Opinion: I’ve lived a full and productive life, but I’m one of the lucky ones

By Bobbi Ullinger

Whenever I’m invited to speak, whether at a special program, a class or a church group, I’m often asked to provide a short bio to include in advertisements, program notes or for the MC to use in their introduction. I hate writing my own bio. I’m always afraid that I’ll sound conceited on one hand, or under qualified on the other. But today I’m going to take a risk and tell you a bit about myself.

I have lived in Kent for the past 48 years, moving here from the Pittsburgh area to attend Kent State. I met my wife there, and we decided to settle down here and raise our family. That was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. We have five kids, all grown up now, and six grandkids.

In 1979, I took the job of firefighter/paramedic for the Kent Fire Department, and within 11 years I moved first to the rank of lieutenant and then captain. During that time I ran into fires when most people were running out, I delivered babies as they took their first breath and I cared for people as they took their last breath. I taught much of a generation how to stop, drop and roll, and to crawl low under the smoke. And I taught firefighters from around the area how to use ropes to rescue people from great heights. I had a good and fulfilling career, and in 2005 after 26 years, I retired to start my second career.

Many of you have seen me throughout the summers as I set up and operate sound systems for concerts in Hometown Plaza, as well as many of the festivals and other events downtown and throughout the region, or as I and my colleagues install sound and video systems throughout the region’s schools, churches and businesses. I have been truly fortunate to be able to say that I’ve had two careers where I’ve loved going to work every day.

I have been active in our church, not only sitting in the pews on Sunday, but also teaching Bible studies, working on committees and occasionally filling in at the pulpit Sunday mornings. My Christian faith is very strong and very important to me.

As I’m heading toward my 67th year, I can say that I’ve had a very full and productive life. Although I am not rich by any stretch of the imagination, I have been very fortunate indeed.

But what makes my story most remarkable is that I am a transgender woman.

That may seem like an odd statement, not the part about being fortunate, but the part about being a fortunate transgender woman. Most of the transgender community never have the opportunities that I’ve had. Because of the stigma attached to being trans, and discrimination that goes along with that stigma, there are many hurdles that interfere with the trans community’s pursuit of happiness.

  • There is lack of support, rejection and violence from family. One in 10 has experienced violence within their family because they are trans. One in 12 is kicked out of their house by family. Of homeless youth in the U.S., 16% identify as trans or gender nonconforming.
  • Mistreatment and violence toward transgender students in schools all too often result in lower grades and push transgender students to drop out early.
  • In the workplace, transgender persons are often harassed, fired or denied promotions because they are trans, and they are three times more likely to experience joblessness.
  • Nearly one-third of the transgender community lives in poverty.

And now, Ohio is one of several states that has had bills introduced that would make it illegal for parents to seek affirming care for their transgender children, even with the advice and oversight of physicians and psychologists. Not only do these bills go against the standards of care established by all major professional medical and health care organizations, but the rhetoric and debate that surrounds these bills adds to the heavy stigma and serves only to lower the self esteem of transgender youth, putting them at even higher risk.

We do not choose to be transgender. Why would anyone choose to live with this stigma, to be castigated to second-class citizenship? There is a growing amount of evidence that points to physiological causes for a person to be transgender, and it’s becoming more evident that various gender identities are naturally occurring variations of creation, much like left handedness, red hair or green eyes.

Because I came out, for many reasons, later in life, I did not have to overcome most of those hurdles. While I always lived in fear that someone might get a glimpse into my closeted life and discover my secret, I was able to avoid the employment discrimination and workplace harassment. I never had to face being kicked out of an apartment or denied a mortgage because of who I am. I was never told to leave a restaurant because I looked different than those around me.

When I did come out, it was to an understanding wife and to the welcoming and supportive community of Kent. People that come out in neighboring communities still frequently face discrimination and harassment. My age, my race and where I live all give me enormous privilege, and I try to use that privilege to improve the lives of others within the trans community.

I am, and forever will be grateful to the Kent community for welcoming me twice. First as Rob 48 years ago and, more recently, as Bobbi. Thank you!

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