“The Power of Telling The Truth”

Adddress by Debra Davis at the
National Coming Out Day Interfaith Service
Sunday, October 11, 1998
First Universalist Church of Minneapolis


Good Evening,

       Before I begin, I would like you to know how honored I am to be here. I am humbled by the people around me tonight . . . and by all of you here. You should also know that when I came out to my church I was told that I would not be welcome there. It is heartening to know that there so many other welcoming congregations here. I was thrilled last summer when Anita Hill asked me speak at this event. Thank you for allowing me to be with you as we celebrate our journeys.

       My name is Debra Davis. Along with many other things, I am a transgender woman. I work at Southwest High School here in Minneapolis, the same school I graduated from in 1965. I am a Media Specialist, (the newer term for librarian). I worked as a man in the Minneapolis School System for almost 30 years. That is why I am here with all of you tonight. That, and the simple fact . . . I came out.

       My coming out was in many ways like everyone else. As a youth questioning who I was. Not knowing why I was different. Living in denial of who I was. Getting married and having a family. Thinking who I really was would somehow go away. I was living as something or someone I was not and lying to myself and those around me. I just wanted to be “normal,” like everyone else - what ever normal was.

       In other ways my coming out was not like everyone else. It was headlines on the front page of our local newspapers. The top story on most Television and radio stations in the twin cities area. The story was picked up by the associated press and the television broadcast wires and sent through out the country. The local radio shock jocks had a field day insulting and degrading me. I was news.

       It seems like, as far as anybody knew, I was the first transgender person to successfully transition in secondary education, from a man to a woman, over a weekend, . . anywhere in the country.

       How did I get to this place in my life? I had an uneventful childhood. Some people have called it disgustingly average. In many ways I was lucky. I always felt that I was probably an OK person. After all I was created this way so it must be OK, somehow. Otherwise, why would I be the way I was.

       Somehow I grew up with enough self-esteem to think that I was OK. However, I still hid my shame and guilt. Ashamed because I had all of these thoughts and feelings about who I was. Not knowing why I felt different than the other kids. There seemed to be something terribly wrong with me.

       In High School I was president of my church youth group. I was an Eagle Scout. I still am still an Eagle Scout until they take it away from me. I went on to college and was president of my college fraternity, if they could only see me now!

       I started to come out to myself in my mid thirties. I had a wife and family, two children, home in the suburbs, two cars in the garage, a steady job and we could pay our bills. I started to look inside of myself and try to figure out why I felt different. Why do I feel like there is someone else here inside me trying to get out.

       Some of you may have read my commentary in Focus Point this week. Those were the early days when I hid in shame and guilt and fear. The process of getting to where I am today took many years and in some ways may never really end.

       Somewhere around Christmas of 1997, I came to realize that I needed to put an end to the duality of living two very different, closeted lives. I needed to end living in shame and guilt. It was time to integrate who I was into just one whole person.

       I was cross dressing as a man at work (think about it) and in a few social & family situations. The rest of my life I lived as Debra. Almost all of my close friends only knew me as Debra. Living my life as two very different people, of two different genders, was becoming more than I could handle. It was time to change. Time to share the truth about who I was. Most of my immediate family already knew I was transgender, just not the extent. Work and the rest of the world were all I had to tell.

       I had always kept my male identity closeted, even to close friends. Most of the GLB and the "T" communities had no idea who I legally was, where I really worked or exactly what I did. I have known some of these people for over 10 years and have always been very guarded and private about my other life as a man.

       The actual story of all that happened during the process of my coming out and transitioning was fascinating, to say the least. The hard work and dedication of many people around me, the school districts trying to deal with something that had never happened in the history of secondary education, my coworkers, my friends and loved ones, all helped make my transition a success.

       There were scores of events that happened during this time that would take a book could describe.

       Briefly, on Monday, May 4, 1998, I came out to my school and the staff of 150 people, including teachers, administration, engineers, kitchen staff, literally everyone who worked in the building, and a couple dozen guests and district administrators. The two hour meeting was just before our schools parent/teacher conferences.

       At the same time I came out to the GLBT community as a High School Librarian. Two closets, both secretive, both with the same fears of being discovered or outed.

       But, imagine if you can, being on the staff of my school, and coming to a meeting, not knowing the subject or why you were required to be there. A meeting that you realized had to be very important because absolutely everyone was there, and that never happens.

       The principal than got up and told you that a person that you have known as a man was really a woman and that she would be working in the building as her true self, Debra Davis, from now on.

       Than I stood up to speak, and welcomed everyone. Here is a portion of what I said at that meeting.

       . . . . . . . . .

       “ . . . I want to share with you some of the things that are going on inside of me now, as we talk today.”

       “How I feel at this moment is how I imagine the first person of any minority must have felt when starting to work for this district. The first person of a non Christian religion, or the first person of a different ethnic group or nationality, or the first physically handicapped person on crutches or in a wheel chair. Wondering how I will be accepted by you, my staff, by the students, by the parents and even the “powers to be” at 807 (the school district head quarters.) Concerned about my safety and wondering how I will handle it if people are inappropriate or impolite or worse!”

       “I am also concerned about the students, other staff and parents in our school and district, who are transgender like me, or those who are gay or lesbian or bisexual, and are afraid . . . like I was . . . to come out and be who they really are.”

       “This is the first time the Minneapolis Public Schools will be going through this, but I can guarantee you, it won't be the last. My hope is that together we can make this work.”

       “My sincere hope too, was that this would have been a “non - event.” That I could just work and live as I really am, with out anyone noticing. How wonderful it would be if everyone could just be themselves and the world wouldn't care one way or the other. But I'm afraid I won't ever see that in my lifetime.”

       “So - Why am I doing this now?”

       “To the credit of you here at Southwest High School, there has been very little sharing of private information about me here in the last few months. In fact most of you here did not know what this meeting was about until you arrived here today.”

       “However, in other areas of the school district, there have been several incidents of what we call “outing” - the sharing by other people, of information that should only be mine to share - about myself.”

       “In the face of those rumors - I chose to stop the gossip and innuendo, and share with everyone who I am. There need be no more secrets.”

       “In most situations where a transgender person transitions on the job, a two week notice is given to the employer. We have been working on my transition for two months now, at the district level, and almost a month here at Southwest. Now is the time. I will not continue to hide in shame until next fall, or next year, or three years from now when I can retire.”

       “On a personal level - Why am I doing this? “

       “I am an extremely proud person, proud of who I am!”

       “I am tired of not being able to tell the truth about myself. I am tired of the deception. I am tired of worrying. I am tired of hiding. Tired of the closet. I make no apologies for being who I am. I have done nothing wrong.”

       “My discomfort in the closet outweighs the risk of penalty. Freedom beckons. Whatever the consequences may be, I am prepared to accept those consequences, good or bad. However, that is not to say that I will shrink from defending my rights should anyone abuse them. But in this, I will need all of your help.”

       “Soon the world out there can know exactly who I am. But as we know, not everyone out there is a friend,. I realize that. It is a risk I am prepared to take.”

       “So this is the bottom line for me. The results of a lifetime of struggling with self-definition.

       “It is okay to be me, okay to be who I am. It is okay to tell people the truth about myself. It is okay to live and work as I truly am. It is okay for the world to know who I am. In fact, it's not just okay to do that. It is absolutely necessary!”

       “I am Debra Davis. I am a proud human being. And in the words of Virginia Satir, ‘I am me, and I am okay.’”

       “David is not here anymore - Debra will be working here from now on. . . .”
. . . . . . . . .

       Most of the words were mine, a few borrowed from people who I have an extreme respect for. They were all, however, spoken from my heart.

       After the meeting the staff headed to their conferences. By that evening one of the local TV channels had heard about the story and were at school poking around. All they had that night on the news was a 10 second story saying that a transgender staff person was coming out at Southwest High School. They didn’t know much.

       The next morning the story ran on the front page of the Star Tribune newspaper. Television and Radio stations were buzzing with the story. This is how I started my first day at school, working with children, as Debra.

       Why has my transition worked? It was because of all the people round me. In our community we call them allies. Those people who support us, who may or may not be a part of our community. These are people who believe in the human rights of all people. Who demonstrate with their presence and actions, their acceptance and celebration of diversity among people.

       I want to publicly thank both the Star Tribune and FocusPoint Newspapers. Rosalind Bentley, the reporter who wrote the story for the Star Trib is truly a friend. Her story set the tone for the entire process. And thanks to FocusPoint news paper who had the scoop on the story but held it until after my transition. They were extremely respectful to me and my school community.

       I need to also thank Geoffery Blanton, and the Out for Good program in the Minneapolis Public Schools for their support and tireless efforts in this process.

       Also the Minneapolis Public Schools, for letting me be myself at work. You should also know that the Minneapolis Schools had one of the largest contingencies at the 1998 Coming out lunch at International Market Square. Four tables of “out” employees, staff and allies.

       And of course, I need to thank my partner Connie Hope, here with us tonight, for living this journey with me and being there for me.

       During the weeks that followed, staff would stop me in the hallway to talk about what had happened. What they said was how proud they were to be a part of our school community. How proud they were to be there during this time, to be able to see this work.

       The parents who I talked with would say how good they thought it was to have someone like me in the building. Their children would have the opportunity that no other children would have. The chance to work with and get to know a transgender person, and learn that in most ways, we are just like everyone else.

       For the children in the building, something phenomenal happened. It became politically correct to accept this. The talk in the hallways and lunchroom was that, if you used the wrong pronoun to refer to me, there must be something wrong with you , “don’t you understand, She’s Ms. Davis now, a woman! Don’t you get it!!” Overall the students reactions ranged from “what ever” to “how can I help.”

       And I want to thank my principal, who was the rock of calmness through all of this and who at one time told me that he refused to make decisions based on panic.. He gave what I thought was the best quote of the entire process. He told the media that this was probably the biggest non event in the history of Southwest High School.

       I am so grateful for my life today. There are still days that I can’t believe that I, Debra Davis, as an out and proud transgender person, can go to work and do what I have done for almost 30 years now, help students learn, and do it as me!. I can’t believe it. But it is true and it is actually happening.

       In conclusion, I would like to share with you, what I call my basic beliefs. These are how I live my life and how I made it through this trying time.

. . . . . . . . .


•       I believe that everyone has good in them and I enjoy each and every person I meet.
•       I believe in living, experiencing and enjoying each and every day to the fullest and look forward to tomorrow and what it will bring.


•       I believe that self-esteem is one of the most powerful remedies for many of our personal problems.


•       I believe that we all have a destiny. We do have some control over how we live our lives but there is a plan for each one of us.


•       I know that I am me and I am OK. I believe I am a good person and try to live my life with as much honesty and integrity as I can.


•       I believe in the Power of One. Each and every one of us has the power to change the world.


•       And lastly . . . . I believe there is a supreme being that is greater than all of us - who is a kind and loving person who made us who we are.


•       And when I get to heaven, and knock on those pearly gates, I believe the person waiting there to judge me, will be a kind, caring and compassionate woman. (There is also a good chance that She will be woman of color and possibly a lesbian .)


•       And She will judge me, not only by what I have done . . . . but by what I have not done.
. . . . . . . . .

       The power of telling the truth . . . . . .

       The power of being true to ourselves . . . . . .

       The power of having friends and allies . . . . . .

       The power of our beliefs . . . . . .

       For each and every one of us, there will come a time.

       © - debra davis -


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