by Jessica Carreras
Jena Lewis is an activist, trans educator and mother. The Grand Rapids-based woman also participates in the Bells of River City dance team, paints and is active in the United Church of Christ.
1) How do you stay involved with local LGBT activism?
I think one of the greatest assets that west Michigan has to offer to the LGBT community as a whole in Michigan is our strong network we have built. Thanks to the hard work of many people that have come before me, I feel comfortably connected to other like-minded people through all the various community organizations and groups, such as Speak Equal, West Michigan Pride, The Network and GIFT, as well the strong social connections we hold here in west Michigan.
Here I have been blessed with many friends and allies and together we continually challenge each other and keep each other on task regarding what we are striving for.
2) In what ways are you involved with trans education?
Within the trans community here in GR, I have tried to be continuously available for those who are seeking better understanding of the time of transition they are going through. I do this by always being willing to have a listening ear and cup of coffee with anyone who needs the time. Being connected to those with in the greater LGBT community, often people will send folks struggling with the realization of being trans to me for support.
Also I have worked with others to help educate and bring awareness of trans people and our struggles through writing, assisting in organizing support groups, and most recently through working with other organizations to make sure that Transgendered Day of Remembrance didn’t go unnoticed in Grand Rapids.
Outside of the community, I have worked with in schools and church classrooms on transgender education on both panel discussions and solo on telling my story and of other trans people.
3) How has the transgender community personally been a part of your life?
Both the transgendered community and the LGBT community as a whole have become my family. Some of the people I trust and love the most are either trans, or LGB people. Whether we are going to go out for an evening with friends, go camping, or celebrate a holiday together I know it is my “chosen” family that will be there first and foremost for me.
4) What LGBT rights issue is most important to you?
Right now, I think focusing on non-discrimination within employment should be the fight we are carrying in front right now.
I truly want more than anything to be able to get married to my partner, and I truly want more than anything to know that I can live whereever I want, and that my children or all children should have the right to be free of bullying on the playground. But honestly, if I am not assured a job based on my ability because of bias, married or not, my family has no home, and my child gets picked on – not for sexual orientation or gender identity issues, but for socioeconomic issues. Equal opportunity in employment and education is the first link in our chain of equality. You will never have true equality if we are continuously economically oppressed.
5) How does your religion intersect with your sexual orientation in your life?
Christianity, I find as a comfort in my life. And I am truly comforted by the role we as trans-people have played in the bible. Throughout most of my life, it has been the focal point of understanding myself. I have always been taught to believe that our greatest purpose of being is to leave the world better than it was when we first arrived. This gives me comfort in knowing that the struggles I have gone through and the struggles others have shared with me that I teach others about do not need to continue to repeat if we continue to teach about them and create a more equitable place to be.