Pride Month: Fremont trans woman shares her journey, is honored by lawmaker

As a child, Jenna Daugherty would dress up in her sister’s and mother’s clothes around the house. But it wasn’t until she was 16, then a male student at Fremont Christian High School, that the private dress up became very public.

It was “twin day” at the high school and a classmate suggested Daugherty, the self-proclaimed class clown at the time, dress in a matching outfit of a female classmate. So, the boy donned a jean skirt, white shirt, pink cardigan sweater and a blonde wig and picked the name Jenna.

“At that point in time, it was the most amazing I ever felt,’’ she said during an interview with this news organization. “And every year, I would come back as Jenna. I had such a good reaction that I told myself if I was ever going to do this for real, Jenna was going to be my name. “

Life went on and Daugherty stayed living as a male, but in 2014, Dougherty recalled, “I told myself that at some point, Jenna is coming out for real.”

That day came in July of 2015 when Daugherty dropped her birth name and began living full-time as a trans woman, known as Jenna.

It was a powerful shift from childhood, when “I would sit in my bed at night and say, ‘please change me into a girl,’ I just wanted to be a girl.”

Since then, she has become a public advocate for the trans community. And this June, Pride Month, Assemblymember Alex Lee, who represents northern San Jose, Milpitas, Sunol and Newark, honored Daugherty as an LGBTQ community leader for his district.

Lee was elected in 2020, becoming the youngest Asian American legislator ever elected and the first openly bisexual state legislator in California history.

“Everyone should be able to live authentically and with pride. Unfortunately, that’s not the reality today despite the progress we’ve made, and trans individuals still face discrimination, violence and prejudice,’’ Lee said in a statement. “Jenna’s work to uplift the voices of the trans community is crucial to addressing the stigma against LGBTQ+ individuals. Her story as an out and proud trans community member is truly inspiring.”

Daugherty gave a speech at a recent weekend celebration sponsored by Lee, saying she has looked to lessons of the past to make certain the future is better for everyone, including trans people.

“Throughout history we are called to speak out and fight for the greater good against the forces of evil, and I believe this to be one of these times,’’ she told the crowd. “I was homeschooled in a fundamentalist Christian household and while I ultimately grew apart from my upbringing, I will always thank my parents for teaching me how to stand strong in my principles and morals, even if I’m standing alone.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, transgender is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression is different from their sex assigned at birth. Roughly 2.6 million Americans identify as transgender, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey from 2021, the first year such data was collected.

Identifying as transgender is not a trend. And it’s not new.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, transgender and non-binary people have existed for centuries, among cultures across the globe, although the issues facing transgender and non-binary people have in recent years received greater attention from policymakers, government officials and the public.

While the Pew Research Center reports that nearly half of American adults know someone who identifies as transgender, experts say that many transgender men and women often shy away from living openly for fear of backlash at school, work and in the non-trans community.

Daugherty did not want to be one of those people.

“From the day I came out, my goal has been to be an advocate,” said the 37-year-old.

When she made the decision three years ago to have breast augmentation, she decided to go completely public about the surgery and her life as a whole. She raised thousands of dollars in donations following a Gofundme campaign for the surgery, posted frequent updates on social media about the procedure and befriended and guided younger men and women who were going through their own transitions.

“We are facing an incredibly hard pushback,’’ she said. “It is of the utmost importance that everyone sees us for who we are, not just what is manufactured in narratives.”

While Daugherty has spent the last nearly 10 years advocating for herself, and her rights, over the past few years she has also begun advocating for others — homeless people, minority groups, and the LGBTQ community.

Being honored by Lee is not the first public acknowledgement of her work. Last year, Fremont, where Daugherty lives, recognized her as the official LGBTQ representative for Pride Month.

She has also been interviewed for a podcast, featured in a short documentary and spoken at schools.

Over the last year or so, she has taken to the podium at school board meetings and community rallies to speak out about the need for affordable housing for everyone and why she says the Pride flag should not be banned in the Sunol school district.

“My religious upbringing and love for socially conscious music has always fueled my passion to fight injustice, but it wasn’t until last year (that I found) my calling,’’ she said. “From an interview trying to bridge the gap between Christians and trans people to being honored by the city of Fremont, I somehow made a platform and found solidarity with activists I looked to for guidance.”

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One of those activists was Gwen Araujo, a trans woman murdered in 2002 in Newark because of her gender identity.

Daugherty was just 16 at the time and did not know Araujo, but she remembers the case well.

“Still to this day I think about her and what she would say if she saw all the progress we have made. I try as hard as I can to keep her memory alive and the best way I know how is to continue to fight for our right to exist,” Daugherty said  “Make no mistake about it, we are a beautiful and diverse group of people who will no doubt defeat the evil fighting against us after all. We have love and humanity on our side.”

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