When Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash) arrives to hear President Donald Trump’s Joint Address to Congress on Tuesday evening, she’ll be doing so alongside two notable guests, invited to send a very clear message.
Danni Askini, the executive director of the Gender Justice League and Trans Pride Seattle, and Marci Owens, the young transgender woman who first entered the public eye when she was present for President Obama’s signing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will both be on hand in Washington, D.C.
Now 17 and a high school senior, Owens’s smiling face first became synonymous with the ACA, known colloquially as Obamacare, in 2010 when the then-11-year old was by former President Barack Obama’s side for the signing of the historic healthcare law. Owens had previously spent three years lobbying for healthcare reform after her mother, who passed away, lost her job post being diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Owens’s mother then was uninsured, and ultimately died from being unable to afford the healthcare she needed.
Fast-forward to today: Not only is Owens a seasoned activist in her own right, but is beginning pre-med classes at Seattle Central College this fall and plans on attending medical school — and running for office one day herself. First up though, Owens is bringing her established track record as an activist to the Capitol.
“What mainly I’m thinking about going into this with Senator Murray is that I’m representing for all the trans women I know and all the trans women I don’t know and the trans youth out there that are scared about what’s going on,” Owens tells Yahoo Style. “I want to send a strong message in defense of them whenever I can. I’m holding myself up to show the strength that I think a lot of people don’t recognize trans people as having. The humanity of it all. The humanity gets lost in all the politics. But we’re talking about people, and not just policies — and how is a government for the people going to work if it doesn’t take the people into consideration?”
Just last week, the Trump administration announced it would be withdrawing guidance previously issued by the Obama administration allowing trans students to use the bathroom at school that aligns with that student’s gender identity.
“The main thing for me about it all is the dehumanization,” Owens says of the recent move. “It’s more than just bathrooms. A lot of people have been saying, ‘It’s more than bathrooms’ because it’s true. It’s about the human decency in being able to use the restroom. If someone’s moral character is shining through, they should be able to use the restroom wherever they want. You can’t tell someone that they aren’t worth of basic human privileges. It’s just setting up for more injustices to take place.”
Which is why Owens is so happy, she says, to be able to attend tonight’s Joint Address. “I think it’s important for me and people like me who are trans to be role models for other trans people,” she explains. “Trans people don’t have a lot of people to look up to. We have Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, but me being a youth and being in poverty and being trans, I think I relate to a lot more of the trans people.”
And, in a poignant convergence of Owens’s activist roots, one of the main struggles faced by many trans people has to do with their access to healthcare.
“I just think there’s a lot of trans people who are not in the financial situation to get the healthcare they want. And as a role model, I can relate to their struggles and see their insecurities,” she says. “A lot of trans people don’t get the opportunities to feel valid in their insecurities. But being strong is being able to recognize that insecurities are valid. I think it’s important for me to stand up to people who are trying to make it harder for trans people to success in life, because that’s unfair.”
Owens says that’s why she’s especially confused at Trump and his cabinet’s insistence on repeal for ACA, without necessarily having a replacement plan.
“I was just talking to my grandma about this — through Trump’s whole candidacy, Trump and his supporters, they’re whole go-to was, ‘He’s such a businessman.’ But with healthcare, he’s wanting to get rid of it without any plan for replacing it and what I’ve learned from the books I’ve read about business is that you don’t jump out of a boat and hope another boat will come along. It’s a reckless move to get rid of healthcare,” Owens says.
Which is exactly why Owens and Murray — someone Owens calls “one of my earliest role models on how to be well-spoken and secure in your own beliefs without having to bring someone else’s beliefs down” — represent so much more than just two seats filled at Trump’s address tonight.
“We’re going to represent hope for people who are seeing these things happen and are feeling like things are really going south — we’re going to represent the change,” Owens says.
As for Senator Murray, she said in a statement that she’s proud to be attending with Owens and Askini alongside her tonight as “we should continue working to move our health care system in the right direction and keep building on the progress we’ve made to ensure everyone, regardless of who they are or who they love, feels safe and welcome in their own country.”
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