
The magazine cover — which featured the transgender woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner — and the publicity from it, provided a false sense of security to many transgender individuals who were inspired to come out, but found much of the world not accepting of their identities, Faughn said.
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Faughn has dedicated her life to educating others about transgender and social justice issues as a speaker to schools and companies around the country. She has worked as an educator and LGBT director at institutions including University of California Berkeley, University of Missouri, University of Alabama Birmingham and Sacramento State University.
She served as the first male-to-female transsexual director of a Women's Resource Center and the first open transgender Director of a Multi-Cultural Center at Sacramento State.
Some of the programs she offers include, "Unlearning homophobia" and "Beyond diversity toward inclusion" workshops and "Surrendering privilege," a talk in which she speaks about her personal journey as a transgender woman.
Faughn's colleague and fellow social justice speaker, Marica Purdy, an educator at Iowa State University, said Faughn presents difficult topics in an open dialogue format, which is crucial to fostering understanding and acceptance.
Faughn moved to Lexington for its lower living expenses and to be closer to her aging mother and sister, she said. She now travels around the country to speak about transgender and social justice issues.
Faughn also works for a national suicide ideation hotline with the GLBT National Help Center, where she said she spoke recently with a young girl who, after seeing Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair, came out as transgender to unreceptive parents.
"People really do struggle with trans identity on a different level than they do sexual identity," Faughn said.
She cited a 2014 study conducted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law that found that 41 percent of transgender individuals report attempting suicide in their lifetime, which exceeds the 4.6 national average and 10 to 20 percent of lesbian and gay people who reported suicide attempts.
The study also found higher suicide attempt rates in young people and those who experienced rejection from family members, discrimination, victimization or violence. Ignorance and misunderstanding often drive hatred toward transgender folks, she said.
"What I think is so difficult for people to wrap their heads around is most of us are raised in this binary system where you're either male or female," she said. "We've really based our entire society around that."
Faughn faced opposition from several institutions while pursuing her career in higher education.
But she described the incidents of discrimination as "minor" compared to the job discrimination most transgender people experience. Part of her work includes teaching the transgendered about resources they can pursue in these cases.
Faughn's experience drives her to help other transgender people, she said.
She first came out with her transgender identity in the 1990s while attending Murray State University for undergraduate study.
"All I knew up until I was in my 20s was Sweet Transvestite from The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Jerry Springer, like 'my boyfriend likes to wear my underwear,' and that was it," she said.
The transgender community is still as much hidden today as 20 years ago, even in areas seen as "promise lands" for LGBT people like San Francisco and New York City, Faughn said.
"It's not easy to be trans anywhere," she said. "In areas like New York City I think there's easier access to resources and you have organizations that have been established, but as far as the day to day and even the visibility, I have yet to see where it's really easy."
Events like Lexington's Pride Festival — which will take place downtown Saturday — provide opportunities for LGBT visibility, so transgender people can find resources and others with whom they can relate, Faughn said.
The event is important for this area especially because "we're in a state where not everyone in every part of the state gets to be proud of who they are every day," she said. "People save money and come for the weekend to see there are people working for their rights and agents of change happening."
Rural areas often offer less acceptance than bigger cities, such as rural Columbia, Mo., where Faughn began her male-to-female transition.
Purdy knew Faughn before her transition when she was a graduate student in the LGBT office at Iowa State University. The two taught classes together and volunteered as part of the founding faculty at Campus Pride, a summer institute for LGBT youth.
Purdy works with Faughn to develop programs for trans education, such as a discussion on body image for LGBT people, which they both present at college campuses. She considers Faughn her mentor and close friend, and admires Faughn's sense of humor, openness and empathy.
"J'Lissabeth thinks deeply all the time, not just about her own issues but the struggles of others, whether that is identity, race or religion," she said. "She's just a really rare jewel."
Faughn considers her identity a privilege, because she gets to view the world "in a very unique way only very view people get to," from the perspective of a perceived male and now a perceived female.
Faughn hopes society progresses to the point all transgender individuals can view their identity positively without fear.
"I hope all trans folk get to that place where they can really be proud and recognize what a unique gift it is," she said.
In the meantime, she will continue to educate and lead the charge toward equality and inclusion.
"I've broken down a lot of barriers because I want trans folks' experiences to be much better than what mine were." Faughn said. "I'm so thankful to live in a time where I can lead that topic."