Jacob Nash (b. 1964) grew up in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, before moving to Ohio in 1999. He discusses coming out as a transgender man in the 1990s and becoming involved in transgender and LGBTQ+ community activism after seeking a marriage license in the 2000s. Nash discusses moving to Akron and becoming active in LGBTQ+ communities and spaces in Cleveland and Akron while working between both cities. He discusses his involvement in TransFamily, TransAlive, and the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. Nash describes various barriers faced by transgender communities in Cleveland and Akron and the events that led to his founding Margie's Hope in Akron in 2011 and Margie's Closet in Lakewood in 2021.
Riley Habyl [00:00:06] Today's date is Friday, August 4th, 2023. This is Riley Habyl with the LGBTQ+ Cleveland Voices Oral History Collection. I'm interviewing Jacob Nash remotely from his home in Akron, Ohio. So, hi Jacob. Thank you very much for speaking with me today.
Jacob Nash [00:00:23] My pleasure. Any time.
Riley Habyl [00:00:26] Would you be able to state and spell your name for the record?
Jacob Nash [00:00:29] Absolutely. Jacob Nash, J-a-c-o-b N-a-s-h.
Riley Habyl [00:00:37] So, Jacob, when and where were you born?
Jacob Nash [00:00:40] I was born in 1964 in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.
Riley Habyl [00:00:47] Could you tell me a little bit about your childhood and family background?
Jacob Nash [00:00:50] Sure. So, I am one of six children, three of which were adopted. So, I—. In birth order, technically I'm the middle child, but once my brothers were adopted I became the second oldest. But my childhood—. We lived a middle-class life, pretty much. My mother was a nurse and my father was a Master Sergeant for the Air National Guard. But both of them were pacifists, interestingly enough. My father working for the military but he's a pacifist. And so, very early on in life my parents taught me the importance of social justice and why that work is critical to our country. Critical to our First Amendment rights. Standing up, speaking out. Voicing when you know that something is not right. And so, from a very early age I can remember going with my mother to anti-nuclear rallies to protest against the nuclear power plants that they were building at the time in the seventies, and antiwar rallies against the Vietnam War. And so, you know, my family—. My parents were very much, like I said, social justice people. They were family oriented. When the war was going on—the Vietnam War was going on, we adopted—fostered, adopted a full family that came over from Vietnam, and they lived with us for several years. And to this day, they are st—they're considered family. So, you know, as—. My family was accepting of all people. My—. Both of—. Well, all of us kids actually at some point or another dated people of color. My youngest sister married a black man. I have biracial nieces and nephews. My—. Two of my brothers were from Korea, and my third brother was from Bogota, Colombia. So we have a very eclectic family, I like to say. Because of my parents, and my parents' love for people, they often opened their home up to children with medical needs from other countries. They were working with Heal the Children, so children from other countries would come over and live with us for a period of time. They would get medical—you know, necessary surgeries—live with us, and then they would go back home. All except for one young man. This one young man had a heart condition. And now this was—we're talking in the eighties. He had a heart condition, and he had to have a blood transfusion. But unfortunately part of the blood transfusion—. He ended up getting AIDS from it. And so, we—. My parents petitioned Congress to allow his parents to come over and be with him so that his parents would be there when he passed away. And thank goodness, they were able to do so and got them over in time. And so they too have become part of our family as well. So, you know, I was brought up Christian. My faith is very important to me. My father's Catholic, my mother was Protestant, so it was a—even a mixed religious household. So, we struggled even though we were a middle-class family because we had lots of people in and out of our homes, and—. But we were able to help lots of children and people. And, you know, one of the children that had another heart condition—his surgery was successful. He went back home to Korea, and he is still part of our family. My sisters and my father went to—went over to Korea for his wedding. I was not allowed, because he does not approve of me being trans [transgender]—but that's a whole 'nother story. But, you know, my family was very important to their family. You know, his children are named after my parents because that's how close we were with him, and my parents basically saved his life.
Riley Habyl [00:06:18] Could you tell me a little bit about where you went to school, like your educational background?
Jacob Nash [00:06:24] Sure. So, I grew up going to Catholic school, interestingly enough. So, as a trans guy—. Now, imagine growing up in the seventies and eighties when girls had to—and they still do, to some extent—girls had to wear skirts. And when the school that I was going to—or, I don't know if it was the pope or one of the bishops or somebody—approved for girls to wear these polyester pants. And as soon as that was approved, I was in those pants, you know, because I could not do the skirt thing. So, I graduated from Saint Peter Marian Central Catholic High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, which is where I grew up. Then I went to Berkshire Christian College. I majored in youth ministries. Halfway through Berkshire, I transferred to Gordon College, which is on the North Shore in Massachusetts. I graduated with a degree in youth ministries and human services. Then in 2009, I went back to school to get my master's in diversity—well, master's in psychology diversity management—from Cleveland State University, and graduated in 2014.
Riley Habyl [00:08:11] Sort of related to that note, could you give me a broad overview of your occupational background?
Jacob Nash [00:08:20] Mhm, sure. I like to say, you know, I'm a jack of all trades, master of none. Because while I studied youth ministries, I never actually worked within a church. I grew up going to Christian camp since I was in fourth grade, and my mother was the camp nurse there for years. And I worked at this camp until—during the summers until I graduated college. And then after college, I worked there again for two more years. But I was a chef at the camp for—after I graduated college. I did almost every position at the camp, from music director, to counselor, to resource director, to working in the country store, to a unit leader. So, I did almost every position at the camp. Ah, in the kitchens as well. The only thing I wasn't was a lifeguard, because I was not certified. Then I went on to work at a bank, and then I worked in a bakery. I worked for Au Bon Pain for many, many years. They were bought out by Panera. So, I was a baker, and then I worked in a deli for a short period of time. Then I worked with people with intellectual differences, and I worked in a residential home. And then in 1999 I moved to Ohio, and I worked more with people with intellectual differences in workshops and such. And then—. Then I became disabled, so I wasn't able to work, per se, but I still did a lot of—. I ended up doing—. My work was my volunteering, and my volunteering was pretty much—. I started a trans [transgender] support group in 2007, because there was no—. There was only one transgender support group in Northeast Ohio—and that was out of Cleveland, and that was called TransFamily. And when I moved here in 2—. In—. When I moved here, there were—I didn't know about anything. And then in 2000, I found TransFamily. Started being involved with TransFamily. It was evident that there was a need in the Akron-Canton area, and so I started a group in Akron. And because so many people were coming from Youngstown, and Canton, and Mansfield, and Alliance, and Massillon, you know, Cleveland was much further. And so in 2007, I started a support group. And then I started working with a lot of the leaders in Cleveland, working on policy issues. 2009 we got—. And—. And I—. And this, like I said, this is all kind of—. It wasn't my work, because I never got paid for it, but it was my passion. Then in 2009—. So, I could tell you a lot about the different stuff I did. So then I started working policy work with folks, with the leadership of folks in Cleveland and in Akron. Then I formed a nonprofit called Margie's Hope in 2011. And then in 2021 we opened Margie's Closet [1384 W.117th St., Lakewood], which is the first retail clothing store in the midwest—that I'm aware of—that takes in donations, turns it turns them around, and resells them for small profit to service folks within the trans [transgender] community. Anybody can come in to the store, but it's a safe space for trans individuals to be able to go and get clothing, feel comfortable, and so on and so forth, while providing more funding for folks within the trans community. And since then, I've been figuring out what I want to do now, because I stepped away from Margie's Hope work in 2022, so last year. So, that's kind of like what I've done. Oh, and I also do home repair work on the side to get a little bit of extra money. And I've also—. But I keep forgetting all these little things that I did. I also was a professor at Case Western [Reserve University] in their Mandel School of Social Work. And I also do diversity training consulting. I've consulted with several companies, organizations. I was also—. You know, I've done training work. Not just on LGBT issues, but cultural competency, racial understanding, and so on. I think that's it. (laughs)
Riley Habyl [00:14:32] Before we dive a little deeper into your history of advocacy work—. If we could circle back a little bit to your childhood—
Jacob Nash [00:14:41] Sure.
Riley Habyl [00:14:42] You've mentioned that when you were in Catholic school, you were uncomfortable wearing skirts. Were you—. Did you have any awareness at that time about your gender identity, and your—. Did you have any understanding of gender, or of trans [transgender] identities at that time?
Jacob Nash [00:14:58] No, the only thing I knew was that I knew I was different. I thought I should be a boy, but I didn't know it was possible. I mean, I remember at seven years old trying to stand and pee like boys do. And needless to say, it didn't go very well. But, you know, I tried nonetheless, and—. You know, that wasn't even a topic of conversation. I mean, we were barely—. In '64 we weren't even talking about the gay community, let alone trans individuals, let alone trans men. So, you know, it didn't come—. I didn't find out about it until 1998 when I saw a movie called What Sex Am I? And after I saw that film, that's when the words came out and there was a, "Oh my gosh, I can actually do this, and this is who I really am," because I was—. You know, I was seen as your typical tomboy back then. You know, climbing trees, riding bikes, going fishing, you know, those type of things. I didn't do the girl things. And while I know that not every tomboy, you know, ends up transitioning, I certainly was that person. You know, my sexual orientation—. Back then I was told girls date boys and get married to boys. Because even still, you know, in the seventies and eighties we still weren't talking about the gay community. Except for—. Well, even then I didn't really even know about AIDS, or understand it very much, you know. And so—. And it wasn't that my friends, my parents were homophobic or transphobic. It just wasn't talked about because we didn't know of anybody in our family at that point that was gay or trans, and so it wasn't talked about, you know, that—. You've got those—. You know, we have those blinders on if we don't know about something, or hear about something, we're not personally privy to it. You know, even privilege. You know, until we are in the midst of oppression, we don't understand the privilege that we have. You know? So, I didn't have the language back then to talk about who I was. And it's interesting because, you know, I told my family—. So, I saw this movie in May of '98. I went to—. Back then, there was a whole—. You had to—. There was only one in my area—. There was only one gender clinic, and it was at Trinity College in Connecticut. And at the time, I was living in New Hampshire so I had to travel to—. Because there were no counselors that knew anything about working with transgender people back then, you know, so I ended up having to travel to this gender clinic. I had to be seen by five different doctors and be approved by these doctors to transition. I had to get a letter. I had to get permission to, you know, start on hormones. You know, back then we had to wait a year before you could even have any type of surgery or anything, and so there was a whole process. And so, I told my family in the fall. Started with my siblings. I had gone home to tell my family, but my parents weren't there. So I told my siblings and I told them, "Don't tell mom or dad." And so, then I had to talk to my mom on the phone because I wasn't home, and I didn't want to wait too long to tell her since my siblings knew. And so, you know, I followed her and did the usual chit-chat, and then—. You know, my mom and I weren't very close. Not because I didn't want to have a relationship with her. I just didn't know how to. You know, both my sisters had great relationships with my mom, but I just didn't know how. And my mom, even I—. I remember—. My mom and I—. The last thing that my mother and I did together by ourselves was—. She took me to go see The Joy Luck Club, and after she's like, "Oh my gosh. Wasn't that such a great movie?" And I was like, "It's okay. It wasn't my cup of tea." And she started crying and bawling, "I don't understand. I don't know how to get through to you. I love you. I want to be friends with you. I want to be close to you." And I was like, "I don't know what to tell you," because I didn't know. I didn't know how to do it, you know? And so, you know, we started off the usual conversation and then I said, "Well, mom, there's something I need to tell you." And I said, "I'm just going to come out and tell you." I said, "I'm a boy and I'm going to have a sex change," of course, because that's what it was called back then. And she's like, "Oh." And I said, "That's not what you thought I was gonna tell you, was it?" She said, "No." I said, "You thought I was going to tell you that I was a lesbian, weren't you—didn't you?" And she's like, "Yes." I'm like, "Sorry." (laughs) You know? But I said, "You know, you've always told me to march to the beat of my own drummer." And that was the thing that—. You know, I was very much of a loner growing up. I didn't have any friends in high school. I had two—. Well, it wasn't until high school that I really had friends, and that was my sophomore year of college—sophomore year of high school where I found two of my best friends. And lo and behold, one of them during—after high school, she came out as a lesbian. So did my other friend. So, you know what—. They say you always find each other, not realizing it sometimes, you know. And so my mom was like, "Okay." And she's—. she's like, "Tell me more." And so my mom—being the nurse, you know—went to try and find more information out. Of course, back then there was very little internet information. Every time you type in transsexual—because that was the word back then—you got porn for the most part, you know. And so, I told my mother that I was going to start on testosterone in December of '98. And she's like, "Well, can you wait? And can we have a meeting with the counselor that diagnosed you?" And I said, "Um, sure, we can have a meeting. But no, I'm not going to wait," because I knew that if I waited I may not ever start, you know, And it wasn't because I was trying to disrespect my mother, it was—I knew that I had to do it for me. And so—. And I know this is long, you know, from the question that you asked, but it all ties in. So, when we all went—and we went as a family. The only person that did not go was my brother Andrew because at that point he had kind of like, estranged himself from the family. So my brother-in-law—who was married to my sister, the man of color, Bert—he said, you know, "Okay, I'll start off." He said, you know, "We don't understand this. We've known her all her life, and this just doesn't make any sense," you know, "You're saying you meet with her for an hour, and now you're saying that she's a guy and it just—. You know, we've known her and this doesn't make sense." And my mother chimed in right after and she said, "Bert, I'm sorry, but I've known him all his life, and it makes perfect sense." And she looked at me and she said, "I'm so sorry I didn't know about this sooner—I didn't know anything about this sooner, or I would have done something about it." And I said, "Mom," I said, "I didn't even have the language, so I didn't—. How do you talk about something that you know that you think you are, but, you know—but you're told that you're not? So, how do you talk about that? Especially when there's no language, especially when there's—. You know, I didn't have the words to talk about it." I said, "But I do now." And I don't remember anything else in that whole conversation, except I knew that. And so, I kind of jumped ahead of Bert—jumped ahead of it, because I didn't tell you about my father's reaction. Well, my dad is a man—. You don't ever know how he's going to react or respond to something, and so I always walked on eggshells around my father. And so I said to my mom, "Okay, so how are we going to tell dad?" And she says, "I'm not going to tell him. That's up to you." I said, "Okay." I said, "Well, here's my thought. I'll take him out—I'll take you both out to eat, and I'll tell him there." She said, "Okay, sounds good," because I knew he wouldn't yell at me or anything in public. And so when I did that—. When I took him out, I said, "Hey, dad, you know, we're out because there's something I need to share with you," and so I told him. And he said, "Well, you know. Hey, it's your life. You've got to live it. So, you know. To each their own." And I was like, okay, that was a better response than I thought I was going to get. So then, fast forward 2000. So, yeah, in 2000—June of 2000, my mother dies unexpectedly. Prior to my mother passing—. Two weeks prior, Erin—my soon to be ex—and I went to Massachusetts for a wedding for a family member that we didn't even know. It was a—. It was a relation of my aunt's who had just gotten remarried, so it was her new husband's daughter. But it was an opportunity to go home and see family. So before we left, you know. Erin—. Erin had come home before with me, and she'd met my family and stuff. And so, when we were there, you know, we're sitting watching Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, when my parents came home and I had my arm around Erin. No big deal. Well, to my father, it was a big deal. So, the next day before we left my mother says, "Can we sit down and talk?" So, we sat down and talked for 4 hours and she said, "You know, your father is very confused, and was kind of upset when he came home and saw your arm around Erin." And I said, "Well, mom, who did he think I was going to be with?" And she said, "I don't think he really thought about it." You know, because prior—actually, I was married to a guy because I—. That's what I thought I was supposed to do. Get married, have 2.5 kids, you know, all that kind of stuff. And within a year I was divorced because I couldn't do it, you know. So, I know that was a very long answer to your question, and I know it went into some other details, but that's kind of how my—. How I grew up, and kind of like the overview of, you know, me and—. You know, prior to understanding who I was, though, I was [a] very depressed kid. I was suicidal. I was—didn't like myself. And not because—. And I wasn't a bad kid, I just—. I couldn't relate to the person that I saw in the mirror, you know? And it wasn't until I started my transition, until I had the language that I was like, "Oh my gosh, now this makes total sense. This makes sense as to why I didn't like myself, why I never liked wearing dresses or skirts or looking like a girl or being like a girl. That was just never me." You know? And once I started my transition, the suicidal ideation went away. The depression lifted. It was a different—. It was a different kind of depression and anxiety after. It wasn't—. I wasn't depressed because I didn't like myself, I was depressed because of how society saw me. You know, the anxiety was, "Oh, what are people going to think? What are people going to say?" Because back then, I mean, we weren't talking about it, let alone being open and upfront about it. So again, I know that was a long answer.
Riley Habyl [00:28:18] No, no worries. If I ask a question, it's no problem to go whatever direction you'd like, 'cause it—. Like you said, everything is—. It's incredibly relevant and important, so no worries about that either. I know that you mentioned in—when you were growing up as a child in the seventies, that you didn't have any access to—. There wasn't any trans [transgender] visibility in the media, or the people were talking about. Did that—. Had that changed at all by the time that you had started to transition in the nineties?
Jacob Nash [00:28:51] No, the only—. The only—. The only real thing that had happened that was somewhat in the news—. And this was—. And this is in '98, Boys Don't Cry. Well, Boys Don't Cry came out in 2000, but Brandon Teena had been raped and murdered in '98. And also, you know, the Transgender Day of Remembrance had started because—. Gwen [Gwendolyn Ann Smith] started that in Massachusetts, but even that took a while to catch on, you know, because there again, there was hardly any conversation. And even when Brandon Teena was raped and murdered, that even took a while to be heard about. Michael—. Michael—. Not Michael. Matthew Shepard's murder. Everybody knew about that, but people didn't hear about Brandon Teena until really the movie Boys Don't Cry came out. And I think it was only because Hilary Swank played Brandon Teena, and that's truly why I think the knowledge of trans [transgender] guys also came out. You know, because it's—. Paris is Burning was out and there were, you know other things about drag queens and trans women, but not really about trans guys. And then Southern Comfort came out after that. But even still, even to this day, there's very little visibility still about trans guys or transmasculine people. It's mostly trans women, because—. Think about the situations that are happening within a lot of the states right now. They want to ban trans women from sports. They want to ban trans girls from going into the bath—the girls' rooms [bathrooms]. You know, they don't think about guys like us because they think that it's men wanting to be women. And there's still such a misunderstanding about who we are, and there is very little—. Because trans guys also, transmasculine people—if they want to grow facial hair, and depending on how long they're on hormones—we blend right into society, and trans guys don't have to come out a lot of times. Trans women—depends on when they start, how early they start [transitioning]. You know, when I came out, it was much later in life and it was a lot harder to hide. But trans guys—as soon as you start getting facial hair, you don't have to have any type of surgery—you are automatically Sir and Mr.
Riley Habyl [00:32:08] Is that level of acceptance something that you've experienced both within LGBTQ+ community spaces and in, like, straight cis [cisgender] spaces?
Jacob Nash [00:32:22] No. There were many—. It took a long time. When I started becoming active, and doing my activist work—. Sorry, there's a helicopter going by.
Riley Habyl [00:32:40] No worries.
Jacob Nash [00:32:40] So—. I was just kind of waiting for it to go by. So, when I started doing my activism work advocacy work in—. (unintelligible) Well—. So, I started because in 2002 my wife and I—soon to be ex—tried to get a marriage license, and Ohio denied us. And so we became very visible very quickly—unintentionally—because we were in the courts fighting to get a marriage license in 2002. So, my visibility happened because of a marriage license that we were denied. So—. Because marria—. Marriage was between one man and one woman in the state of Ohio in 2002. Even though I had transitioned, even though my birth certificate (audio garbled), they still would not acknowledge it. They still would not accept it. And so, all of a sudden, we became these accidental activists, and one of the first trans [transgender] men to be very visible in the news. So—. To the point of—. We had—. I mean, it went countywide, then statewide, then nationwide, then worldwide. We had German TV come over and do a story on us because they couldn't believe that a judge in the free world wouldn't give a straight couple a marriage license. Now, mind you, we weren't really straight—because my wife is a lesbian, and I'm bi [bisexual]. But you know, it was a—. Perceived—. We were perceived to be straight, of course, because we've got that privilege. Maury Povich wanted us on his show, Bill O'Reilly, Kris Mathers. We didn't do any of those because we wanted to be taken seriously. Now, if Oprah [Winfrey] had called, that would have been a different story. But at the time, I was one of the first trans men to make worldwide news—because of our marriage case. The second was a guy named Michael Kantaras who—. At the same time we were trying to get a marriage license, he was trying to get custody of his kids down in Florida. Michael just happened to be from Youngstown, Ohio. And so, at the same time, you're seeing and hearing about two trans men, which you never heard about. Every once in a while you hear about a trans woman, you know, being denied a marriage license because she's trying to marry a guy. But, you know—but you never heard about trans men. And so, I was one of the first visible trans men. And then, you know, of course, then everybody and their brothers—the LGBTQ+ organizations, you know—wanted to have me and Erin involved in their boards, or this, that, and the other thing. We were on Youngstown—. Or, you know, Pride Center board. We were on the—Cleveland's LGBT [Community] Center board. We were on—. I was the first trans person on Cleveland's HRC [Human Rights Campaign] steering committee. And this is—. We're talking, we started on their steering committee in 2003, so it's—. So, we're talking 20 years ago. But even still, HRC was started in this—you know, early seventies, so it took 30-plus years before they had a trans person on their steering committee in Ohi—. In Cleveland at least. I don't—. I think in Ohio, at all. You know, so—. So, in answering your question (laughs) about being accepted in LGBT spaces and cis [cisgender] spaces, we were—. I was tolerated. And I say that because even still today there are many gay and lesbian individuals who are not trans-supportive. And it even took a while for folks within the Cleveland Akron LGBTQ+ community to become trans-friendly. You know, a good friend of mine—. I'm not going to name who he is, but he was on the HRC [Human Rights Campaign] steering committee, had been in a lot of political activism groups. Every time I would see him, he always had a trans joke. And I kind of just laughed it off, you know. Now, he gets it. Now, he's okay. But back then, you know, didn't get it. A lot of, you know—. HRC [Human Rights Campaign] would say, "Oh, we're trans-supportive," but they would turn around and not do supportive things for the trans community. So, HRC [Human Rights Campaign] has been a love-hate relationship for me and a lot of people within the trans community. Same with a lot of different organizations—the LGBT [Community] Center in Cleveland, The AIDS Taskforce, Equality Ohio, Plexus. Yes, they're supportive. Sometimes it takes being that squeaky wheel for them to recognize that the trans community—and transmasculine folks, let alone nonbinary folks—are out here doing the work. So— (audio cuts out briefly)
Riley Habyl [00:39:21] Oh, I apologize. I think your microphone turned off. Sorry.
Jacob Nash [00:39:26] Well—. And for years that was the way I was doing. I helped get domestic partner registry in Cleveland. In, you know, Cleveland Heights, which is the first city in the country to have domestic partner registry. Now, that didn't benefit me, but it certainly benefited folks within the gay community that lived in Cleveland Heights. You know, but when it came to helping to get gender identity and [gender] expression into Cleveland and Akron's nondiscrimination policy, I didn't have that same support, you know. So, yes, the needle has moved. And in 2023 it has moved quite a bit, but we're not where it should be. Because we're part of the gay community still. You know, I often say that trans [transgender] people are a microcosm of society as a whole. We are in every culture, and every religion, and every, you know, gender identity, and every sexual orientation, and every ability or difference. We are everywhere. We're part of everything. But yet, people don't see us that way. When I tell people that I'm a Christian and I'm trans, they look at me—. I get folks within the gay community saying, "How can you? How dare you? They, you know, don't support us, They fight against us." And then I have people in—that are Christian looking at me like, "Well, you can't be a Christian. You're trans. You're a sinner. You're going to hell." And I'm like, "Tell that to God." (laughs) You know? It's my personal relationship. And if you have an issue with it, bring it up with him, because he's the one who says he loves me unconditionally. You know, scripture talks about there being no black, or white, or female—that we're all seen as one in God's eyes—and if that's the case, then you need to take it up with him. So, you know, it was really hard to break into the world of the LGB [lesbian gay bisexual]—the LG [lesbian gay] community—back in the early 2000s to do the work for the trans [transgender] community. And, you know, not trying to toot my own horn, but I was really the only visible trans person doing that work back then. And not—. Notice I said visible. Because there were a lot of people doing it, you know, in different ways, whether it was in the drag community, or, you know, helping to get policy or whatever done—but I was the only visible trans person doing it back then because people were afraid. They were afraid to come out.
Riley Habyl [00:42:41] Could you tell me a little bit more about it? Oh, sorry— (crosstalk).
Jacob Nash [00:42:43] Hopefully I answered your question.
Riley Habyl [00:42:44] Oh, absolutely.
Jacob Nash [00:42:47] Okay.
Riley Habyl [00:42:47] Yeah. Would you be able to tell me a little bit more about how—. So, I know that you said that you started trying to get a marriage license in 2002 in Cleveland. When was it that you were able to actually get the marriage license after all of your advocacy work? It sounds like it took a long time.
Jacob Nash [00:43:10] So—. Yeah. Yeah, it did. It took two years, but we were still denied in Ohio. It went all the way up to—. It went through the appellate level. We were denied there, and we appealed it all the way up to the Ohio Supreme Court. But I got to Columbus—to the courthouse at ten of five, and they wouldn't let me in to file it, so I was—. We were too late in filing it. But we got married in New Hampshire in 2004 because—. So, yes, I'm from Massachusetts. In 2004, we could have gone to Massachusetts and gotten legally married, but it would have been seen as—possibly as a same-sex marriage, because they had both marriages in Massachusetts, and they—. It may not have been recognized in the state of Ohio. So, we went to New Hampshire. We were actually going on vacation with friends, and I talked to my attorney. And I brought all of the documentation that we needed. And we got there, and I said to. Erin—. I said, "So, do you want to get married here?" She's like, "What do you mean?" She says, "We don't have anything." I said, "Oh, yes, we do," and I brought out all the documentation that we needed. And we were actually staying in a little town called Holderness, New Hampshire—and Holderness is where they filmed On Golden Pond. And so we went into their city hall, which was a—. The same—. Which was just a regular building. It looked like a house from the outside. It had the police station, and the fire station, and city hall all in one—because it was only like 500 people in the off-season that lived there. And so, we walked in there and we said, "We want to get a marriage license," and we handed them all of our documents, and so they're—. Including my name change—because, remember, I had been previously married—and including my divorce papers from my ex-husband. And so, they're help—pulling out all the paperwork and everything, and they were like, "Oh, okay. So—. So, your name used to be Michael." And I said, "Oh, no, I'm—." So she was looking at my other marriage license, and she's looking at it, she says, "Oh, so your name used to be Michael?" I said, "No, I'm the other one. And she's like, "Oh..." And she looked at the name changes like, "Oh. Ohhh." "Yeah," I said. "Yeah, I was Pam. I was Pamela." And so she's like, "Oh, okay. So—. So, here's what we're going to do." And I thought, "Oh, great." She's like, "Hold on a minute," and I thought, "Here we go again." But she comes back a few minutes later. Of course, I'm getting all worked up because I'm thinking we're going to go through the same thing. And, of course, my friends who came with us. And Erin's like, "Wait, we don't know anything yet. Don't get worked up yet." So, she comes back and she says, "Okay, so here's what we're going to do," she says, "I'm going to have to call and verify all of this information. But if everything turns out and works out, then what I'm going to do is retroactivate your application to today, because it's—you have to wait five days before you can get married," and so—. And we were only going to be there for five days, and so we had just—we were just going to make that mark. And so, she called and verified everything. And, you know, luckily we were able to get the marriage license. And so on our way out of town, we found a justice of the peace. Because it was such short notice we found a justice of the peace on the way out of town when we were heading to Maine. We stopped at her house and it was, you know, the backyard was gorgeous. There were, you know, mountains all in the back, and it was just beautiful. And my aunt and uncle came up and my sister came and, you know, from Massachusetts. And we had, you know, our close friends there. And so, we got married. Now, mind you, back in 2002 when we thought we were going to get married, we had a whole ceremony. We had—ended up having a commitment ceremony. I mean, like caterer and wedding. And we had a church, but then the deacons of the church—. Because the news of us thought—. The judge outed us on local TV. So, we couldn't get married in the church. The pastor couldn't marry us, even though he knew about it because we told him. He couldn't marry us, or else he was going to lose his job. So, Erin, the night—the day before we're supposed to get married, is looking through the, you know—. Stops, says a little prayer, and opens up the phone book to wedding chapels. She's like, "Ah! Wedding style—you know, Vegas-style weddings here in Ohio." So, she called this place called the Unity Wedding Chapel and ended up leaving a message for the pastor. And pastor calls back and says, "Okay, so, well, the chapel's not available, but I can do it," and he—. She's like, "Okay, hold on. Before you say you'll do it, have you seen the news?" "Oh, no. We don't—. We don't have a TV." "Okay. Have you read in the paper?" "Oh, no. No. We don't have papers." She's like, "Okay, so here's going—. Here's what's happening. My soon-to-be husband is trans. You know, transgender. We were denied a marriage license. We just want somebody to do the ceremony." He's like, "Okay, so when are we doing this?" And so, he married us. Of course, he couldn't marry us by the state, but he married us by the power of the holy spirit. And I was like, "That, to me, is more important." But—. So, fast forward. 2004, we get married in New Hampshire. So, you know, it was a crazy time. And, you know, needless to say, that was also during the time that Massachusetts was trying to get marriage licenses. And so, our case, they thought, was going to ruin the opportunity for marriage equality. And my attorney—. We—. My attorney didn't have any help with our case at all. None of the national organizations would touch us with a ten-foot pole because they thought they were going to lose marriage equality if they worked and helped us. Little do they realize, I think we probably would have gotten marriage equality sooner rather than later. Because when I went to pick up the marriage license here in Ohio, the magistrate pulled me into a room and it was just him and I. And I said, "Well, my birth certificate has been corrected. Look, see, it says male." And he says, "It doesn't matter what your birth certificate says. The state of Ohio goes by chromosomes." And I kind of tilted my head, and I was going to say, "Hmm, well, I wasn't tested for my chromosomes before I got—you know, before I applied for a marriage license." And I was also thinking, "Hmm, do you know how many straight people wouldn't be able to get married—or cis [cisgender] people that wouldn't have been able to get married—if their chromosomes were tested? Because there are a lot of chromosomal anomalies." But I didn't say it because I didn't want to be put in jail. But I was just like, "Okay, so you're saying that the state of Ohio goes by chromosomes? Hmm." And of course, it was just him and I in the room, so nobody else there to hear what he said. But I mean, it was a whole bunch of things. At one point, the judge put a warrant out for my arrest. You know, and it was just—. It was crazy. Crazy. Because he wanted to know what was in my pants, because our attorneys were like, "You're not privy to that. That's not, you know, part of—. You know, Massachusetts has already determined, you know, who he is. You don't have any right to ask him any of those questions." And it was quite interesting. Our attorneys made that judge so mad that he literally picked up his books, slammed them on the desk, and literally walked out of the courtroom without any 'all rise', without 'you're dismissed', nothing. And so everybody's looking around like, is he coming back? I was on the stand at the time, and I'm like, "Can I get down?" I looked at the court reporter, and I said, "Can I get down?" She said, "I don't know. This has never happened before." We had him so, you know, in a tizzy. He just left. So, it was—the whole two years was a whirlwind. You know, from giving interviews, from being on the stand, to being in court, to almost being arrested. It was just—oh, my gosh, you know, crazy. But that's how—. That's how I started doing my work for the trans [transgender] community, though. Because we realized the privilege that we had, you know, being seen as a straight couple. While we knew that that's not who we were, it still had privilege. We knew if it was a trans woman in this position trying to get married to a man, there is no way that they would—. You know, they probably would have been harmed, that couple. You know? There was a couple, actually, in Columbus. It was a trans woman and a lesbian. When they got married, it was—. They, you know, my friends—. They got beat up because it was—. It came out that she was a trans woman, and her and her partner were beat up. So, you know, we see a lot more violence now, but there was still enough—a lot of violence to go around back then. But—. And the only thing—. I know it, the only thing that protected me was the fact that I look like this. Granted, my beard wasn't as good as it is now, but I still had the facial hair.
Riley Habyl [00:54:10] You've mentioned that there were a lot of organizations that didn't want to help you or your legal team. Did they explain to you why it was that—they thought that aiding your case would set back the fight for marriage equality?
Jacob Nash [00:54:28] Um, no. Most of the organizations didn't respond at all. But the only reason I—we know this was because—. So, we were invited to HRC's [Human Rights Campaign] national dinner when we got on the Cleveland HRC steering committee. And basically we said, "We can't afford it. We can't afford to stay in one of the hotels. We can't afford the price of the dinner. We can't afford any of it." Well, they paid for everything. Nice. And one of their speakers, guest speakers, was one of the attorneys that was fighting for marriage equality in Massachusetts. And so, everything was great. Everything was fine. The dinner was nice. You know, a lot of A-gays, as I like to say. You know, the people with the money. And we were about to leave, and Erin had to use the restroom. So she went into the restroom, and who happened to be there but that attorney that spoke. And Erin, you know, went to say thank you, and tell her who she was, and everything. And the attorney—. Because Erin was holding out her hand to shake her hand and thank her. And the woman looks at her, and she says, "I know who you are. You're going to ruin it for all of us. You're going to ruin, you know, marriage equality. You just need to go back where you belong." And I was like—. So, she comes out and tells me this. And of course, I had some—. You know, I had been drinking a little bit and I'm like, "Where is she?" I'm like, "How dare she? Does she even realize that we're putting our lives on the line for marriage equality?" Not just for us—because it could have helped marriage equality for everybody. Instead of people looking at the sex of who somebody is to get married, people would just be allowed to be married to whomever they choose, you know? But no, she wanted to, you know, make it about us. And I was just like, that is unacceptable. So, we knew that there was talk around the community not to help us because they thought it would hurt mar—the fight for marriage equality. And of course, you know, we were trying to do it in 2002. We didn't get marriage equality until 2016, as you know. So, it was frustrating to think that, you know, here we were trying to do this not just for us. Because we knew that if we were able to do this, it could help marriage equality. But they didn't see it that way. They saw they saw it as pushing us back years, and years, and years. And, you know, I don't know that that did. But we obviously didn't get it anytime soon, even though we kept fighting for it.
Riley Habyl [00:57:33] You've mention that you'd founded TransAlive in 2007. Can you sort of tell me how—the circumstances that led to the creation of that organization?
Jacob Nash [00:57:49] Sure. Like I said, there were a lot of people that were traveling long distances to get to Cleveland, to TransFamily. And even at that—. Even then, it was unobtainable for many people because of distance. Also, where the meetings were. So, two things happened in 2007. The formation of TransAlive, and then the changing of the location of where TransFamily was. So, TransFamily was actually founded in 1989 by Karen and Bob Gross, because their child came out to them as trans [transgender]. And they initially were starting a parents' group, and it was called TrransFamily, for parents of trans individuals. Well, trans folks heard about it, and so they wanted to start coming, and so it actually turned more into a support group for trans individuals. And so—. But it was at Karen and Bob's home in Lyndhurst. So, it was not accessible on the bus line. It was in a predominantly Jewish and white neighborhood, so people of color ra—were very, very rarely at the meetings because of accessibility and location. And so, when we realized that there were a lot of people coming in from farther far distances, driving wise—like I said earlier, from Youngstown and Canton and Akron and, you know, Massillon and Medina, you know—. I said—. Well, people said, "We need something closer." And I was like, okay, well I live in Akron. I think I'll start one in Akron, because that's more centrally located for Youngstown, and Canton, and Akron, and so on. And so I talked to the pastor at my church that I was going to at the time, and I said, "Hey, can I start a support group here?" And she's like, "Sure." And so, that's what we did. And for a very long time I sat with nobody there, because people—. You know, back then it was still somewhat word of mouth. There was not very much social—. There was no social media. There were some Yahoo chat groups, but not much. So, it was word of mouth, you know. So, it took a long time for people to come. But, you know, as I've always said to people, "If you build it, they will come." And sure enough, eventually people started hearing more about it and coming to the group. And I made sure it was not on the same day as TransFamily so that if people that went to TransFamily wanted a second opportunity for, you know, social interaction with people, then they could come down to the one in Akron as well. And so eventually it just kind of snowballed, and people, you know, realized that it was there and there was more support, and so on. So, eventually I started running the TransFamily group because Karen and Bob [Gross] wanted to retire from doing that. And so, I started facilitating that support group as well. And then we talked about forming an official 501c3, because TransFamily wasn't that. And so, we did. We started the process, where I was appointed the first executive director of TransFamily. And then there was an incident with—. Karen and Bob saw me as a second—as a child, as a son. But the problem was, they could not separate their personal feelings from professional dealings. And so they decided to come out of—some—what they considered retirement, because they didn't like the direction I was taking the board. And at one of the board meetings, they kind of told me—said some things that were inappropriate. And I said, "I'm not putting up with that," and I stepped down. It put a bitter taste in my mouth, so I really haven't gone back to a TransFamily meeting. I mean, Bob is—has passed, and Karen is no longer here. But, you know, some—. My friend Stacey Parsons then became the facilitator. And the 501c3 died out and—which is really sad. But in 2007, I convinced Karen and Bob [Gross] to move TransFamily from their house to the LGBT [Community] Center in Cleveland because that was more centrally located. People could catch the bus to get there. There was parking if people drove from further away. And it also showed Cleveland LGB [lesbian gay bisexual] community that there was a vital, strong trans [transgender] community in Cleveland and around northeast Ohio. And that's really what was important, was that there was more visibility of trans people for folks within the gay community, so that they knew that we weren't just drag performers, but we were actually folks who identified within the trans spectrum more than within the drag community, you know. So that was very, very important. So, those two things kind of happened simultaneously.
Riley Habyl [01:03:53] Were you traveling back and forth between Cleveland and Akron at this point?
Jacob Nash [01:03:58] Oh, yes I was. Almost every day, because I was also—. Like I said, I was also on the Center—on the LGBTQ [Community] Center's board, and so I was doing a lot of programming with the [LGBT Community] Center. I was doing a lot of outreach. Because I didn't have money to give I spent a lot of my—I gave a lot of my talents to the board. So, I was doing some programing for the board. I was, you know, speaking to their youth program. I was helping with other programs that they had at the time. So, I was—almost every single day I was going back and forth from Cleveland to Akron. That's why I—. You know, I often said, you know, "I live in Akron—. I live in Cleveland, but sleep in Akron." You know, in fact, several times city council members had said to me, "Jake, why don't you just move to Cleveland?" And I was like, "I would love to. If you find me a house that I can afford and you want to sell my house for me in Akron, I'll be more than happy to move to Cleveland." But, you know, we moved to Akron, actually for our church, because even before I moved to—. We moved to Akron in 2004. You know, we were going back—. I was going back and forth up to Cleveland for the HRC [Human Rights Campaign] meetings and stuff like that, too, so—. But we were living in Warren at the time, which was of course, much further away. Her family's in—. Erin's family's in Warren, so we wanted somewhere in between, and Akron—. We ended up going to church in Akron, so we figured, "Okay, well, we'll just stay in Akron." And then I became the praise team leader at our church, so that was even more of a reason to, you know, live in Akron, too.
Riley Habyl [01:05:45] How did you get involved with trans, non-binary, and gender-expansive communities both within Cleveland and within Akron?
Jacob Nash [01:05:57] Well, like I said, I started working with TransFamily, but then I also—. The more visibility I had—. Because I was the—really the only visible trans [transgender] person, people were starting to connect with who I was within the gay community and within the trans community. And I was invited to speak a lot of different places. And most of the places I was speaking in were a lot of the colleges, and also within the GSA's [gay-straight alliances] in high schools. And so, you know, I've probably spoken at every single college just about in Northeast Ohio, including some of the Catholic colleges. Like, I've spoken at John Carroll, I've spoken at Ursuline College, I've spoken at Walsh University down in Canton. Of course, Cleveland State [University], Kent State University. I taught it at Case Western [Reserve University], you know. Community colleges—almost every single one of them. So, because I was starting to be known more I also gave out my contact information everywhere I went. So, if people had questions—whether they were trans, non—they could reach out to me, ask questions. Because, remember, it was still at the very beginning of having conversations about who trans people were. And also, I was starting to form panels for the colleges. So, you know, when a college would call me—or somebody would call me—to come and speak, I would say, "Okay, so do you want a panel of people? Do you want—. How do you want this? Do you want presentations Do you want a panel? Do you want—." And if people would be like, "Oh, yeah. A panel sounds good," I was like, okay. And I would tell them, "Do you want a trans woman? Do you want non-binary? Do you want somebody that's intersex? Do you want a family member? A parent? Who do you want to make up this panel?" Because I wanted to make sure that they got the richest dynamic of people—nice cross-section. Also folks, you know, who identified as cross-dressers at the time, with—. They would probably be called non-binary now, you know, but—,. So I would put together these panels of amazing people to come and share and speak about their lives. And many people, it would be their first time speaking. And many people were afraid. And so I had to, in some respect, teach them how to share their story, and help them realize that it was powerful. It empowered them to share it. Because now nobody could out them really, because they're outing themselves and they're sharing their stories. And when you do that, there is so much power. You get so much power in sharing your story because it becomes this—. For me it becomes a teaching tool for anybody that I talk to that—you know, who doesn't understand the trans community. And, you know, I remember when—the first time my friend Stacy, like I said, who is also seen as a leader in the trans community now. The first time she spoke—and it was at Kent State, and she didn't want to do it for so long. And I convinced her because I said, "You have a powerful story. You have something to share. You yourself are amazing and incredible." And the other thing was for me, I always would share what I used to look like, all—as well as my name. Because for me, that gave me more power. It wouldn't take away anything from me because now, you know, as we—as the Internet and all of that became more available, you can find pictures of just about anybody in any state online. And so, if I shared my picture and my name, nobody else could. You know? And that also for me became powerful because it also helped me see that who I was as Pam—my life is Pam, and the things that I did as Pam, and the life that I led as Pam—is still Jacob. And if it were not for Pam, Jacob could not and would not have existed. And so, I try to help empower my community by sharing those truths that I found from myself with them, to help them empower themselves to share who they were in safe spaces until they felt comfortable sharing them with whomever. And I will tell you, that changed people's lives because then they were, you know—. Because remember, I was talking about helping to make policy changes within, you know, the city of Akron and the city of Cleveland. And what helped was people sharing their stories as to why these policy changes would impact their lives in a positive way instead of the way that they were. And they could never share that if they were not empowered to first share it in a safe space. You know, and that's one of the reasons why I started doing some of this work, is because I not only had to empower myself, but I had—. But I felt, again, because of the privilege that I had, because of people just seeing me like this—I could walk into a room, I could do trainings, I could do presentations without this assumption that I'm trans myself until I opened my mouth and shared my story. That changed people's views. That changed people's minds about who transgender people were. And so, you know, that's one of the reasons—. I'm hoping I'm, you know, getting your question correct. But that's one of the reasons I started doing the work. Not because—. Not only because now I was an out and visible person, but also I helped—. I wanted to empower my community. You know, I hope that made sense—
Riley Habyl [01:13:28] It did.
Jacob Nash [01:13:28] —and answered your question too. I forgot your question now. But, you know, I'm hoping it did.
Riley Habyl [01:13:37] Absolutely. Just thinking back to this period of—where there was less trans [transgender] visibility, less trans people in the media, people were less aware of trans people and issues that are important to the community—. What were some of the—. I'm thinking about how to phrase this. What were some of the problematic ideas, or stereotypes, or issues that you had to confront when trying to increase the visibility of trans communities and trans voices, both within LGBTQ+ spaces and outside of LGBTQ+ spaces?
Jacob Nash [01:14:22] Well, regardless of whether it was an LGBTQ+ space or not, there was this stereotype of trans [transgender] people being mentally unstable. Now, of course, there are trans people that are mentally unstable. But that's just like the rest of society, you know? But that's not the majority of who we are. There is also the stereotype of, you know, that—and even some within the gay community—that it was a fetish. You know, that cross-dressing was a fetish or a sexual thing. Of course, like I said, you're always going to get some of those people where it is. 99.999% of the time, it's not. So, we're dealing with those two main issues. So, that it's a mental illness, or it's a sexual illness. So, when I presented or when I spoke, all of a sudden they were so—. They were seeing someone, first of all, who was educated—because at that point I had only had a bachelor's degree—that I was educated. I was knowledgeable about the subject. I was talking about transgender people or, you know, the LGBTQ+ community. I—. Whatever field I was speaking to, whether it was within the foster care system, whether it was in a school setting, whether it was in a particular class, like a psychology class or a social work class, if it was, you know, within a church setting—I always gear my presentations to wherever I was. It wasn't a generic 101 that you would see with just terminology, because I realized that, you know, they're dealing—. Yes, they're dealing with terminology, but there are other facets within the dynamic in which I'm speaking that need to be addressed. And so of course, I became knowledgeable in those areas and would speak to that. But then the important part that—. Not only was I knowledgeable in that—but it was also sharing my story, like I was just saying. Because now all of a sudden they see this professional, articulate, educated, Christian person, and they think, "Great". Now I throw in a twist. (beeping noise) And I used to talk about trends at the beginning of my presentations. And I quickly learned that when I did that, all of a sudden people weren't really paying attention to what I was saying. They were looking at me trying to figure out how I was ever born a woman. And so, that would throw a kink into my presentation because then it was, "How was this person—. How? How? How?" You know, and then all of a sudden the stereotypes would come back. So, then I realized that putting my personal story in the middle of my presentation was much more effective than talking about it at the beginning, because now people saw me for who I was—and all of me. And that helped change people's attitudes about mental health within the trans community, education within the trans community, occupations within the trans community, religion, you know, within the trans community. All of these things where there are so many biases and stereotypes now were being challenged by this guy who shows a picture of who he was in high school with this long hair, looking very female, feminine— well, not feminine, but female—and so they're challenged. And I don't—. And when—. I loved when I do it in classes, because I often would tell the professors—. And I still do this. I tell the professors, you know, "Have the students write a short essay—page, page and a half—about their experience of me coming to the class." Because then they have to think about it. Then it's not just, "Oh, here's this guy coming in and speaking," and then they can forget all about it once I leave, you know? But if they have to think about their experiences while I'm there, and what they were thinking, how they were feeling, all of that—then they have to think about who I am as a person, what knowledge I brought, and their own personal biases about people that are different than them. You know, so—. You know, that's one of my favorite things to do because—. And I've had professors then share with me the paper—some of the papers that their students would write, and I loved it because I could always—. Inevitably there was always somebody that saw themselves as an evangelical Christian in the classroom, you know, that was—that would be like, "I don't understand. You know, my pastor always said—," or, "I heard this—." And one of the things I would always share also was that the best thing that one of my pastors ever said to me was, "Don't believe everything I say. Research it yourself," and I also share that with students. And then the students go back and research and they're like, "Well, now I have to question what I've learned, and what my pastor has told me. Because here you are, obviously a knowledgeable person who loves God and wants to serve God, and yet that's not what I was taught. I was taught that you don't love God, and you're going to hell, and all this stuff, and that's not my experience now." And I love that. I absolutely love that, because then that helps change people's hearts and minds, you know, about who the trans community is. Even within the gay community, you know, when I share with folks, "Hey, you know, we're not all straight." And I can guarantee you the people who thought they were straight presenting when they transitioned. So, for instance, somebody—. And many—. I'm one of those exceptions where I was never involved in the LGBTQ+ community, because I never saw myself as a lesbian before I transitioned. But many trans men have been in that position, and saw themselves—. They have always liked women. Well, now they're out, you know, once they've transitioned a bit—and they're able to separate their gender identity from their sexual orientation—have been like, "Hmm, maybe I'm not straight. Maybe I'm gay, or maybe I'm bi [bisexual], or maybe I'm pan [pansexual]." But that's one of those questions that many trans people and non-binary people now are thinking about—as opposed to, prior to them transitioning or prior to them being on hormones, you know. So, it's really interesting, even within the gay community, when I share that, you know, there are a lot of gay trans men. You know, one of the people—. And I know I'm kind of jumping all over here, but—. One of the speakers that I had come to TransFamily years ago was my friend Brooke Willis. I love Brooke [Willis]. He has worked for many, many, many years with HIV and AIDS, with doing research and trial—what's the word—focus groups, and so on. And so, many, many years ago, early 2000s, he came and spoke to TransFamily about research that they were doing on HIV and AIDS—and they were doing it with men who have sex with men, and then trans women who have sex with men. And I said to him back then, "What about trans men who have sex with men?" And he said, "No, it's not part of it." I said, "You need to bring it up because it needs to be a research question." And it wasn't until 2000—I want to say '18, '17, '18, '19, yeah—that there was finally some research being done on trans men who have sex with men. And even when you hear about PrEP, or any of those protective aids so that people don't get HIV or whatever, you always see this disclaimer—whether it's Trivago, or PrEP, or whatever—that says research has not been done on trans men who have sex with men. And it's like, why? You know, I—. That's the one part of my masters that I wish I could do more of, but I don't—. I'm not a researcher, but I've got a lot of questions that I wish—. You know, and I told doc—you know, researchers—. I told, you know, my doctor friends, "Here, you need to be doing more research on this, and you need to be doing more research on that," you know. And their answer is always, "Well, there's not enough people to study. And I'm like, "Yes, there are. You're just not looking for them," you know. Time and time again. And [not] until 2015—until the National Center for Transgender Equality and NGLTF [National LGBTQ Task Force] did their survey—did people believe me when I said there are enough trans people out there. You know, when—. 2005. And I know I'm jumping all over the place here again. 2005. There was an organization called People of All Colors Together, and what—. My best friend Michael Kelly was one of the co-chairs of it, and they decided to do a health fair. And so they, you know, had all these hospitals and different organizations come in and table and whatever, and they had a speaker that talked about health care for the gay community. And then I said to him, I said, "Well, let me talk about the disparities of health care for the trans community." And he's like, "Oh, yeah, that'd be great." So, my friend Henry Ng—Dr. Henry Ng—came in and did his presentation on health care within the gay and lesbian community. So then after he spoke, I spoke about the disparities of health care. After I spoke, he came up to me and he said, "I am so embarrassed." He said, "As a gay man and a physician, you would think that I would know that—what you just spoke of." He said, "I didn't have any idea. I had no idea." He said, "Can we exchange information, and can we sit down and talk?" I said, "Yes, we can," and we sat down and had this huge conversation. And I said, "We need to have a pride clinic." I said, "Because I will tell you right now—if you build it, they will come." 2007—. So, prior to that—. So 2005—. Between 2005 and 2007, when the MetroHealth Pride Clinic opened. He did some research. He called 150 hospitals in northeast Ohio and asked them what their policy was with regard to transgender patients. And of course, none of the hospitals had any type of policy in place—and would say to him, "Well, if you put a policy in place at Metro, let us know because we want to follow suit." Of course, nobody wanted to do the research—or do the policy—but they would they said that they would follow suit. So, then he realized that there was this huge need—especially within the trans community—for health care for folks. Because I said, "There are very few doctors that provide hormones to trans folks." There was nobody back then in the Akron area. My doctor was in Warren. I had to travel back and forth to Warren, Ohio, until 2019 to get my hormones. He was the first doctor in north—well, that I'm aware of, within the Warren area, Trumbull area that would do hormones. And it was only out of trial and error. I was his advisor, you know, on how to give hormones to trans people. He didn't have any idea. I showed him—gave him the standards of care from the World Professional Association for Transgender Health. And so, he learned how to be a trans provider through me and through the documents that, you know, WPATH [World Professional Association for Transgender Health] had put out. And like I said, we're going, you know, back to 2000. Back then—. Because I had to get a letter from my doctor saying that all of my—that all my surgeries were completed in order to get my birth certificate corrected. So, he was doing it in 2000 back when there were very few doctors around that did it, you know. After Henry [Ng] started the [MetroHealth] Pride Clinic—. And even to this day, 70% of the patients that go are trans folks. Summa Health—same thing. They had a panel. I was part of the panel. I was part of the advisory board for Akron Children's Hospital when they started their gender clinic—helping them, advising them, you know, giving them trainings on how to work with trans folks, connecting them with WPATH [World Professional Association for Transgender Health], connecting them with Henry [Ng] so that Henry [Ng] could come in and also give them a doctor's point of view. I was a layperson, you know, but I was talking. I was, you know, presenting to hospitals and—about transgender care because there was very little. You know, when I had—. When I got—. So, I ended up having endometriosis. Now, was it exacerbated from hormones or not? We don't know. I just know that I—. About a year and a half after I started on my hormones, I got really sick. Ended up having to go up to University Hospital because the doctor—. No doctor in Warren would touch me. Doctor—. It was actually a resident who worked with me, because the head doctor of the McDonald Women's Clinic wouldn't touch me because he thought I just wanted surgery because I was trans—and that wasn't the case. I ended up having major endometriosis. I ended up—. It was one the size of a grapefruit hidden behind my bladder. There was other you know, endometriosis, you know, behind my uterus and intestines—all, you know, ended up getting taken out, but just— (Jacob's audio cuts out briefly)
Riley Habyl [01:31:39] I apologize, I think the audio has cut out from your—. Oh, there you go. Sorry.
Jacob Nash [01:31:46] You know, here I am at University Hospital, and I'm the very first person in the morning to have surgery in the women's clinic. They did it purposefully so I—so that there were not a lot of other patients there. Well, because of the endometriosis there were complications, and it took much longer than expected in surgery. Well, you know, Erin kept asking for information and the receptionist kept misgendering me. She was rude to Erin. It was bad. So, I was then in recovery. Well, apparently I started making noise, because—. Well, I had been cut from pelvic bone to pelvic bone. You know, from side to side, and I was in a lot of pain. And so, I'm making noise. And so, they gave me pain meds. Well, apparently I kept making noise, and kept making noise. And so, they kept giving me more morphine, and more morphine, and more morphine to shut me up because there were other patients there—to the point where it shut down my breathing. I stopped breathing. And they were doing it because they didn't want the other patients to know I was there. Now, mind you, other patients—. Their curtains were closed. They didn't have any clue. But because they were afraid that they would find out—. And the only reason we found this out was because when Erin finally was told that I was being wheeled up to a room, I was outside in a hall while they were clearing out a closet. And she knew th—. She noticed I was on ten liters of oxygen, and she was doing work in the medical field with medical equipment, so she knew about oxygen levels and all that. And she asked the nurse, "Why is he on ten liters of oxygen?" And they said, "Oh, well, you know. It's normal." And she said, "No, it's not normal. He shouldn't be on ten liters of oxygen. Something happened. What happened?" And they ended up telling her. Well, they put me in a room, like I said. It was a closet. There was no buzzer, there was no phone, there was no chair for Erin to even sit down. I mean, they were taking chairs out of there, they were taking screens, all kinds of stuff. And they told me that I couldn't go past a certain door because they didn't want other patients knowing I was there. Because, again, I was in the McDonald Women's Clinic. So needless to say, I was up and moving as quickly as I could so that I could get out of there because they weren't treating me well. And, you know, people were like, "Well, why don't you file a lawsuit"? And I said, "Because what would have happened was—. What would have happened would be that I would be on the top of the folder of the newspapers, again—saying 'transsexual', and then 'University Hospital' in teeny, tiny letters—as if it were my fault that, you know, that they, you know, overdosed me." And it's like—. So, I was like, no, it's not worth it, because nothing would have changed back then. So again, I went off on a tangent there on little things, but—. I don't even remember the question you asked at this point. (laughs) I hope I answered it again.
Riley Habyl [01:35:11] Speaking of unmet needs in trans communities, could you tell me a little bit about how—. With the founding of Margie's Hope and Margie's Closet—. How did those organizations come about? What was their purpose?
Jacob Nash [01:35:28] So, during a lot of the facilitating of TransAlive and TransFamily, of course conversations of what people were going through, and how they were struggling, and the needs that they had all came up. And so, as these things were coming about I would find different resources and get different resources. And like when, you know, somebody would call me and say, "Hey, I want to start working with the trans community." You know, maybe they were a therapist or a counselor. You know, I'd go and sit down and have conversations with them and say, "Okay, well, you know, tell me what you know about the trans community and what your treatment—you know, how you go about your treatment, and so on and so forth," because I wanted to make sure they weren't conversion therapists, you know. And so, the more resources that I gathered—. Every time there was a meeting, I would put more resources out and more resources out. You know, I would have guest speakers come in and talk about the services they provided, and so on and so forth. And then I realized, you know, one of the biggest problems—and we still have it—within the trans community is homelessness. Because over the past—. Well, yeah. Almost over the past 20 years Erin and I housed about a dozen different folks who were homeless, and we realized that that was a huge problem. While people wouldn't necessarily call themselves homeless because they're like, "Oh, well, no, I'm sleeping on my friend's couch," or whatever, it was a huge homeless problem. And so, Margie's Hope was originally founded on the premise of resources and starting at transitional housing, because we realized that—. Or, I realized that not only did people need resources, people needed somewhere to stay for a period of time until they got themselves together. And getting themselves together meant going to counseling, you know, connecting with doctors and facilities that would help with hormones, and possibly surgery. The other big thing was connecting them with jobs and resources for jobs, because it's—not only did we live and do we live in a state that many of the cities still don't provide protections for employment, housing and public accommodations. Back then, it was only Cleveland and Akron, Yellow Springs, and Columbus that had protections, and so—. And I was also getting calls from probation officers about, you know, employment resources for people that were coming out of jail, and how do they change their name, and how do they change their birth certificate? Of course, back then they couldn't. You know, you couldn't change your birth certificate in the state of Ohio. You're supposed to be able to now, but it's still—. Now it's getting to be a battle again, you know. Even though it's available, there's a lot of technicalities with the courts right now and they're denying a lot of people. You know, so, how do you now—. If you're—. If you don't transition on the job—. And if you do transition on the job, how are you able to keep your job—if you don't lose your job? Or, how do you get a job if you've now legally changed your name and you now have no work history—because how do you give them references for a name that didn't exist before? So, there are a lot of things that people didn't think about that needed to be taken into consideration for folks within the trans community. And so that was why I started Margie's Hope. And I named it after my mother because she became my best friend. You know, she believed in me. She knew who I was. She supported me. In the short period of time that she was still alive and I came out to her, she was 100% supportive. Whatever I did, she wanted to support me. And she really became my best friend, you know, where—. I would talk to my mother every, you know every month or so. I was then—. Once I started my transition, once I knew who I was, I was talking to my mother almost every day. So, that relationship totally changed because I felt like I was sharing my authentic self with her. As before, I didn't know who I was to be able to share who I was. So, it totally changed my life and changed my relationship with my mom. And because she was the one who taught me about social justice, taught me about what the right thing was, and not to shy away from the truth, she also was the reason w—. Her—. My parents and Erin's parents were also the reasons why we fought so hard to get a marriage license, because we didn't want anybody else to have to go through what we went through. She's—. And it was actually Erin's idea to name it Margie's Hope, because one of the things that my mother said to me two weeks before she died—. So, when we went back and had that—when we had that conversation with my mom, little did we realize that two weeks later she would be dead. You know, she said to me, "One of the things that I've always wanted and hoped for for my children was for them to be happy and to feel loved." And she said, "It is evident that you and Erin love each other. And that's all I've ever told (unintelligible) children." And so, out of that conversation—out of my mother's hope for her child—came Margie's Hope. If my mother was alive today, she would be here helping me. I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, you know. She would have—. She would be marching in the Pride parade. She would be part of PFLAG [Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays]. She would be talking, presenting, doing whatever she could to help other parents accept and love their children. And so that's why—. And that's how Margie's Hope came about, because of the things I was hearing from other folks within the community. Mostly trans women—because again, I saw and I knew the privilege I had. Even though I really couldn't find a job either, I still had, you know, I still had the privilege of being able to speak. And, you know, my wife was supporting us. I had her support 100%, you know, and she worked with me. She [Erin] was the co-founder of Margie's Hope. The same thing about Margie's Closet, you know, when—. There was more and more conversations. You know, you'd have young—. 'Young' meaning new folks that were starting their transition and talking about, "Well, how do I find clothes that fit me?" Especially for older trans women or those that had transitioned later in life. You know, some of them had the broad shoulders, and the bigger feet, and they couldn't quite find clothes that fit them, and so they would—. You know, conversations would come up on—at the meetings, or at group, or whatever about, "How do you find clothes?" and "Where is somewhere safe that I can go?" And many times people would say, "Well, I would buy things online, and then if they didn't fit I'd send them back, you know, because I don't feel safe going into stores." Even stores that say they're trans-friendly—like Target and, you know, Kohl's, and places like that that are very trans-friendly and they support their trans employees and they let trans folks use the restrooms—they have no control over the customers that come through though. And so, we decided to do a clothing drive. To have an event one Saturday, and—for folks within the trans community to come and try on clothes, and take clothes, and whatever. The outpouring of support that we got for that, and the clothes that (unintelligible), and were going out and buying new clothes, and buying, you know, new undergarments for people, and, you know, all—. We got so many donations that first event. You know, I said to the board, "We need to turn this into a store. We've got to do something," you know. And they're like, "No way, we can't do it. There's no way possible." I was like, "Yes, we can." This was February, just before COVID hit. February of 2020. Just before everything got shut down, we had our clothing event. And again, during that time I was like, "We need to make this into a reality," because people were still calling and asking if we wanted—needed donations. And we were—. We had a storage unit where we were storing all the clothes. And of course, it was during COVID, so we couldn't have people going through it or whatever. But I was bound to make this happen. So then Cleveland Magazine did an article on Studio West  and the work that they were doing. And I noticed that Dr. Lady J was one of the [Studio West 117] board members. And she and I are good friends, and so I called her and I said, "Okay, I've got an idea for Studio West ," and I told her my vision, and I told her what I wanted to do. And I said, you know, "What do you think about Studio West  partnering with us to do this?" because they had already had a tailor that was going to go into their space. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, this would be perfect," you know, having a space for trans folks, non-binary folks, anybody really to come in to this clothing store. We sell clothing stores at a much, much lower price so that people that don't have a lot of money can go in and purchase the clothes. If they're too big or too small there's a tailor right next door that I'm sure we could get great prices from to partner with us. You know, and [Dr.] Lady J's like, "Oh my gosh. This would be perfect for the store." So, she talked to Studio West , and Studio West was in. And they, you know—. They rented us our space for a dollar a square foot. You could not get a dollar a square foot anywhere, whether it's here in Akron, in Cleveland—. There's no way. That is—doesn't happen. And so we, you know, had to vote it in for the board. And it was tough. It was tough passing this. But I told the board, I said, "I can get the money for this. If I get the money for this, will we vote it, you know, pass it?" And so, I promised them that I would get the money. I said, "I can tell you." I says, "I have—. I know people that will donate," and I says, "I can get somebody that will do a matching grant—you know, that will match however much we make, to a certain amount," you know. And they said okay, and so it was—. The vote was 5 to 4 to pass this. And, granted—. So, Margie's Hope was started in Akron, but the store was going to be in Lakewood. You know, two of the board members—the reason they voted no was because it wasn't going to be in Akron. And I said, "I would love to have it in Akron because that's where the home of Margie's Hope is. But, you know, I mean, it's just down the street from the [LGBT Community] Center." I said, "It's in a really good location. We can't get any better than that." And so—. And with more people more people coming to TransAlive and, you know—. Having two years earlier in 2018, starting our youth program and our parents program—. You know, we had like 25 kids at one point. So, there were more kids coming too, so parents needed to know where they could get clothes for their kids. They needed to know where they could get binders for their kids. They needed all these accessories and stuff that stores don't necessarily carry. And so, this was a perfect opportunity, and I sold my board on it. Not only did I sell my board on it, I raised $10,000 on Facebook in six months so that we had the money for the down payment and first month's rent. Because we knew that if we built it, they would come. And sure enough, you know, not only were we—. Because we were original in that, you know, there were a lot of places that gave away clothing. Yes, absolutely. But we were the first store where people could come in and purchase clothing—. I mean, like you can buy a brand new pair of jeans for five bucks. You could get, you know, t-shirts for $2, dress shirts for three. I mean, like suits for ten. I mean, nice, nice suits. People would give brand new clothing and like, top of the line clothing. We had a person—. And it was interesting. So, we had a trans woman who called—and this was a business person who had Brooks Brothers shirts and ties. She had all of her suits tailor made from England and shipped to us because she liked how England made their clothes, you know? I mean, like, amazing clothes. And I'm—. And I kid you not, the day before I was to go and pick up all of these suits, and shirts, and ties, and hats from her, she passed away. So I ended up talking to her brother, and her brother knew that she wanted her clothes donated to us. And so, that day I went and picked up, you know, not only the men's clothes that she had, but now all of her female clothes too. And it was bittersweet, you know, but I was glad that her brother still let us come in and collect her clothes. Of course, it was a benefit to them because then they didn't have to get rid of them, you know. But it certainly helped people that were looking for stuff, being able to come in and get the clothing they need. Now, before I stepped off the board, Margie's Closet was also working on a program where we had these vouchers. It was our voucher program, where we would give them to different organizations, whether it—whether they're LGBTQ organizations or not. But folks that worked with folks within the trans community or non-binary community, they would be given a certain amount of vouchers that would be worth $25, and they could—. So, like, say that you're working with the homeless population. You could give a homeless trans person a $25 voucher. They could go into the store [Margie's Closet] and purchase whatever they want for $25, you know. And other people that could pay for clothes could come in, purchase the clothes. And again, that money would go back into the community to help more people. We were working with the binder company—. Oh—. G2B4 [GC2B] I believe. Oh, if I get it wrong—. Oh, I'll kick myself. But we worked with them for binders for our youth program, and they gave us like 35 brand new binders for free. And then we also worked with them in—. I purchased—. Whenever we got, you know, the other binders I purchased from them, and then—. So, like, say a parent came in and they wanted a couple binders. Well, their first binder would be free. And then if they wanted to purchase a second binder, we sold—. The binders are like anywhere from $35 to $45 online. We would sell them for $25, so they automatically saved $10 from getting the binder from us. And they could try it on there, and they didn't have to figure out if it was the right fit or not. You know, Monika [Veliz]—who is now the president of Margie's Hope and Margie's Closet—is a seamstress and a dressmaker. And so, she helped people find the right size binder. Or, she could measure somebody to make sure that they get the right size undergarments or bras. You know, they sold brand new bras—you know, bras and stuff like that. So, people knew the size that they were looking for also. So it was amazing that we were able to, you know—. We signed the lease in May of '21. And we opened on June 4th, the day before Pride of 2021, and it was amazing. You know, our—. The opening of the store [Margie's Closet] went viral because we were the first of its kind in Ohio—and I think in the midwest. And the opening of the store went viral to the point of I was—. Good Morning America even called to interview us about the store. And I was just so excited that we could do this, that we were—. You know, that I was listening—. We were listening to our community to know what their needs were. You know, next we were starting to put into place a cupboard—you know, Margie's Cupboard—so that if anybody was hungry, or there was food insufficiency for folks, they could come in and get canned goods or what have you from us so that we could provide that type of service as well. Especially during COVID, you know, because people were afraid to go out. Or, you know, a lot of the places where you go to get food would ask for I.D., you know, and so folks were—within the trans community are very skittish about—especially if their I.D. doesn't match who they are yet. And so, it was very hard for them. I mean, and many churches—. There's a—. I'm not kidding you. There is a church near where I live, a few blocks away, that provides food for anybody—except folks within the LGBTQ+ community. And there is a sign on their door that says that they do not serve transsexuals or homosexuals. They would not provide food for them. And I often joked with my friend who had gotten food from there—and that's why I found out about it. Even though she identifies as bisexual, she obviously didn't tell them. But, you know, I joked with her about, "Okay, let's us go, you know, some day. And then after they give me the food, I say 'thank you, you just served a transsexual,' and see what happens." (laughs) But it's crazy because they don't know—. They don't even know who they're serving. You know, I could walk in there and they wouldn't know—unless they're asking people what their sexual orientation is. It just was—. But then again, why would somebody want to go to a place where they know that they're not going to be served well, or treated well, simply because of who they are? Especially in a space where they where they say that they serve anybody—but that's not true, you know.
Riley Habyl [01:59:04] I know it's about three [p.m.], and I don't want to keep you too, too long. So, I just have about two or three more questions if that's okay.
Jacob Nash [01:59:12] Sure.
Riley Habyl [01:59:13] Sure.
Jacob Nash [01:59:14] I may have to plug in because my phone's dying, but—
Riley Habyl [01:59:18] We can end whatever you'd like. I don't want to keep you too, too long.
Jacob Nash [01:59:20] Oh, no, I don't mind. As you can tell, I don't mind talking. I just would need to plug my phone in, that's all.
Riley Habyl [01:59:28] So, if you could reflect back on your transition journey from, you know, when you came out in the nineties up until present day—. What are some of the biggest or most impactful changes that you've experienced as a trans [transgender] person, or that you've seen other members of, you know, trans communities in Akron or Cleveland—like, what are some of the biggest changes that you've experienced from the time that you first came out and started your transition journey up to the present?
Jacob Nash [02:00:03] Well, I think I would have to say, believe it or not, the changes within the faith communities. There are many more faith communities now that are open and affirming than there certainly were back then. You know, I—. Back then I was—. Well, I wasn't technically kicked out of, but it was made very clear to me and Erin that we were not necessarily welcomed in several churches because they found out that I was trans. In fact, I even had a pastor once call me and asked me if I had a penis. Needless to say, that was the most shocking conversation that I have ever had, and I didn't quite know how to answer him, you know. But there are so many more faith communities—and I'm not just talking Christian either, I'm talking Buddhist, and Jewish, and Is—Muslim faiths—that are coming out in support of the trans community. There's always been support within the Hindu faith as they have a Hindu god that is both male and female, but even—and within the Native American community, as well. But, you know, because there are more people coming out—. Because more people know somebody at least—or knows somebody that knows someone, often—you know, there are more faith communities that are supportive of folks within the trans community. That being said, there's also more backlash from faith communities. So, it's a—. As they say, it's a double edged sword. But I think the ones that support are far outweighing the ones that don't. And—. Are you still there?
Riley Habyl [02:02:13] Yes.
Jacob Nash [02:02:13] Okay, because my phone is dying. Hang on. I'm going to go [over] to plug—to plug you [Jacob's phone] in, okay?
Riley Habyl [02:02:20] Sure.
Jacob Nash [02:02:22] Actually, I may just take you [Jacob's phone] on a walk with me, but—. So, you may not be able to see me, but—. (Jacob begins walking)
Riley Habyl [02:02:34] No worries.
Jacob Nash [02:02:35] But—. So, you know, the more people are coming out, I'm seeing a dynamic of more support. I—. And—. But I also see more violence. Also, there are many more places of employment that support folks within the trans community than there ever has. More places that are looking for trans people to come and work for them because they see the value that trans individuals have. One of the things I've always said was, "If you support the trans community, they will support you unconditionally." If you work—or if your place of employment has a policy that says that they don't discriminate and it includes gender identity and expression—I will tell you that the trans community will work with you and be the best employee that you will ever have because we value that we value that commitment to supporting us and to hiring us. Are you still there?
Riley Habyl [02:04:17] Yes.
Jacob Nash [02:04:18] Okay, good. We're going to be—. Sadly, I have to sit near a fan, but hopefully it's not too, too loud. Okay, so—. You know, so, we've—. Can you still hear me okay?
Riley Habyl [02:04:38] Yes.
Jacob Nash [02:04:39] Okay. So, again, sorry about the fan behind me. Hopefully you can't hear it too much.
Riley Habyl [02:04:46] Not at all, actually.
Jacob Nash [02:04:48] Okay. So, you know, and I've seen more folks join, you know, in political races than we've ever thought that there would be—let alone get elected as officials. Maybe not in Ohio yet. I have—. I've dabbled and thought about running for city council, but I have yet to do so. You know, obviously health care system, and the fact that, you know, we're seeing the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, and—. What's the other third one? The American—. Some other—. There's some other—. Oh, for children also—seeing much more support within the health care system than we ever have. I don't necessarily always hate going to a doctor now because I've found much more support than I have in the past, you know? But of course, we've also seen more dangers creeping up. We're seeing more laws that are trying to get on the books for our kids. That's one of the reasons why I started our youth program—was because there are so many more kids starting to come out, and they needed somewhere that they could be themselves. You know, they needed that peer-on-peer support. They needed to see adults that are like them to be mentors, so that they know that they can be successful. You know, that's why I started it. I wanted kids to see that it—it's—. That there is a life, that they can be prosperous, that they can transition, that they can be who they are, you know. I think about—. So, I play—. I do Santa during the Christmas season, and last year I was the Santa in Chicago Ridge, Illinois. And I think it was the second Saturday I was working—. I noticed there was a young man, and—or, a young person—and his mom standing in line. And I noticed the young person had blue hair, much like yours. And they come up, and I thought, "Hmm, I wonder—." And so, you know, he sits on one side of me—or they sit on one side of me, and as their mom sits on the other side of me—and so I'm like, "Okay, so what do you want for Christmas?" And they rattle off a few things and I'm like, "Okay." And then I said, "Well," I said, "I love your blue hair." I said, "A friend of mine during Pride Month always dyes his mustache rainbow colors." And his mother's like, "Really? That's amazing!" And so, she sits forward and she says, "I knew it." She said—. She sits forward and she says, "Okay, now tell Santa what you really want for Christmas." And the young person said, "I want my top surgery." And I said to him, "Don't stop dreaming." I says, "Because dreams and wishes do come true." I said, "Santa had his top surgery 24 years—20 years ago." And his mother's like, "No way! Yes, I knew there was a reason why we were coming to the Santa! Oh my gosh, this is so awesome!" And the kid had this grin from ear to ear. And I said, "So, what's your name?" And he said, "Charlie." I said, "What are your pronouns?" He said, "He/him." I said, "Charlie, it's nice to meet you." I said, "Just so you know, if you ever want to find me—," I said, "I know I'm not supposed to tell you, but I'm going to tell you anyways." I said, "My name is Jacob Nash. You can find me on Facebook." I said, "And my pronouns are he/him." And so it was like—amazing, you know. And of course, I shared this story on Facebook and it—. You know, it went viral as well. And so now I'm known as Trans Santa. But it just goes to show you, you know, you don't realize—. Again, here—there's one of those blinders on that you don't realize how important something like even Santa is to families. Because, I mean, I had parents contacting me. I had people contacting me. You know, I had this one mom contact me and said, you know, "When—," you know, "My brother plays Santa. But when my child came out as trans, he wouldn't come in and do Santa anymore because he's against it." And I was just like, "I'm sorry, but I know that's Santa. Santa sees everybody. Santa loves everybody. That's not okay." You know? And—. But it just was like, oh my God, you don't realize how important this is to families and their kids. So, you know, I—. Then I had a little girl come running up to me. Sat right down on the seat next to me. She says, "Hi, my name is—." I can't remember her name, but she says, "And my pronouns are they/she." I was like, "Well, nice to meet you." And she was just very proud to—you know, that her pronouns are they/them and she/her. And I was like, "Well, what would you like for Christmas?" (laughs) You know? But people were coming to see me because I was safe. They were coming to see a safe Santa. I had adult trans people coming and crying because they were like, "I wish there was somebody like you when I was growing up." You know, and it's just like—. It's so powerful because there's so much work, and so much visibility that needs to happen for people just to feel safe, to feel comfortable, you know. And in, you know, in—. I never thought I would feel as unsafe as I did when I first transitioned than I do now. Even though I'm privileged, even though I look like this, there's always that opportunity. There's always that— not opportunity, but there's always that chance that the wrong person could find out, and I could be dead somewhere. You know, granted, the probability is slim to none because I look like this. And most guys are like, "Yeah, you joined the boys' club!" And I'm like, "No, I didn't join your club, thank you very much. I'm in a club all my own." (laughs) You know? But it is very nerve wracking to think that all of these politicians—who are not actually acting on the best interests of their constituents—are trying to pass laws that are not based on fact, that are scare tactics. Which we know they do all the time, but it's working. You know, there are—. Trans people have less rights than they did two years ago in so many states. You know, luckily—. Well, hopefully, you know, the other bills won't, you know, pass the Senate and then move on. But I don't know, you know. I mean—. And some of the laws right now—. The outlawing of drag performances is going to affect everybody, no matter whether you're trans [transgender] or cis [cisgender], gay or straight. Because I will tell you, you know, a lot of plays won't be able to be performed here in Ohio, because many—. Hairspray, for one. Will that be an exception? There are a lot of kids that go to Hairspray. There are a lot of schools that do Hairspray, you know, in their schools. Will they not be able to do it then? Will they not be able to cast boys in women's roles, or girls in boy's roles? It's not just about drag queens. It's so much more than that. And, you know, like what happened in North Carolina when they passed the bathroom bill, there are going to be a lot of cis [cisgender] people that are affected by this, whether they realize it or not. Because they're going to be, you know, pulled offstage, or pulled out of bathrooms, or, you know, not allowed in in restrooms, or restaurants or whatever—just like trans people are—because people are going to make assumptions as to who somebody is. Because they don't know. because they think they know what a trans person looks like. There's going to be a lot of misgendering people. And I'm not talking about trans people, you know. And that's one of the saddest part about 2023 is—. You know, from when I started—. While we've improved in some areas, we're going backwards. I feel like we're in the 1950s. We lost abortion. We're losing rights here and there for the LGBTQ community, and we are not—. I don't feel like we're in the 21st century. I truly, truly feel like we're back in the 1950s. And, you know, while I know I'm safe and I'm privileged because—at least I may be safe, you know, because I look like I look. It's not the same for my siblings—for the rest of my siblings—and that scares, you know. The Transgender Day of Remembrance has increased in number year, after year, after year, after year, after year. Cleveland is the second largest city in this country with the most transgender deaths. In the country. In the country! You know? The Transgender Day of Remembrance only came to Ohio—well, I should say northeast Ohio—in 2000. Well, we started a—. We started to recognize it fully in 2005. Karen and Bob [Gross] had a meeting at their—. They had a candle lighting—just one candle and a brief moment of silence in 2004. And I said, "No, this is unacceptable. We need to make this more visible. People need to know what's happening. People need to know that trans people are being murdered," you know. And in 2005, we had our first Transgender Day of Remembrance, and it was held at the LGBT [Community] Center. From there, we've had one every year since. And, you know, in 2007—. So, I was doing all of the research on who was being murdered, and from September to December I would get depressed. I would be in such a depressed state because I'm looking at all these people being murdered—my family being murdered from all over the world. How they were murdered. How old they were, you know, all of these things. Where they were murdered. And we're not talking about 'bang, you're dead'. We're talking about mutilation, hangings, you know, disfiguring. You know, one of the best [most] well-known cases of a murder was here in Ohio. It was in—happened in Olmsted Falls. [Cemia] Cece Dove. She happened to be one of the kids that used to go to the LGBT [Community] Center. I knew her. And she was stabbed over 40 times, tied to a brick—tied to a boulder, stripped naked from the waist down, and thrown in a pond. That was the most brutal murder that we've seen. And that was one. That was just one. We've had so many. And the sad part is I've known many of the
m that have been killed. And, you know—. And it's because they're trans, and it's just—. It's just so sad. And we have increased in numbers because people have been allowed—. People have been given permission to hate and to be violent from the last president. He opened a Pandora's box that has killed many people in my community, and it's been rubbing off. I mean, Brazil is one of the countries that has the most murders, you know, and it's—and they're not letting up either. It's—. They—. We are getting— having more and more people murdered, and it's just—. It just blows my mind, because people are so afraid of what other will—what other people will think if they have a family member that's trans, if they're in a relationship with somebody that's trans, if it's found out that they're attracted to trans people. It's just unacceptable. And we don't have that sense of security, you know, that some of us had, you know, several years ago. These days, it's just—it's gotten so much worse. So, like I said, sometimes it's gotten better, and—. But we have seen so many more laws and such creep up to give people permission to hate us, and it's just unacceptable. In 2023. Come on, people.
Riley Habyl [02:20:10] I think I've reached the end of the questions that I had listed out—.
Jacob Nash [02:20:15] Well, you had two more, but that's okay. (laughs)
Riley Habyl [02:20:17] Well, this is kind of related to that. The first of the last two questions is—. Is there anything else that you'd like to share, or forgot to mention, that we haven't talked about already?
Jacob Nash [02:20:34] I think—. Just that we need to work together more. Meaning, you know, there's still—. The way I see it, there's still a divide within the trans [transgender] community, within the gay and trans community, within the gay cis [cisgender] trans community and straight community. There is still a huge divide. We need to come together and work together. We're not gonna—. We are not going to see things turn out for the better if we are not including everybody. You know, I've often said to organizations that I used to work with, you know, "It would behoove you to reach out to some of your elder community members to get them involved again, because there's wisdom in and those of us that have been there done that." And yes, people say they want young blood, but sometimes the young blood needs to learn from the old blood. And we don't do that well in northeast Ohio. We just don't. I wish we did. You know, it's not—. It's—. It shouldn't be a power thing. And I say that because I've seen many people over the years try to gain power from stripping it away from other people and it's—. Serving your community should be a passion and a privilege, not a power to obtain. And over the last several years, that's what I've seen. I've seen people grab power when they shouldn't be. Not because they feel that they're better in the job, but because they want what they perceive as power to come along with it. There's a lot of work when you're running an organization, when you're fighting ordinances, when you're trying to get bills passed. You know, when we were fighting to remove a piece of legislation that was incorporated into the nondiscrimination policy in 2009—. It was with regard to the restrooms and trans individuals, and it stated that places of employment and places of public accommodation—an employer or somebody that manages a place of public accommodation could tell a trans individual which restroom they could or could not use. And so, in fighting that, you know, I had a—. [The] President of city council at the time asked for a private meeting with myself and Sue Doerfer—who was the executive director of the LGBT [Community] Center at the time—and he said that they were not going to pass the nondiscrimination policy 'cause of the restaurant issue. And he said that they were going to put an amendment—on that particular amendment—in the nondiscrimination policy. And I said, "Okay, so then when I come into City Hall, I need to use the women's room, right?" And he looks at me and he's like, "Wait, what do you mean?" He started getting beet red. You could see it from his neck, to his ears, to his face, to the top of his head. He was beet red, he's like, "Wait. I thought—. I thought you had all the surgeries." I said, "No." I said, "I can't afford that. And insurance doesn't cover it." He's like, "Oh, Jake—. Oh. Oh, my gosh Jake." He's like—. I said, "So, does that mean I need to use the women's room? He's like, "Well—." He kept shaking his head, and he's like, "Well, yeah." I said, "Oh, okay. So, just to be clear, I need to use the women's room when I come into City Hall." And he said, "Yes." I said, "Okay. Just wanted to make sure." So, he leaves the room, and I look at Sue [Doerfer] and I said, "Okay, so when do we want me to use the women's room and get arrested? Because that's what's going to happen, you know?" And I called Erin and she said, "Don't you dare. We don't have bail money." But then, of course, I spoke to Susan Becker—who was working at the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] at the time—and she said, "Jake, you don't want to do that because it will be really bad, you know, and it could put you in danger." And I said, "Okay." I said, "But, you know, I really want to prove a point." She says, "I know you do. But your safety is also important, and you can't do that." I said, "Okay." You know, because I was willing to do it. I really was—because it was stupid. And so we—. When we went back—. You know, it took us 'till 2013 to go back and work on the ordinance. You know, it was—. And I will never forget, [ordinance no.] 1446-13. Every single council member working, you know, when we brought this ordinance up and every single person working on this ordinance will never forget the ordinance number, 1446-13. We literally—. We were the first city in the country to go out onto the streets and literally have conversations about transgender people and restrooms. Nobody else in the country was doing it, and we knew we had to. That was how we—. Okay. That was when, you know, we had to get—. We had to get the people involved in this conversation. So, we actually had people signing, you know, postcards in support of—you know, in support of this ordinance that would take it out of the nondiscrimination policy. And we had over 1200 postcards signed that we gave to the mayor. We also gave a copy to each of—we gave a copy of the wards, so each council member got a stack of cards that were from people in their ward supporting this ordinance. And so, you know, the work that was done to get these laws into place are—you know, it's non-stop. We're still doing it. But it's the wisdom from those of us that have done it, that were on the ground, that were doing the grassroots work. Me, Zoe Lapin—who was my co-chair of Cleveland Is Ready, who was working with me to get this ordinance passed—working with all the different organizations. HRC [Human Rights Campaign] was involved, Equality Ohio was involved, the LGBTQ [Community] center was involved, Stonewall Cleveland was involved, the AIDS Taskforce was involved. We were all working together to take care of this. That's what we have to take away. We've got to take away—. You know, the takeaway is we need to work together. Because if we don't work together, this isn't going to work. You know, and I've seen the changes with the organizations that are not necessarily working together. They're picking and. Choosing who they feel will help them instead of going to all the organizations, working collectively with the black organizations, with the white organizations for the whole LGBTQ+ community. You know, we're not doing that anymore. You know, we've got a white Pride and we have a black Pride. Why? I get it. I understand it. There are resources and things that the black community needs that the white community is not providing. And we need to be—. We need to come together again as a community—not as single individuals or single organizations, because that's not how we get things done. And so if I were to leave, you know, a message again, it would be—. We need to do better. We need to do better collectively. We need to do better individually. We need to, you know, accept people where they're at, and not tell people you're not doing it right. There's no such thing as a right or wrong way to be yourself. (laughs) You know? So, they need to accept and love people where there are—where they're at, and work collectively together to make sure that everybody has a safe place, and has a safe environment, and has a safe community for us call home. And until we do that, Ohio won't be that. Northeast Ohio won't be that.
Riley Habyl [02:30:54] That sort of segways into my last question.
Jacob Nash [02:30:57] Perfect.
Riley Habyl [02:31:00] So, my last question is sort of a reflection question. Which you sort of just touched on, but—. So, what is a message that you would like others to hear about your experiences, or the experiences of others like you?
Jacob Nash [02:31:16] I think—. I think we need to—. You know, on the one hand—. You know, we have to listen more. You know, because I think, you know, we've got to listen to our kids when they tell us something. Because in my experience—especially with folks within the trans community—we are much wiser than our years reflect. And here's why I say that. Even within, you know—. Even within the whole LGBTQ+ community, we are wiser than people think because we have had to think outside of the box. We have had to learn—. And this is a sad thing, we've learned how—. We've had to learn how to lie to protect ourselves. We have had to figure out the best way to keep ourselves safe. Especially our youth these days. We have had to try and figure out the best way to be our true selves—and yet, again, keep ourselves safe. The only way we're going to do that is if we listen. You know. We are seeing more parents listening to their kids with regard to being trans or gay. The elders within our LGBTQ+ community need to be listening to those kids as well. Those within the lesbian community that don't see trans women as women—that needs to stop. Same with gay men. You know, we are not something to fetishize over. We are just like everybody else. With the exception of—that I think we are we are more exceptional. And here's why I say that. Because for me—. I lived 33 years as a woman. Now, I'm living the rest of my life as a man. I know both perspectives. I know not only the—both perspectives of being a woman and a man, but I also can connect and identify with those that are non-binary. Because in between that space, from going from female to male, I lived this non-binary androgynous life, because people couldn't tell looking at me because of the hormones. As they were—. As they were surging through my body, and I was becoming, you know, myself, I had time in-between where people didn't know who I was. They didn't know what my gender was. They didn't know if I was male or female. And so, I can connect with those that are non-binary because of their experiences everyday with people not sharing their truth. Not—. Not meaning that people don't understand. Well, they don't. But I mean, like, speaking the truth of the non-binary individual— using the labels that they choose, using the pronouns that they choose. Instead, society is spinning and saying whatever they want. And even those within the LGBTQ+ community— sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally. So, you know, it's this listening and hearing. Not only do we have to—do we hear people, but we need to learn how to listen. And we're not doing that very well. We are only hearing what we want to hear. When we listen then we're able to see people and know where people are at. And we're not we're not there yet. We're definitely not there yet, you know. This year—. You know, for many, many years—. How do I put this? For many years, I've been telling the leaders within the LGB [lesbian gay bisexual] community that they need to recognize the work that folks within the trans [transgender] community have done, but they're not very good at that at doing that. You know, there are many people that have worked hard for the trans community to be visible, and to be outspoken, and to have a place at the table—but they don't seem to see them. And I've been telling these organizations for years, "You need to recognize. You need to see the work that's being done." And every once in a while you'll see a trans person being recognized here, or there, or whatever. And I'm not talking about me. I mean, to me, it's a passion. To me, it's—. It's what I'm supposed to be doing. It's my love for my community, and my love for our kids, is why I do what I do. Because I truly want them to thrive, and I want them to see that there are mentors. I want them to see—not just on TV, but like, in their community, in their literal community where they live—that there are adults like them, you know. But if all they do is see are adults talking about one another—to one another, not—. You know, they're talking at one another, not to one another, and talking about leaders like these kids aren't in the room, or that other people aren't in the room. That's a poorer—poor representation of who we are as a community. Because then the cis [cisgender] straight community can come in and go, "See? They're already divided. Let's divide them even more. Let's take out the privileges that they already have. They'll never know because they're too busy bickering and talking about one another, to one another, instead of working together as a team." And I see that all too often in our community. And that's because—.I have seen a lot in my 58, almost 59 years of life. And because I've had to live different lives—. Sounds kind of—but you get it. I'm. I'm a great observer of things. And part of this project that you're doing is understanding where we've come as a community, where we were as a community, how far we've come as a community, and the history of Cleveland. And I will tell you, Cleveland has not been—or, northeast Ohio has not been very good with conveying the history of folks within the trans community—and we need to. You know, I don't know if you've talked to Christine Howie, but she is amazing. Christine [Howie] is—you know, an actress, and she's had her—. She wrote and was in a one-person—her own one-person play. She's just—. She's amazing. She's also an author. She has written for The Plain Dealer. She's a trans woman. She transitioned in the seventies. How many people know the history of Cleveland—for the trans community—back then? You know, that's also been one of my—. One of the things that I've always wanted to do is do a documentary on the history of the trans community in northeast Ohio—because we don't have any. That's why I was so excited when I heard about your project. I'm like, "Yes. Trans people need to be on the books. Trans people need to be talked about. Trans people need to represent." You know, and while I may not live in Cleveland, I certainly have lived in Cleveland. Maybe not slept there, but have lived in Cleveland, you know, for the— for, you know, almost the 25 years since I transitioned. So, you know, my last thought is—. We have to listen to our youth. We have to listen to our elders. We have to listen and hear one another as we speak. And not just give lip service, but really hear. Because there are a lot of people within our community that are hurting, that are looking for help, that are looking for leaders, that are looking for mentors, that are looking for people that they can look up to. And sometimes those leaders are—fall short. And I know we're human. We are so human. But you can't put expectations on our leaders, and then all of a sudden, you know, talk crap. And we've done that. And I'm hoping and praying that we will get back to a place where we don't do that, that we support and love our community. And I hope that answers—. Again, I hope that answered the question.
Riley Habyl [02:41:51] Perfectly. Thank you so much.
Jacob Nash [02:41:54] Oh, you're welcome. I hope I didn't—. I know I have a tendency of talking, and I know that, but it's—. My passion, my love for who we are. You know, my love for my community, my love for understanding my community. Because language changes all the time—but understanding, and learning, and supporting shouldn't. It doesn't matter what language you use. Love, you know, is—comes in all shapes and sizes. And if we can learn to love one another, and respect one another, and give people the dignity that they deserve, everything else would fall into place, you know. And that includes folks within our, you know, trans community. And the gay community needs to step it up a little bit because we are losing more and more folks within the trans community. Because they feel like they're not worthy, like they're not worth it, like, you know, people don't care. And our community—. The whole community needs to step up and say, "You are valued, and you are loved." So—. I'll stop talking. (laughs) I'm sorry.
Riley Habyl [02:43:18] Absolutely. Thank you so much.
Jacob Nash [02:43:21] Oh, my pleasure. Thank you for taking your time.
Riley Habyl [02:43:25] Of course. I've reached the end of all of my questions, so I'm about to stop the recording.
Jacob Nash [02:43:29] All right.
Riley Habyl [02:43:30] Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Jacob.
Jacob Nash [02:43:32] You're very welcome. My pleasure. Any time. And if something comes up and—or something, you know, don't hesitate to ask.
Riley Habyl [02:43:42] I'm going to stop the recording briefly. (recording ends)
This collection features oral history interviews with LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Same-Gender Loving) community members, leaders, and activists in the greater Cleveland area. Interviews explore the history of Cleveland’s LGBTQ+ communities, groups, organizations, places, and spaces both past and present. Interviews in this collection were conducted by Riley Habyl, a graduate student at Cleveland State University Department of History, beginning in the summer of 2023.…