Equality means a hundred different things to a hundred different people. But to Trudylynne O’Brien, it means being accepted for whom she calls her “most authentic self.”
Being a parent, veteran and advocate is only part of what makes up Trudylynne’s character. She is a proud transgender woman, and this year she’s taking equality at Hampton Roads Pridefest by storm.
Trudylynne was born and raised in Oakland, New Jersey, just 25 miles outside of the bright lights and skyscrapers of New York City. She graduated from high school in 1971, and joined the Navy the following February. She served in Vietnam and two Gulf Wars, and made the rank of chief in just ten years.
The Navy brought Trudylynne to Norfolk in 1972, and she’s been here ever since.
She has five children, and after serving in the Navy for 20 years, she retired to care for her youngest son. Trudylynne’s five children have given her six grandchildren. As she’s describing her family, a sweet and curious tabby cat, Rascal, jumps up onto the couch and cuddles up next to her.
Trudylynne has known that she was transgender since the age of 20. She lived a majority of her life caring for others. In 2012 at the age of 58, she started her transition.
“Now, it’s time for me to be who I am,” Trudylynne said.
She is shy and soft-spoken. As she talks, she looks down at Rascal, who is now stretched out on his back, paws up in the air, as Trudylynne pets his exposed belly. It takes her a few minutes to open up, but once she does, her ambitions become clear.
This year, Trudylynne is serving as the Volunteer Coordinator of the Equality section at Pridefest.
“Last year was dedicated to marriage equality. This year, at my insistence, the equality at Pridefest is a celebration of all LGBT people,” Trudylynne said, “It’s no longer just gay pride. It’s about all of us getting together and having a great time.”
This year, the country has seen a growing presence of transgender people claiming their rightful place in their communities, and Trudylynne, along with Norfolk, is no different.
“The leadership of Pride is very in tune to the fact that transgender equality is the new issue,” Trudylynne said. for 2015, for the first time ever, all of the LGBT flags will be flown on the main stage and in Trudylynne’s equality area of Pridefest, which will also host a table for transgender questions and issues.
In Hampton Roads, Trudylynne has become the face of the transgender movement. To promote Pridefest, six billboards were put up throughout the major cities, all with Trudylynne’s face adorning them.
“It was a fight with the billboard companies to get the billboards, but Pride won it out,” Trudylynne said. Though members of Hampton Roads Pride were worried that the billboards could make Trudylynne a target in the community, she hasn’t experienced any problems.
Instead, Trudylynne jokes that she has become somewhat of a celebrity in the community. Between the billboards and media attention, keeping to herself has been difficult.
“I’ve always been an extreme introvert, so it’s different. All of a sudden, all these people want to talk to me,” she said, “and I’m hoping to fade back into the woodwork a little.”
The transgender community is fighting to be themselves, to love who they love, and to be accepted, as Trudylynne, for her “most authentic self.”
“It’s time for us to stay out of the closet, because we’ve always been in the background. We’ve always been around, but never truly recognized,” she said.
As momentum builds and more community members come out and join the fight for equal rights, the hope for understanding and acceptance becomes more realistic for Trudylynne.
“We’re looking to educate people,” Trudylynne said, “And I think if people of all sexual preferences and genders come out to Pride, they’ll actually see that we’re just like everybody else.”