During the upcoming San Diego Trans Day of Empowerment (Friday, April 2, 2021), the annual student scholarship recipients will be announced. But we still have plenty of time for students to send in their applications (deadline is March 14). We sat down with Founder and Community Activist Tracie Jada O’Brien and a past recipient Trenton Brooks, to talk about the importance of the scholarship and the work that never ends to ensure the future looks bright for the younger generations. The scholarship has been given to 100 trans students in the community.
The scholarship fund is one of the first scholarships of its kind focused on transgender student success in San Diego. They believe that strong community support can give our local transgender students the confidence to beat the odds. The volunteer-led committee has been able to distribute scholarships totaling $48,000 to local transgender students over the past 6 years. The average student GPA was 3.5. Students are studying law, medicine, social work, psychology, and more. They are attending schools as close as City College and SDSU to as far away as the University of Chicago and Harvard University.
About Tracie O’Brien:
Tracie O’Brien has been the Family Health Centers of San Diego’s Trans Health Coordinator since 2003. In the late 90’s; during the AIDS epidemic, O’Brien got together with other community leaders and worked to give a voice to the Trans Community. They talked to The San Diego LGBT Community Center (The Center), Family Health Center and the Imperial Court de San Diego, and with funding by the California Endowment in 2003, a Trans needs assessment and Transgender project came to life in 2004. Family Health Centers of San Diego – Trans Health Services celebrates its 17th year this month.
How the Scholarship came to be:
Transgender Day of Empowerment is an LGBTQ+ Community and ally driven effort. The event committee wanted to figure out how to further support the Trans Community, because when it comes to Trans specific services like grants, scholarships and access to proper medical care, there continues to be a shortage and need. “It is another extension of our community taking care of our community, we have so many children in school that would benefit from the help.” Said O’Brien.
“I began my transition after high school in 1970 and I had no idea I could continue going to school being my authentic self. So now that I am older and work with the young people that now have access to so many services, I could only imagine it in my transition days. It is our due diligence to help our community reach excellence, just like Martin Luther King said, “don’t judge me for my skin, but by the content of my character.”
Former Executive Director of The Center, Dr. Delores Jacobs put the idea in Obrien’s ear and they made the scholarship happen. “I am so grateful to all the community members and allies who support and fund the scholarship. Everything that has happened is community driven.” O’Brien said about the folks who have funded the scholarships over the years.
San Diego Prides Fernando Lopez and Sarafina Scapicchio Serafina have been very helpful in sharing their resources. During the pandemic they linked up with Titos Vodka who donated five thousand dollars to provide supplies to special “Covid Bags” that included food and healthcare items for members of the Trans community who were in need. “That is the wonderful connection I have with San Diego Pride; they have been able to implement some of their funding sources to include Transgender services.” O’Brien commented.
The community run Trans Services at Family Health Center started back in 2005 with very “intention specific funding”, but since then other funds and grants have been pulled together to keep O’Brien working on providing services to the Trans community. There is a huge need in the Trans community for HIV Services, Health and Human Services, medical care and medicine.
Scholarship applications for 2021 are due March 14th. “We usually give 30-35 scholarships every year, I am really excited to see what it will be this year. At first, I thought with Covid, kids were not going to school, but it was made abundantly clear to me that our students are still attending classes to further their careers” commented O’Brien. Students applying should be aware that it is not just traditional school that qualifies, it can be a Trade School or a specific certification class. Even tutoring for English as a second language or Cosmetology! “It is about any career endeavor” according to O’Brien.
I graduated from UCSD in the Spring of 2020. I went to San Diego City Collage and got my Associates in Psychology there in 2018, and transferred to UCSD and completed by BA in Psychology in two years.
Becoming a scholarship recipient:
I was a two-year recipient of the scholarship, I first heard about it when I attended a Transgender Day of Empowerment event and I saw other students receiving the scholarships and I thought that it was so cool and empowering for myself. I never knew that was something that was available, and seeing these other students and hearing where they were going to school and what they were able to achieve inspired me and that was when I was still going to City College. It gave me and extra push to try and get to UCSD and my first year there was my first year getting the scholarship. I’m considering applying this fall to San Diego State for either and MFT (Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy) or a Masters in Social Work. I have not decided which one I want to go for, I might apply for both and decide as I go. But I do want to work with the Trans community and provide some sort of service, maybe in mental health, or anywhere else there is a need I can help with. There is not always this specific direction for us, like Tracie, she found the need and she filled it, and so that is kind of how I want to find my way to see what is needed and go that direction.
The importance of having the scholarship:
My experience was not just receiving this money, which help greatly, but I also got to be recognized in a part of the community that I didn’t know existed, yet it had been quietly building over time. You see us at Trans Day of Empowerment, Remembrance, Visibility and Trans Pride, but other times we are not always in the forefront. With my experience not being the best in being visible during my transition back in New York. I sometimes feel the need to just kind of blend in. And so, it is nice to have the opportunity to just absolutely be myself and to be celebrated for that. To be able to receive a scholarship and hear that I have community support was phenomenal for me. Once I graduated and I was able to be a part of the committee that puts together this event and help recruit more students that can receive the scholarship. It has been fantastic to give back and also to be part of something so great.
I started my transition in 2006 in New York and so I was not as tapped in here in San Diego or with the younger crowd. Tracie is of the respected elder group, I’m not really considered “youth” anymore, so I’m kind of in the middle and midst of my continued growth. A lot of us just disappear into mainstream society so it’s been important for me to follow in Tracie and the elders footsteps to be here for the youth to face the fears and the difficulties that we faced early on when there was not as much available to us by means of help. Maintaining this community to help youth that now have available resources not go through the struggles that previous Trans generations went through.
Tracie on Visibility:
Visibility comes at a cost. Visibility can cost safety, and visibility can cause attacks. We belong to the LGBTQ+ community but we don’t transition to be Trans, we transition to be authentic. The goal often times is to be authentic and blend into society, that is why it is important that we are safe and it is most important that we have a space where we can actually move safely in the world. For those who choose to stay back; we forfeit our anonymity. I live in El Cajon, and one thing I say is I work transgender, but I live Tracie O’Brein who is a female in El Cajon, and that is how our lives are. It is important to be present when we have an event. They are usually almost standing room only, but when it is over everyone is gone, that’s how it should be. It is just a part of EPICUS (Emphasis, Participation, Interest, Confirmation, Understanding, Success) in our community, that we need to have services for those who are beginning their transition so they can get themselves together and have access to medical care, education and everything they need to be successful adults, unlike my generation. So, it is very important that we set up the next generation for success and not failure.
Students who want to apply can do so at https://sdpride.org/tdoe/
Donations can be directed to https://sdpride.z2systems.com/np/clients/sdpride/donation.jsp?campaign=24&
San Diego Trans Day of Empowerment takes place Friday April 2, 2021 from 6pm to 7pm and is a virtual event at sdpride.org/live