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AIDS Issues Update Blog

Dispatches from the fight against homelessness and AIDS

I AM GENDA: Rachael Therien

Posted by Sunny Bjerk , April 18, 2013

I AM GENDA: Rachael Therien

Photography by Arnaldo Vargas


“I AM GENDA” is a new feature on the AIDS Issues Update blog which aims to amplify the voices of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers and people across the country to illustrate the need for gender expression non-discrimination protections. Have a story to share? Email Housing Works’ Communications Manager Sunny Bjerk at s.bjerk@housingworks.org, and sign our petition to pass GENDA in New York in 2013!

Rachael Therien, 55, New York City—GENDA Advocate

“I’m originally from Toronto, Canada, born in 1958, but I’ve spent half of my adult life in New York City. I left home in 1977 as a gay male, enrolling in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and after graduating, I pursued a career in acting. Eventually I left acting and began working in the hospitality industry, but then due to personal problems, I left and entered treatment. And after fourteen months of treatment, I came out as a woman.

What’s important about my story is that I suppressed gender identity for twenty years because I didn’t think the world would accept me living my life as a woman. I did everything I could to live my life as who I was not—a man—but as I sobered up, all of my issues came to the fore and I no choice but to deal with them.

If there’s any wisdom I can pass on, it’s this: if you want to be healthy, you’ve got to live your truth and live as your true identity. When you’re not able to be who you are, it affects your whole health, physically, emotionally, and mentally.

And to me, GENDA will protect your truth and your freedom to live as who you are, on the job, at home, and everywhere else.

Once, I had a doctor who wrote me a prescription under my old [birth] name, not my legal name. I tried to explain this to him but he wouldn’t listen and wouldn’t change the prescription. And since I can’t legally be two people, I was unable to get that medication. So to me, the power of GENDA means you’re not a joke, you’re not a toy; you’re a human being.

I’ve been very involved in advocacy for years. In 2008 I went to Albany and spoke with two legislators, one who was friendly to GENDA and one who wasn’t. The first was George Latimer, and I felt like he took the time to listen to me and what GENDA could do for transgender New Yorkers. The second legislator, however, was not GENDA-friendly. I told her that a lot of transgender girls are beaten or thrown out of their homes because they aren’t able to be who they are, but she wasn’t interested in what I had to say. She told me that her job was to represent her constituents, and that a survey showed that GENDA legislation was at the end of their list. I sure feel bad for the transgender voters in her district.

As for me, I am now very involved in the Rainbow Heights Club (Brooklyn), where I facilitate and lead a group on self-esteem for other transgender individuals. I’m also a volunteer at the Sylvia Rivera Law project.”

Follow Housing Works on Twitter @housingworks and learn more about our transgender advocacy at passgendanow.org.

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