Jessica Lynn, whose engagement with students over the last three years has shot her from relative obscurity as a roving community college speaker to a political force in the new movement toward greater programming in transgender education, announced recently that she will return to Mississippi in spite of new state measure, HB-1523.
As a transgender speaker, Lynn’s foray into the state’s largest university, Mississippi State University, is a leap in on-campus visibility for a movement that has faced criticism for shying away from particularly conservative states. During the last and now-ongoing school terms, Lynn has spoken at some 60 universities, who among others include the University of Pennsylvania, the Kinsey Institute, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Texas. Her return as a Keynote speaker is expected to ignite the local LGBT and political communities at a time when the anti-gay rhetoric surrounding Mississippi’s new bill has already proven divisive.
Ms. Lynn, a Santa Maria, Calif. native whose nationwide speaking tour will continue into next year, visits amid a fair share of opposition.
Last week, Mississippi’s General Assembly voted to allow people with religious objections to deny certain services to gay couples. In fact, critics have called HB-1523 “a free pass to open-ended discrimination,” the New York Times reports, just one in the recent string of anti-LGBT house bills. Last month, North Carolina voted to bar city and county legislators from passing new protections against discrimination, winning HB-2 by a margin of 32-0.
In effect, s0me 50 years of non-discrimination efforts went null, including local employment ordinances concerning fair wages, benefits, employee protections, and leave policies. The same goes for Mississippi, leaving critics again at odds with the inactivity of the Human Rights Campaign.
“I think it’s one of the most aggressive bills that we have seen that would target L.G.B.T people,” told Eunice Rho, advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, to the New York Times. “This explicit targeting of specific populations, many of whom are already fairly marginalized and face discrimination in everyday life, poses huge problems.”
“My message is purely educational,” Lynn tells Passport. “I want these students to learn that there is absolutely no reason to allow for the sort of hate and discrimination that’s been written into law in their state of Mississippi.”
“As an educator, I’m here to demystify gender identity, because when people learn that we’re just normal, everyday people, they aren’t so apt to throw stones. While a few transgender celebrities have brought some awareness to the forefront, the rest of us are still very much fighting for our lives, and for the simple right to use the proper restrooms, even.”
Dr. Emily D. Ryalls, Assistant Professor of Communication and Gender Studies at Mississippi State University, writes that students have found Ms. Lynn, whose blunt, fireside style often appeals even to self-described conservatives, “powerful, tragic, and fascinating.” Due to her transition, Lynn lost parental rights to her youngest son in a Texas court ruling in 2013, despite mounting evidence that she was the more fit parent. Her name was then stripped off of her child’s birth certificate, making it the only case of its kind in U.S. history.
“Jessica’s goal is to change the world’s views of the trans community one person at a time,” writes Ryalls, “and there is no doubt she is accomplishing this task. Many of my students left her talk and called their parents and friends to share her story. Jessica’s impact, particularly in the south, cannot be overstated.”