By: Blythe Collins
Jeffrey Guzman is an accomplished transgender activist at only 20 years old. An American University student studying public relations and sociology, Guzman is from a small town in White Plains, NY.
Guzman is the executive director of the AU organization Queers And Allies, formerly known as Pride. The Queers and Allies organization at AU focuses on four areas: advocacy, community building, education, and networking. Guzman’s job as executive director includes organizing initiatives such as drives for toiletries, clothing, and food for underprivileged members of the LGBTQ community and putting tampons in gender-neutral bathrooms. His other work includes efforts to get tampons into men’s bathrooms – for those who are female but identify as men, gender neutral housing, and training for allies (both in and out of the LGBTQ community). He is also a peer advisor in the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, where he serves as a resource to LGBTQ community members on AU’s campus.
In Guzman’s opinion, transgender activism is especially important on AU’s campus due to the large LGBTQ population that calls AU home.
“We’re even known as ‘Gay U’ by other schools,” Guzman said. “I think it’s really important to have students who are out there pushing the issues that affect our community and that have a good relationship with the school, so that that way the school does pay attention to things that are affecting us.”
Guzman explains that not only is transgender activism important in his university, but also on a larger scale in D.C. and in the world. He stresses the importance of getting involved off-campus and the difficulty that transgender activists face because they are perceived as new by society.
“It feels new because perhaps they aren’t exposed to LGBTQ people that often,” Guzman said. “It’s difficult, still, to understand what our issues are – what the life of a queer person is like. So it’s important to advocate and to storytell so that people can feel that connection to our issues.”
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Washington, D.C. leads the nation in the rate of HIV infection. In Washington, the chance of a person ever being infected with HIV in their lifetime at 1-in-1, compared to Maryland, where 1-in-49 residents have a chance of being diagnosed HIV-positive.
“It’s really important for me to be active and to be involved in this community,” Guzman said. “It allows me to use my privilege as a student to help them, because even though I am queer, I have the privilege of being a student and of living a fairly comfortable lifestyle that a lot of them don’t have.”
Guzman has been involved in transgender activism since he was in high school. Community service was his niche and he felt drawn to transgender and queer rights because they were issues that he could directly relate to.
“I went to a predominantly white, upper class private school,” Guzman said. “So many of the kids who I was in class with on a daily basis were oblivious to what was going on in my life and outside the high school bubble.”
During his high school activism, Guzman worked on getting his school to partner with a community-based health center that often held food and clothing drives. He also went to multiple diversity conferences that were specifically focused on training high school students to organize community-based service.
Transgender and queer activism, for him, started his junior year of high school when he came out as gay and non-binary, and felt comfortable with his identity as part of the LGBTQ community.
“For me, it’s important to be as intersectional as possible,” Guzman said. “Even though a lot of my activism does focus on queer and trans people, I try to weave in other identities because I think it’s important to recognize that being queer are not the only identities that people hold.”
Guzman notes that he strives to work with all sorts of identities: sexual, economic, social, and ethnic.
“I think I’m able to be more inclusive, and also be more self aware,” Guzman said. “I think that’s often something people forget when they’re activists. A lot of people are well intentioned, but in their efforts to enact change or be involved they often get too in their heads and just think about what they want to do and not what might benefit the community they’re trying to be an activist within.”