Jazz Jennings has the mind of a girl but the body of boy. So reads the back cover of her 32-page autobiographical book, I Am Jazz. The book, which was released in September, chronicles Jennings' struggles as a transgender child, opens up the dialogue on gender identity, and has helped spark awareness on how transgender people are discriminated against.
Jennings (the last name is a pseudonym to protect her identity and safety), who lives in South Florida with her family, has also been featured on 20/20, 60 Minutes, and the Oprah Winfrey Show, where many LGBT advocates believe she and her supportive family have helped change the way people think and talk about transgender identity.
"Few people in the transgender community have articulated their true gender feelings with more clarity and passion than Jazz Jennings," says Gina Duncan, Equality Florida's Transgender inclusion director. "From an early age, Jazz has been an inspiration, a mentor, and a motivator for the transgender community. She is the true embodiment of authenticity."
Earlier this month, Time magazine included Jennings in its Most Influential Teens of 2014, commenting that, "In a landmark year for transgender visibility in the media, Jennings stands out for how much she's already accomplished. She has been interviewed by Barbara Walters, met Bill Clinton and become the youngest person ever featured on the Out 100 and The Advocate's '40 Under 40' lists."
The teenager hopes that her advocacy for LGBT rights' will help spread awareness of the particular challenges that transgender youth along with their families face, such as bullying at school and discrimination from participating in extracurricular activities like soccer. To further her cause, Jazz has recently started her own company, Purple Rainbow Tails, which sells silicone mermaid tails, with the goal of raising money for transgender children.
"It's so rewarding to create change in our society, and I hope that my voice will have an impact on future generations," says Jennings. "It would be so amazing if kids like me could all be free to be themselves. I wish we could all just be happy and love one another. Everyone should be accepted for their differences, and those differences should be looked upon as something positive instead of negative. I just really hope my message will continue to spread throughout the years and that one day things will get better and all people will have the freedom to be themselves."
Jennings will add another distinction on November 16, when Equality Florida, an LGBT rights' organization, will invite her as the guest of honor for the organization's 12th-annual Equality Florida Broward Gala.
"This amazing young woman inspires us all with her courage and candor, demonstrating what is possible when we share our stories," says Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida. "We are proud to recognize her for the impact she already has made on the lives of transgender youth and their families here in Broward County and across the nation."
More than 500 community, business, and political leaders are expected to attend the gala, which will be held at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Panorama Ballroom in Fort Lauderdale. The highlights of the event will be the presentation of the Voice for Equality award to Jennings, as well as a State of the State address by Pollitzer, celebrating the milestones of the past year for LGBT rights', as well as presenting the next steps necessary for achieving full equality in the Sunshine State.
"I feel so honored that Equality Florida selected me for their Voice for Equality award," says the exuberant Jennings. "This award shows me that I'm making a huge impact on others, and that I have to continue the work I'm doing because sharing my voice really does affect other people."
The Equality Florida Gala takes place at 6 p.m. Sunday, November 16, at the Hyatt Regency Pier Sixty-Six Panorama Ballroom, 2301 SE 17th St., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $150 and are tax-deductible. For tickets or information on how to become a sponsor, visit eqfl.org/browardgala, or call 813-870-3735.