Who is Jack Knoxville?
In 2015, Jack Knoxville became the first Trans* man to run for political office in the Southern United States.
As someone who grew up predominantly homeless, it wasn’t until 2014 that he finally had access to health insurance. He was extremely excited to finally be able to pursue his gender transition. Unfortunately, that moment would be short-lived, as Jack was fired from his job for beginning his medical transition. The state he was living in at the time, TN, is a right-to-work state, that prides itself on its conservative values, so no one seemed to care that this was happening.
Frustrated, Jack began seeking medical help while he still could. Hoping to be able to at least get started on Testosterone, Jack tried desperately to find support.
Unfortunately, he could not find anyone in East TN to see him or to provide care for Trans* lives.
That’s when he found Planned Parenthood in Asheville, NC. The site was very welcoming and offered him an appointment rather quickly, but not before his insurance ran out.
The $165 out-of-pocket expense for his visit, along with the 110 drive across a mountain was a lot to accomplish, but he pulled it off and finally received HRT at 35 years of age.
Meeting the Mayor, Meeting the Future
A short time after Jack’s struggle of obtaining health insurance, marriage equality passed, federally. One of the couples who was suing for the right to marry was from Knoxville, TN so the town held a large rally to celebrate.
Excited about connecting with community members, Jack headed to the rally being held at the World’s Fair Park in Knoxville.
While there, he had the chance to meet then mayor of Knoxville, Madeline Rogero. Shooting his shot, Jack approached the mayor who had just spoken in support of LGBTQ+ rights to see if he could get her business card, so the two of them could talk about Trans rights some time.
He thought for sure, that if she heard his story, it might make an impact.
Unfortunately, he was instead blown off as Rogero pointed to a crowd of 4,000 mostly white folks and said “Sure, you can talk to my assistant Matt”.
Annoyed and shocked, at the lack of authenticity in her allyship, Jack looked at her and said “Let me get right on that. By the way my name is Jack Knoxville have you ever heard of me?”
She said “No”. To which Jack replied, “You will”.
A few weeks later, Jack saw a news article that Mayor Rogero was up for reelection, and was running unopposed. It was the last day for anyone to register even as a write-in candidate and because it was a little later in the afternoon, news outlets felt comfortable calling it, as such.
Jack, however, knew right then what he had to do.
Running for Office
After securing all of the signatures he needed, Jack threw his hat in the ring as a write-in candidate.
With no previous experience, Jack generated just around $90 in donations for his campaign. With this small amount of funding, Jack had stickers of his face made and plastered them around town to create visibility for himself. He also managed to land a job canvassing as a brand ambassador for a marketing firm, who allowed him to talk to canvass for himself, while he did his work for them.
The more he spoke with others in the Trans* community the more he heard the similarities of experiences they were each having.
It started with a clothing swap!
After hearing how many Trans* people in East TN were also experiencing dysphoria, depression, and isolation, Jack knew there had to be a better way. After all, each of the people he was meeting was an amazing human!
His first act was to ask his friends to help round up a resource that he knew there was an abundance of; clothing.
Together, they organized a clothing swap, which was held at an artist collective house in Knoxville called the Bird House.
He then reached out to the two reproductive health groups in the area and invited them to speak to the community and to table at this event.
With music, friends, and an outpouring of community support, Trans Empowerment Project was born.
Since that night in 2016, TEP has grown to be one of the largest providers of direct aid in the U.S. for the Trans* community!
Before he began Trans Empowerment Project, Jack dabbled in non-profit work in 2002 when the state of SC was pushing the antiquated sodomy laws to try to criminalize homosexuality. As a young organizer, Jack launched an initiative called Free2Be to combat the racist propaganda being spewed by the southern GOP. One of the groups first act was to round up queer musicians from across the state to go on the road as part of an “awareness tour”. The group stopped in all of the major cities within the state to educate others in the LGBTQ community about the hateful attacks that were pending.
During Pride that year, Jack stood toe-to-toe with leaders of hate groups that came out to intimidate members of the LGBTQ community.
His work earned him a spot on the wall of tolerance, and a certificate signed by the late Rosa Parks and the Southern Poverty Law Center.