by Jessica Carreras
Just over ten years ago, Rachel Crandall was married, living as a man and unhappy. Then, she made the choice to be true to herself and lost her marriage, her job, her home and her life. But in the end, she says, she got all her happiness back – and then some.
On Sept. 17, the Michigan Bar Association will celebrate not only everything Crandall has gone through, but everything she has given. That night, she will become one of only two LGBT people – and the only transgender person – to receive the Liberty Bell Award, honoring her work as co-founder and executive director of TransGender Michigan.
The Liberty Bell Award is given to local citizens who have excelled in providing service within the community. It honors non-lawyer citizens who have donated their time and resources to help further the rights of others. They have been given out since 1986, but only once before to an openly gay man – Jeff Montgomery – in 2006.
“What was going was ‘Wow,'” Crandall said of hearing that she had been chosen to receive the award. “I mean, it’s really quite an award. It’s quite prestigious. I was thinking have I really done things to really earn this award.”
Many would say an enthusiastic “yes.”
Since its conception in 1997, TransGender Michigan has worked to provide services, support and education not only to the transgender community, but to the rest of the gay community and its allies. Under Crandall’s tutelage, the nonprofit organization has worked to educate the community at large, to advocate for equal rights and, as they say on their Web site, http://www.transgendermichigan.org, “to combat oppression in all of its forms.” TransGender Michigan offers a calendar of events for LGBT people on their Web site, a list of trans-friendly organizations and businesses, educational resources, historical background on transgender issues and networking opportunities. They even offer a page of their site dedicated to the listing of housing options that are trans-friendly.
Still, Crandall said she never thought that beginning the organization would lead her to being awarded. Her reasons for beginning TransGender Michigan were much more personal. “I was just really trying to bring the communities together and make it so people wouldn’t have to be so lonely,” she explained. “When I came out, I was so lonely and I lost everything in my life.”
And just as she has changed the lives of many transgender people in Michigan, Crandall said that the whole experience has changed her in positive ways – celebrated, soon, by her reception of the Liberty Bell Award. “Before I came out, I really wasn’t a leader,” she said. “Ever since I came out, I’ve been more of a leader and I think that this award is really the pinnacle of that.”
More than just a commemoration of how far she has come, however, Crandall believes that the presentation of the award to a transgender person shows a greater acceptance on all LGBT people. “The reason that I created TransGender Michigan was to try to bring together not only the trans community, but the whole LGBT community,” she explained. “I think that this is an example that it’s worked because this award isn’t only recognizing me as a transgender person…it’s recognizing me as a person who has done things to earn it. That’s why I’m even more flattered than when I won other LGBT awards because this is an award that, most of the time is won by straight people.
“I think it shows not only an acceptance of the transgender community, but an acceptance of the gay community altogether.”
Crandall hopes that it’s also a sign of future acceptance of the transgender community that reaches even further into society. She dreams of a future where all LGBT people has equal rights – and is optimistic about that dream becoming a reality. “I think (the future) looks good,” she said. “…but, you know, where there’s a little good there’s usually also a little bad. That’s what I found out about life. I think that things are so much better.
“…but we can’t expect that things will be handed to us. We have to go out and fight for them.”