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Char Davenport, Dead at 67, Remembered as Trans Activist Who Took on College After Being Fired

Jason A. Michael

Char Davenport, who died July 17 at 67, leaves behind a legacy centered on authenticity, perseverance and the critical importance of self-advocacy.

As a child, Davenport did not want to play baseball. Her father, however, insisted that she must play the sport. And her father would not relent.

"He finally said, 'You're going to play,'" Davenport recalled for a 2016 story on EclectaBlog. "I said, 'Why don't the other girls have to play?'" Her father, by now angry, was not having it. "'You're not a girl,'" he said. "You're a boy.'" Young Char continued to insist she was, in fact, a girl until her father eventually shut down the argument. "He said, 'You don't want to be a girl. Girls are stupid.'"

And that was that.

Davenport's gender confusion would only grow as she matured. In 1974, at the age of 18, and in an effort to please her hypermasculine father, Davenport joined the Navy. She recalled being flagged down by a recruiter while walking the street.

"They said I could be anything I want, which was an interesting proposition," Davenport told Pride Source contributor Michelle Brown for an episode of her popular "Collections by Michelle Brown" podcast in 2017. "I also knew that I could travel. The one thing the Navy did was travel. You went everywhere. And I saw this as an opportunity."

Davenport's father was pleased. "I could see the pride that my father had in his son, and I was glad that he was happy," Davenport told Brown. "And, quite frankly, I had hoped that that's what the Navy would do. It would be kind of a hyper-masculine experience; a masculine environment and you know I would get myself right, so to speak."

Oddly enough, it was in the military that Davenport began to realize who she truly was.

"While I was in the military, that's really when I became aware that I was transgender," she said. Suddenly, Davenport realized she was not alone. "I met other trans service members who were serving very secretly, just like myself."

Char Davenport. Courtesy photo

Davenport remained in the military until 1981. After leaving the service, she studied journalism at Delta College. She did not begin considering transitioning, however, until 2006. And it wasn't until 2014, when she was an adjunct professor at Saginaw Valley State University, that she began hormone replacement therapy.

Soon, physical changes were appearing in her body. Shortly afterward, she was fired. The college cried budget cuts, but Davenport did not believe it and, instead, sued.

"I can tell you, it's been exhausting," she said to The Oakland Post at the time. "I lost a lot of friends. It's hard enough to be trans, but when a place that's been telling you for years how awesome you are tells you you're disgusting, it paralyzes you."

Ultimately, the lawsuit was settled, but due to a nondisclosure agreement, Davenport was not able to give any details. She went on to work as a special lecturer in writing and rhetoric for Oakland University for many years. She also continued to be a powerful advocate for trans and queer rights.

"She was very passionate, not just about LGBTQ+ activism but also about veteran's affairs," said Sister Estee Louder Harder Faster of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, who met Davenport eight years ago while picketing a church in Taylor that was offering a conversion therapy camp for girls. "We showed up five weeks in a row and shut it down every week. I met her daughter Esther there and we just started building a friendship from there."

"Everything she took on she gave 100 percent to," Sister Estee continued. "She gave all of her energy to whatever she was fighting for."

There will be a Celebration of Life for Char Davenport at Affirmations in Ferndale on Saturday, Sept. 9 from 1-3 p.m. Affirmations is located at 290 West Nine Mile Road.

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