Senior English licensure major Jaq Jefcoat never had any transgender representation growing up, so they did not come out as transgender until after they graduated high school.
“There was a lot of homophobia in my household, so it pushed me from learning anything about the LGBTQ community until I hit high school. When I officially started coming out, I came out as pansexual in my junior year of high school, and I came out as trans when I graduated,” Jefcoat said.
Although Jefcoat’s identity was received well by their friends, it was more difficult for their parents.
“My mom still struggles to accept it with the whole gender issue, and my dad refuses to acknowledge it. Anytime it’s brought up, he just changes the subject,” Jefcoat said.
Jefcoat said this experience can be standard for trans people, especially in the South.
Because Jefcoat did not have representation growing up, they make it a point to be visible in the community.
In addition to being a fulltime student, Jefcoat serves as Southern Miss’ first campus ambassador for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. They have also been in a leadership position for the Genders and Sexualities Alliance for two years and serve as the university liaison for The Spectrum Center in Hattiesburg.
Program manager for the Office of Multicultural Programs and Services Tegi Jenkins-Rimmer has known Jefcoat for a year and praised Jefcoat’s passion for serving others.
“He has always been so helpful and readily available and accessible,” Jenkins-Rimmer said. “He is headstrong and very dedicated to everything he commits himself to. I am very proud of his tenacity and passion for LGBTQ+ rights.”
As the spokesperson for GSA, Jefcoat reaches out and establishes relationships with other student organizations, companies and non-profits. They also help plan events both on- and off-campus.
“You have to find representation, especially in Mississippi. I’m one of the people that tries my best to be more visible and loud. We try our best to make sure that representation is visible for other students. That’s why I’m doing so much this semester,” Jefcoat said.
Jefcoat said that they are not trying to be the face of the community, but they try to make sure that others are represented well.
Junior English major Micah Graves is a member of the Sigma Tau Delta honor society with Jefcoat, and he praised Jefcoat’s service to the community in Hattiesburg.
“Jaq is always a strong force of positivity and is always wanting to inform and include people into the LGBT community,” Graves said. “Plus, [Jaq] can pull off wearing rainbow any season of the year.”
Despite Jefcoat’s pride in their identity, they still struggle with certain aspects of being trans.
“The main problem for me is trying to socially transition. I have physical conditions where I can’t medically transition right now, so social transition is my number one thing,” Jefcoat said.
Jefcoat said that their mom does not like for them to use their preferred name and pronouns on campus, so it creates problems when trying to explain the issue to others.
“It’s hard getting people to understand that I may go by something else in class, but I prefer to go by Jaq, so it causes confusion,” Jefcoat said.
In addition to struggling with social transition, Jefocat said they also struggle with the career field they want to enter, because there is not a lot of visibility for transgender teachers.
Despite certain difficulties, Jefcoat said the community in Hattiesburg is really accepting.
“They understand the mutual struggle of being in the South and in the LGBTQ community, so you can almost always find a relationship and build a connection based on that,” Jefcoat said.
For non-LGBTQ people in Hattiesburg, Jefcoat said that acceptance seems to be 50/50.
“From what I’ve noticed on campus, there’s a few people that can be very against LGBTQ, especially that religious group that used to come on campus and yell at us. But at events like Pride, we don’t get a lot of protesters,” Jefcoat said.
Jefcoat said that in order to better support the LGBTQ community in Hattiesburg, there has been an attempt to pass a non-discrimination ordinance. In addition to this issue, Jefcoat said that there need to be better medical providers for LGBTQ people in Mississippi.
“There’s not really any good medical providers in Mississippi, for just regular check-ups and for transitioning. A lot of times, trans people don’t see healthcare because of this,” Jefcoat said.
Despite the overall lack of medical providers, Jefcoat said that Hattiesburg Clinic is more open to the LGBTQ community. They also said that there is a small clinic trying to open in Hattiesburg to help people medically transition.
In the future, Jefcoat hopes that children can have better understandings of themselves without pressure from the media or from their parents.
“I think that books, media and activism is a good start for providing that necessary representation, like Jazz Jennings is today,” Jefcoat said.
Jefcoat hopes that in the future, there will be more acceptance of LGBTQ people in diverse workplaces, especially in classroom settings.
“People should judge us based on our skills and our strength to pursue our dream careers and goals, not our identities,” Jefcoat said.