Last year when I was in Davos, I received a text from my 11-year-old saying “I’m bi.” The next text said, “Never mind, I’m too young to know.” A month later, my child made it very clear that she was straight and transgender. Although assigned male at birth, she had known for a long time that she was female. And so our family’s gender journey began, with a very steep learning curve. From the start, our love and support were never in question. But we faced a personal challenge: how do we as a family nurture and celebrate our transgender child?
I was not expecting Davos to play a role in our personal challenge. But this year it did.
I’ve been part of the World Economic Forum Community since 2005, first as a Technology Pioneer, then as a Young Global Leader, and now as Co-chair of the Global Future Council on Human Enhancement. The Annual Meeting in Davos opened my eyes to new industries, cultures, and perspectives. Every day of my life, I use the leadership and networking skills I’ve gained from the Forum’s community.
I don’t remember attending any sessions on gender or sexuality issues during my six previous visits to Davos. This year, however, the official programme included two sessions (though not on the main stage): “We Need to Talk About LGBTQ Identity” and “Getting to Equal and The Power of LGBT Inclusive Cities”.
In addition, a luncheon was hosted by GLAAD, Omnicom Media Group, and the Ariadne Getty Foundation called “Progress in Peril: How business, philanthropy and media can lead to achieving 100% acceptance for LGBTQ people”. At the luncheon, GLAAD, a global LGBTQ advocacy organization, released the findings of their fourth annual Accelerating Acceptance report. The report found, for the first time in four years, that LGBTQ acceptance is slipping in the US while discrimination is on the rise. GLAAD, however, reminded us that we all need to join together with world leaders, corporate leaders, and other Davos attendees to fight for acceptance.
GLAAD wasn’t alone in calling for change. The presidents of Microsoft and The Dow Chemical Company spoke on their panel alongside senior executives at EY, Omnicom, and PayPal. A renowned host of CNN International moderated the panel in a room that was not only at capacity, but also had Davos attendees standing at the back to be a part of it.
My husband and I are grateful every day for those who have worked over time to educate and fight for transgender young people. Our family has benefitted from so many of the battles that organizations like GLAAD, the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality are fighting. We wanted to share some of the highlights of our journey and offer a look into what life is like for parents like us:
Our health provider is on board. Thank you Kaiser Permanente. Many transgender children experience gender dysphoria, defined by the World Professional Association for Transgender Health as “discomfort or distress that is caused by a discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth.” We knew that affirming medical and psychological care can be life-saving for transgender youth, but we had no idea if we would get the support we needed through our healthcare provider. I’ve been with Kaiser Permanente for 20 years, and like most organizations, it does some things well and some things not so well. As we learned, Kaiser fully supports transgender children’s physical and mental health and the process was seamless. During the healthcare community dinner in Davos, I had the pleasure of being able to personally thank Bernard Tyson, CEO of Kaiser Permanente, for his organization’s incredible support of my child and so many others like her.
Our daughter is supported at school. Thank you Montgomery County, Maryland Public Schools. Our daughter planned to start middle school as the girl she knew herself to be. We, like many others, had been following transgender teenager Gavin Grimm’s fight in the judicial system for protection for transgender individuals under Title IX. We heard from talking with other parents of transgender kids that our county is generally progressive and that LGBTQ rights are strong in our home state of Maryland. But it isn’t about generalities when it is your own child. We were still nervous approaching the school. We wanted our daughter’s gender identity to be honoured and for her to be protected. All students deserve a safe school environment, and forcing transgender students into restrooms that don’t match their gender identity puts their safety at risk. My daughter and transgender teens like her deserve the same fair chance to succeed in school and prepare for their future. Happily, after one call, one meeting, and one piece of paper, my daughter was fully registered in school with a strong support system in place. Thank you Gavin and the ACLU for continuing this fight. We know it wasn’t about the water fountains in the 60’s, and it’s not about the restrooms now.
Our daughter is an All- Star Cheer Gymnast. Thank you USASF. Can you imagine telling your child that they aren’t allowed to be on a sports team with their friends? Other families told us of really tough battles around their transgender kids being deprived of playing competitive sports. We knew about Mack Beggs, a Texas boy who is forced to wrestle girls because Texas won’t recognize him as the boy he is. But once again, people before us have blazed a trail so that my child can participate in the sport she loves. Since the age of eight, my daughter has been a cheer gymnast with the United States All-Star Federation (USASF) for Cheer and Dance Teams. The association’s doctor even called me to check in and make sure she was getting the support she needed.
We are not alone. Last but not least, my husband and I and our older child support our daughter with unconditional love. She knows that we are on the journey as a family and we have her back. We were lucky to find a book to help us express that love in gestures that help rather than inadvertently hurt her, The Gender Creative Child by Dr Diane Ehrensaft, Chief Psychologist at the Adolescent Gender Center Clinic at the University of California San Francisco. The book had a chapter on every concern that went through our heads as parents, from “How will anyone see our strapping boy as a girl?” to “What if this is a phase?” to one of the hardest ones, “How do I let go of (11 years of) expectations for my child?”
Don’t get me wrong, there have been challenges to accepting our transgender child, and my family has also confronted discrimination head on. We were lucky to have Dr Ehrensaft’s book as a knowledgeable and compassionate road-map. And to think that when we found it, the book had been out for less than a year. Our journey would have been harder without it.
A great Davos moment
As always, there were many noteworthy conversations this year in Davos. There were seven female co-chairs at this year's Forum; the blockchain dominated programming; Yo-Yo Ma spoke on the need for culture to survive and thrive; and the sitting US President showed up for the first time in 17 years along with 10 other heads of state.
I came to Davos specifically to moderate the launch of the Earth Bio-Genome Project and to discuss the recently published survey results on What Americans Think of Human Enhancement Technologies. But the most powerful conversation I had was with pop culture icon Gigi Gorgeous.
You may not know Gigi, but my daughter has shown me several of her inspirational YouTube videos. A transgender woman and the subject of YouTube’s first-ever feature-length documentary, Gigi came to Davos for the first time this year to support GLAAD’s announcement. Obviously, we took a selfie to send to my daughter! Gigi then went beyond that and wrote a beautiful letter to my daughter that begins, “You are so so so strong for coming out as your authentic self …”
This year in Davos, I realized that, beyond all the big ideas, past all the fancy global conversations, is the simple, humbling and powerful fact that we are all on that same journey to becoming our authentic self. And we all deserve the freedom to be that person.
Davos also affirmed something that Dr Ehrensaft points out in her book: cultural, medical, and legal landscapes are changing rapidly. It’s clear that the next generation of leaders will view gender and identity much differently than we do now. LGBTQ issues have not been on the main stage at Davos, but given my long relationship with the World Economic Forum and after seeing the caliber of talent and the sheer excitement in the room during the GLAAD panel, I know Davos is ready and will lead the way forward for my daughter and all the children like her.
The news today is full of stories about LGBTQ children who have suffered and, in some cases, died by suicide because their parents, doctors, schools, or communities did not support them. In fact, over 40% of transgender Americans have said they attempted suicide - not thought about suicide, but actually attempted it. Last year the United States saw 26 murders of transgender women fuelled by hate violence. Transgender people in the US and abroad face high levels of unemployment, homelessness, and poverty. This is a community that needs the global minds at Davos to come together and commit to change.
I’m thankful to Kaiser Permanente, GLAAD, and all the brave young transgender role models like Jazz Jennings, Nicole Maines, and Gavin Grimm, who have changed not only policy, but hearts and minds as well. As a mom, I promise to join in and continue that mission.
And after this year’s Annual Meeting, I can add Gigi Gorgeous and Davos to that list, for making me a better parent and advocate for my daughter.