Public Relations Society of America, San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter (PRSA SD/IC), presents Christynne Lilli Wrene Wood with the Diogenes Award
By Morgan Hurley
The local trans woman who very publicly took on hate in her community last January – first by herself and then with the help of the ACLU – continues to be honored around the country.
In July, Christynne Lilli Wrene Wood, 67, was selected as San Diego Pride’s “Champion of Pride.”
On Thursday, Oct. 26, the Public Relations Society of America, San Diego and Imperial Counties Chapter (PRSA SD/IC), presented Christynne with the Diogenes Award at their annual Bernays Mark of Excellence Awards, held on the SDSU campus.
PRSA SD/IC has over 200 paying members and supports the entire public relations industry within the two counties with guidance, career development and various networking opportunities. The awards are named after Edward L. Bernay, considered by PRSA to be the “godfather of PR,” and the entries are judged by third party PRSA chapters. This year’s nominees were reviewed by the South Carolina Chapter, along with PRSA volunteers.
Christynne said she learned of the award just two days prior to the event. She normally would have been at the YMCA for her water aerobics class, but she decided to skip it that morning, preferring to relax with “Skippy,” her beloved Min-Pin instead. She said she was having a cup of coffee when the call came.
“It was a shock,” she told LGBTQ San Diego County News about the moment she learned about her Diogenes Award. “You could have knocked me off my chair.”
She did admit to having to look up the name of the award.
“At first I thought it was named after a crab, but once I realized it had to do with Plato and Athens, I thought, ‘I love you already.’ I was absolutely honored.”
The PRSA SD/IC website states, “The Diogenes Award is named after the ancient Greek philosopher who carried a lantern through the streets of Athens, searching for an honest man. This award recognizes a local newsmaker who has demonstrated a remarkable and commendable understanding of the need for candor when dealing with the public and the news media, regardless of any potential negative outcome from the resulting publicity.”
Of course they are referring to events which took place back in January, when a young girl at the Cameron Family YMCA in Santee crossed paths with Christynne in the bathroom and lied about the experience. The young girl accused Christynne of being “a naked man in a women’s locker room.” A media and community firestorm ensued.
But Christynne, the Cameron YMCA and her many friends, as well as hundreds of others supporters throughout the county, stood up to the hate and the girl later tearfully admitted to lying about what she saw.
“Please understand that the words of a White girl are taken so seriously by our society that they have led to the beating and lynching of people of color, such as Emmett Till in 1955, and this reality is always in the mind of people of color” she wrote on the Union Tribune OpEd page in March of this year.
Christynne, a retired and award-winning 29-year veteran of the County Health and Human Services Agency, officially transitioned “socially and medically,” she said, on March 25, 2016. That is the day she came out to her family, her work, her doctor and her loved ones and she began taking hormones shortly thereafter. She retired in 2018 and her vaginoplasty was completed in 2020.
But this dustup in Santee was not her first rodeo.
“I’ve been a devotee and unabashed enthusiast of the health benefits of water aerobics since 2007 and credit it with saving and adding extra years to my life,” she wrote in the UT.
She and a group of women she affectionately calls her “aqua sisters” took classes together at the local Chuze Fitness for years, where she admits to losing over 130 lbs. Unfortunately, management of her long standing gym were not supportive of her 2015 transition and began refusing her access to the women’s amenities.
She filed a lawsuit against Chuze and eventually they offered to settle, which she said she agreed to. But to add salt into the healing wound, the gym soon just did away with the entire water aerobics program, which she feels was done to spite her.
Christynne and her aqua sisters were not deterred, however, and began hosting their own classes at the gym, since they knew all the routines and had their own music. But after continued harassment, she and a dozen other women quit Chuze and moved over to the Cameron Family YMCA.
“Why should we continue giving them our money?” Christynne said. “And we even got to bring our instructor with us.”
That was January of 2022 and the locker room incident occurred one year later. The ACLU got involved because it became clear this phenomenon — young girls claiming “naked men” were in women’s locker rooms, started happening across the country.
“It was anti-vax, anti-education, religious bigots pretending to be churches” who were putting the youngsters up to it, Christynne said. “It was their 9/11 against the trans community. But love and truth always wins out.”
The Cameron Family YMCA has stood by Christynne since day one, and she’s become quite a celebrity in the greater Santee and Lakeside area where she resides. She said she regularly gets approached at Von’s and the post office, and the younger women who belong to the Y (whom she calls her surrogate grandchildren) rush to hug her whenever they see her. The positive feedback she’s received far outweighs the hate, she said.
“I’ve also noticed more trans people and more people of color joining the Cameron YMCA,” she added.
Her most steadfast supporter is Laura Newbre, a retired teacher who was the first to greet and welcome Christynne to the Cameron YMCA when she joined. Laura, along with her husband, helped hand paint 26 signs for the city council meeting that was convened in the wake of the “naked man in the women’s restroom” hysteria.
Laura, who is white and taught in Compton and Watts in the many years when others would not, continues to accompany Christynne to public events where she’s been honored, including Dodger Stadium’s controversial Pride Night earlier this year, and the PSRA SD/IC Bernays Awards last week. Christynne and the PRSA chapter both made sure to recognize Laura in their remarks, and the PR team for the San Diego YMCA was also presented with a Silver Excellence Award for “Crisis Communication: Solving the YMCA Crisis: Controversy and Transgender Rights.”
When asked how she feels being so fully embraced by the national LGBTQ community at this stage in her life, Christynne grew quiet.
“I am still overwhelmed,” she said. “I just wanted to work out.” She added that she does come from a long line of social activists, with relatives who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and even helped arrange rides for the Freedom Riders. “I was called to advocate and this was my chance to do the same.”
Earlier in October, Christynne spoke in Central Florida at a march for trans youth organized by a 17-year old girl, where she said she got to meet Ms. Major Griffin-Garty, a Stonewall survivor. But she said her most important work was performed upon her arrival to the state.
“As soon as I landed in Miami, I went right over to the women’s restroom, to stall number four, and left my regards for Ron DeSantis.”
To read about the Bernays Mark of Excellence Awards, visit bit.ly/40mg5nF.
—Morgan M. Hurley is the editor-in-chief of this newspaper. You can reach her at [email protected].
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