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Coming out, whether it is as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or allied is a deeply personal journey for each individual. For openly transgender advocate Andrea Zekis, coming out took several decades and is still a part of her everyday life.

“I came out twice on National Coming Out Day,” she explained. “When I was a teenager I told my parents I thought I was gay and had a conversation with them. It happened to be the week of National Coming Out Day when I talked to my mother about being transgender when I was 30.”

As the founder of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition (ARTEC) and a consultant for HRC Arkansas, Andrea understands the importance of coming out and visibility. 

“I wish there was someone like me when I was transitioning. I wish someone was fairly visible showing people what it means to be trans. It doesn’t mean living in fear,” she explained. “Now we are seeing more people in Arkansas being visible and that’s a great thing.” 

While visibility has increased, issues remain. In 2015, at least twenty transgender women have been murdered. The transgender community continues to face disproportionate levels of poverty, homelessness, suicide, employment discrimination, violence and HIV.

Andrea too has seen these hardships. She attempted suicide at age 27 and has faced several instances of discrimination. She has attended and led community gatherings where transgender and gender non-conforming community members and their allies gather to discuss the issues they see in their lives and their community and come up with ideas to make it better. 

“There are parts of Arkansas where people still live day by day in fear,” she explained. “Fear of discrimination and violence.”

An HRC Arkansas survey found that while LGBT people are sometimes embraced in their respective communities, they also face some very harsh realities. Twenty-five percent of respondents experienced employment discrimination and 37 percent experienced harassment at work. Thirty-nine percent experienced harassment by members of their own family.

Andrea knows that there is more to do to create a safe space for all LGBT people in Arkansas.

“A lot has to do with inclusion. Whether its finding allies who are supportive, finding inclusive communities or being able to create systems that provide courage and support, our community can thrive and survive,” she said. “I am very proud to see the Equality Act move forward. Comprehensive non-discrimination laws are needed in many parts of our lives.”

While Andrea works as a cartographer for the state of Arkansas, there is no doubt that she will continue to advocate and help the transgender community and give them a seat at the table.

“I will say that there is nothing better than being able to live a very authentic life…I can’t thing of a better way to live,” she concluded. “I am proud to be who I am.”

Filed under: Coming Out, Transgender

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