By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
ANN ARBOR – Remember heroes? People who were so brave, or lived with such integrity, or who had accomplished so many notable things that you couldn’t help to look up to them and want to be like them.
Denise Brogan can be called a hero. At fifty, Brogan has lifted herself from poverty to wealth, has served her country in the Navy, has founded two organizations to help others, and has gone from being a highschool dropout to a non-traditional law student at the University of Michigan.
Oh, and by the way – Denise Brogan was born male.
“I have been out and active most of my trans life – for the last dozen years,” Brogan said. “And I would say that most of it has to do with the fact that whenever I was not out … I either felt like I had to lie … or I could not talk about my past. I have three children that I adore, so that’s not an option for me.”
“That’s not to say that I necessarily want everybody I meet to react to me as a trans person, because even though it’s an important part of my identity – it’s just one part of my identity,” she added.
Brogan was one of the founders of TOPS, an organization that served transgendered police, firefighters, public servants, and military or ex-military people in Florida in the mid-90s.
She has continued her public service since coming to Michigan. Brogan is co-founder, along with Andre Wilson, of Transforum, an organization to serve trans-identified people who are affiliated with UofM.
“Transforum is literally Trans for UM,” Brogan said, “and our goal is to provide a clearinghouse of information, [as well as] support for trans people and their relations with the University of Michigan.”
In addition to her work with Transforum, Brogan agreed to give a “Transgender 101” workshop for the dean of the law school and his staff when she was accepted to the school. She served on a recent staff search committee for UofM’s Office of LGBT Affairs. And she is a frequent participant in Transgender Lobby Days in Washington.
“I went to the first six in a row before I missed one,” she said.
Asked why she has chosen activism, Brogan’s eyes shone.
“It’s important to me to make a difference in the world for other trans people, and for myself,” she said.
“In many ways I think that the ideal would be: transition, blend back into society, go stealth, and just live your life comfortably and quietly without any notoriety or notice,” she said. “That has its allure, but nothing changes when you do that. I’ve experienced enough negative trauma in my life because of being transgendered, and I’ve seen other people experience significant negative things because of being transgendered. Nothing changing is not an option for me.”
Brogan plans on continuing as an activist after she finishes law school in two years.
“That is exactly why I came to law school,” she said. “I came … with an idea that I could work in the LGBT community, with some focus on ‘T’ perhaps, in the law. There’s a variety of pathways open to me to do that and I haven’t figured out which one yet will work.”
Usually articulate, Brogan was almost stumped when asked about her hobbies. After a moment’s thought, she returned to activism. “Actually, LGBT activism is sort of a hobby for me, I mean it’s such a passion for me that it’s what I do.”
Brogan was able to name a few “just for fun” pastimes, including reading, movies and shopping.
“I like chess. I’d like to be better at chess. I can still beat my kids,” she said.