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“Her smile just shined and I couldn’t help but think ‘gee, this is what she looks like happy.’ It was a revelation.”
June 30, 2017

Eight years ago, Sylvester Neal and his wife became guardians to their grandchildren. After that, he says, his purpose in life became supporting them. Especially his granddaughter, Trianna, who is transgender.  

But supporting them is easier said than done in the modern world. So many things had changed since he’d parented his own 5 children. Figuring out how to navigate their social media usage was a daily struggle.

I’ve had to have tutorials on what Twitter is, how to use parental controls and far too many conversations about whether leggings are appropriate or not. It’s so much at times, I honestly think you need a PhD to raise kids these days.”

These differences, he says, were probably why he and his wife initially didn’t realize Trianna was starting to act differently, to withdraw. Sylvester figured she was just growing up, and that withdrawing was just a part of doing that in the modern world.

“We didn’t have the language for it at the time, but Trianna is a transgender girl. That means that even though we had originally labeled her as a boy, she knows herself for who she truly is—a girl.” —Sylvester Neal, referring to his granddaughter, Trianna

But Sylvester soon learned it wasn’t.

“We didn’t have the language for it at the time, but Trianna is a transgender girl. That means that even though we had originally labeled her as a boy, she knows herself for who she truly is—a girl.”

And that disconnect between who she knew herself to be, and who her grandparents and peers perceived her to be, was causing her to withdraw. But when Sylvester and his wife started to treat Trianna as a girl, everything changed.

“When she was 9, she put on her first dress and oh, she just glowed. Her smile just shined and I couldn’t help but think ‘gee, this is what she looks like happy.’ It was a revelation so I grabbed the camera and took a picture.”

That picture now stands as a snapshot of the moment that changed their family. Up until then, Sylvester says, Trianna was a confused kid trying to figure out who she was. After that, she became a bold, happy, proud young woman.

Trianna is able to be herself because she has a supportive family, but also because the law supports her too. For more than 11 years, Washington has had a non-discrimination law on the books that protects transgender people, like Trianna, from being harassed in public places, like malls and restaurants.

“When she was 9, she put on her first dress and oh, she just glowed. Her smile just shined and I couldn’t help but think ‘gee, this is what she looks like happy.’ It was a revelation so I grabbed the camera and took a picture.” —Sylvester Neal

But right now, anti-transgender groups are pushing I-1552, a ballot initiative that would repeal parts of this law and make it dangerous for Trianna to go out in public. Trianna could be asked to provide her birth certificate just to do something as simple as use the restroom. And this could even happen in the place she’s supposed to feel safest—at school.

Sylvester has seen his granddaughter flourish since that day when she was 9 years old. But now he worries that Washington’s non-discrimination protects could be repealed, and Trianna will withdraw once again.

“I know this can be confusing to many folks—after all, when Trianna first told my wife and I she was a girl we had no clue what it meant,” he says. But he’s also angry that there are people out there—grown adults—who are pushing this discriminatory ballot initiative, and trying to hurt Trianna and make her life harder, without even getting to know her and people like her.

“It utterly breaks my heart to know that my grandchild, who was already going to struggle as a biracial kid, will have an even harder road because of something she has no control over.”

“It utterly breaks my heart to know that my grandchild, who was already going to struggle as a biracial kid, will have an even harder road because of something she has no control over.” —Sylvester Neal

That’s why Sylvester is joining Washington Won’t Discriminate, the campaign working to make sure the repeal of our state’s non-discrimination law protecting transgender people like Trianna doesn’t make it onto Washington’s November ballot.

“We have a duty to fight for all folks,” he says, “and let them know they are loved for the amazing, complex individuals they are.”

The deadline for I-1552’s backers to get enough signatures to place this discriminatory initiative on the ballot is July 7th, so there is no time to spare. Help ensure that we can do everything in our power to defeat I-1552 before then—donate now.