Jennifer Finney Boylan, professor of English and author of novels and bestselling memoirs, has been named the first transgender co-chair of GLAAD, the national lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender advocacy organization.
“Proud. Excited. Psyched,” Boylan said about her new responsibilities helping to lead an organization with a $6-million annual budget. The naming of a transgender person to help lead the organization’s national board of directors, she said, “points ahead to one of the directions the advocacy movement is going.”
Boylan, who has taught at Colby for 25 years and came out as transgender in 2002, said despite “breathtaking” strides made by the movement in past years, including legalization of gay marriage in more than a dozen states, there is much more work to be done.
“There are some people who feel the movement is over,” she said, “and that we should declare victory and clear the field. If you live on the coasts and your only issue is marriage equality, it might be tempting to feel that way.”
But LGBT teens, persons with HIV, and transgender adults still face rampant discrimination, Boylan said. “People lose everything,” she said. “People lose the ability to see their children. They lose their jobs.”
There has been progress beyond marriage equality, Boylan said. When she came out as transgender, she said, “I don’t think people necessarily knew what I was talking about.”
Still, Boylan was widely supported at Colby and beyond, with her writing widely lauded and her appearances on national talk shows bringing transgender issues to a broad audience. Now the Bridge, the LGBT organization at Colby, holds Transgender November (see right), with renowned and respected transgender speakers attracting crowds of receptive students.
Boylan knows that communities like that at Colby are very different from the places where many LGBT people live. “In many ways I came from an environment of privilege,” she said. “And human rights shouldn’t be a matter of privilege. Human rights should come because you’re human, not because you’re white and you happen to teach at a great and progressive-hearted school like Colby.”
She said her new responsibilities—she attended events and meetings in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles in the past two weeks—won’t change the way she teaches her literature and writing classes. If something has to give, it will be her own writing, she said, with the mornings that had been devoted to her books now spent “putting out fires.”
While the tasks ahead are somewhat daunting, she said she knows she’s working with an organization that is up to the challenges ahead. “It’s not just me,” Boylan said, laughing, “trying to change the world from my office in Miller Library.”