As a small child, for Lane Joslin, every dish towel became a dress, or long hair. The Christmas wish list included Barbie dolls. Pink nail polish eventually became a subtle way to self express.
Joslin’s mother, Barbara MacLeod, remembers well strapping her child into a car seat listening to exclamations of, “I’m a girl, I’m a girl.” Only Joslin had been born a boy.
“I was living a double life,” said Joslin, who transitioned in the fifth grade and is now a proud transgender girl. She’s recently found her voice in advocacy by collecting signatures in support of the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, public accommodations, jury service and federal programs.
President Donald Trump has come out against the proposed Equality Act, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a vote of 236-173. It will head to the Senate next.
Last year, Joslin, of Kittery, was a celebratory force behind the LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination bill that passed in New Hampshire. She sang at a rally at the Statehouse in Concord.
The 14-year-old’s dream job? Maybe press secretary for the Human Rights Commission one day, she said. She also loves theater.
“I really just want there to be equality for all,” Joslin said. “I know there are a lot of people who get discriminated against everyday just because they are part of the LGBTQ+ community, and I just want that to stop.”
Joslin’s transition in the fifth grade spurred a more robust equity and gender identity policy at Berwick Academy, where she attends school, and a positive conversation among her peers and teachers. The school now has added many single stall gender neutral bathrooms to campus.
Joslin continues to inform the Berwick Academy community, most recently reading aloud “I Am Jazz,” a story of a transgender child, to younger students, and soon, she’ll present her year-long innovation project to the school community, focusing on effective advocacy and finding her voice. She recently attended a workshop hosted by the ACLU of New Hampshire about addressing public figures and finding value in her personal story.
“I’ve had an amazing experience because of the acceptance I’ve received from my family, my friends and my school,” Joslin said. “I want transgender youth and people in general to see that and have that in the world.”
MacLeod said while her daughter’s identity was clear from early childhood, it was a gradual transition, and for many years she conformed in binary spaces, only to return home and retreat to her real self, wearing pink wigs, dresses and clip-on earrings.
“There was a time before the transition where Lane was very sad, and did have really bad gender dysphoria where your body doesn’t reflect who you feel you are,” MacLeod said. “I think as Lane was growing her hair out, I started paying closer attention, and people confused her for being a girl, and she liked that. She didn’t correct them. In her writing, she referred to herself as she and hers. And when I saw her self portrait in fourth grade, it was clearly a girl.”
To announce her transition in 2016, Joslin took a video of herself saying, “I haven’t changed, I’m still the same Lane I was yesterday,” and she shared it with her classmates. At the end of the day, her peers had made her cards. But Joslin is keenly aware that experience of acceptance is not the same for all trans youth. She considers herself lucky.
The catalyst for Joslin’s public proclamation was a presentation at Berwick Academy by Phillips Exeter Academy teacher Alex Myers, who was the first openly transgender student while attending PEA, and then Harvard University. Joslin was inspired, and saw the looks of receptivity on the faces of her peers as Myers shared his story. For Joslin, it was an opportunity to foreshadow her own coming out experience.
“We are so fortunate that our entire family — Lane’s dad, stepfather, two brothers, our friends and community — have been affirming and supportive,” MacLeod said. “It’s made all the difference in Lane developing into a confident person who is not shackled by shame.”
Cassie Warnick, the fifth and sixth-grade dean of students at Berwick Academy, has mentored Joslin during her innovation project, serving as her advisor. They’ve been close for the last three years.
“There’s been a huge transformation from the start of her project to now, because at the beginning of the year, she didn’t even want to put up posters or speak in front of students,” Warnick said. “But now she is ready to be free and out and share her story loud and clear.”
Warnick said Joslin has solicited both Berwick students and parents to sign her Equality Act petition. “It’s just been amazing, she’s done an amazing job,” Warnick said.
Joslin has been inspired by the recent push around LGBTQ+ and transgender rights, which have fallen under threat, and currently, she’s focusing on being “the most effective advocate I can be.” She’ll attend Phillips Exeter Academy in the fall.
“All of the negative things (President Trump) has been doing with the LBGTQ+ community, it’s making me realize there is so much work to be done,” she said. “There needs to be people working on these rights and awareness. That’s been really motivating. He has undone all of the work we’ve done as a community, which I think is just terrible.”
The Trump administration recently instructed the armed forces to begin discharging transgender service members effective April 12.
MacLeod said amid today’s national conversation, it’s tricky for trans people to share their story while not becoming a target. Joslin has worked to balance that.
“I’m just trying to live my life,” Joslin said. “Live my life to the fullest, and be myself. I don’t really need the hate comments.”
Last week, the Maine House of Representatives passed a bill banning the practice of conversion therapy on minors. Former Gov. Paul LePage vetoed the bill last year, but many are hopeful this time it will be signed into law by Gov. Janet Mills.
In New Hampshire in March, House Bill 446, which would allow transgender and non-binary people to correct their birth records to reflect their proper identity, passed the House. On May 15, it was dubbed as “ought to pass with amendment” in the Senate. Since Joslin was born in Portsmouth, MacLeod said the change would be huge for her daughter. MacLeod is hopeful Gov. Chris Sununu will sign the bill.