Stories written by Jo Ciavaglia, award-winning multimedia newspaper reporter at the Bucks County Courier Times in Bucks County, a suburb of Philadelphia, Pa.
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Monday, August 8, 2016
Young, passionate and transgender: Northampton Sanders delegate says DNC is life-changing
Jordyn Tannenbaum (c) watches DNC speakers
Northampton resident Jordyn Tannenbaum never saw himself being involved in politics; certainly not before being able to cast his first vote for president of the United States in November.
The 20-year-old is a college junior who recently made the dean’s list at the University of Pennsylvania for the first time, while working a $2 an hour job at a pizza shop he’s had since high school. Politics didn't interest him on any level.
Two years ago, though, Tannenbaum first heard about Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. As he learned more, he found he shared the senator’s passion for issues involving wealth inequity, the environment and LGBT individuals. He also admired Sanders for his unflinching honesty regardless of who was listening.
For most of his young life, Tannenbaum felt silenced, he said. Afraid to be his true self. Afraid of being rejected.
Bernie Sanders gave him the courage not only to find his voice, but to use it, he said.
“He definitely helped me realize I am a valid human being.”
Sanders’ position on issues affecting transgender individuals especially speaks to Tannenbaum, who came out publicly as a transgender male, meaning he was born a female but identifies as a male, after he was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Tannenbaum is reportedly among at least two dozen openly transgender delegates attending the convention this week, up from 14 four years ago, according to Out magazine.
He is youngest of the four Bucks County delegates representing Sanders at the DNC. He has been commuting between the Wells Fargo Center, where the convention is being held, and a friend’s place in South Philadelphia, shirking the Center City hotel where other Pennsylvania delegates are staying.
Over the last year, as he started his transition, Tannenbaum said that he told most friends and family. While traveling over the summer in foreign countries, he decided to live as a male and continued after returning home.
“It’s who I am and I’m finally very comfortable with it,” he said.
After he worked as a Sanders campaign organizer at Penn, Tannenbaum came across an invitation to be a delegate, a position he didn’t know a lot about. It seemed exciting, so he decided to get on the primary ballot.
“It’s been one of the greatest decisions I’ve made. It opened my eyes to how real this democracy is,” Tannenbaum said.
As a transgender person, Tannenbaum worries about the GOP’s position on LGBT community issues such as overturning marriage equality and the rights of transgender individuals to use gender neutral bathrooms.
“This is dangerous not only because it threatens the health, safety and well-being of trans people, but it also distracts us all from the more important issues,” Tannenbaum said in an interview with the Philadelphia Jewish Voice. The article was the first time he publicly presented himself as transgender, he said.
But the bigger issue for Tannenbaum is income inequity, which he believes impacts all other issues Americans face, such as unequal education, which prevents low income Americans from obtaining good jobs and a decent income breaking the poverty cycle.
On the opening night of the convention, Tannenbaum expressed hope that the tense rift between Sanders and Hillary Clinton supporters could start to mend. Two days later, he was encouraged that convention speakers were touching on issues that he finds most important, such as climate change and gun violence.
"These are very unifying issues for both camps so it's nice to see people come together," he said. "Definitely feel like I'm being brainwashed a little, but I feel confident in my decisions to vote for her."
After three days of speeches, protests, walkouts and hoopla, Tannenbaum sees Democrats as more united against GOP presidential contender Donald Trump and believes many Sanders supporters will back Clinton in the general election. But he still believes the Democratic National Committee has a lot more fence-mending ahead, beyond November.
“The DNC tried reaching out to Sanders supporters the first couple of days but it didn't take long for us to realize that they prefer us to be silent,” he said. “It's a shame because they have the opportunity to make amends and repair the party but they don't seem to care.”
The committee has been handing out six signs a night for delegates and guests to hold up, with slogans like "Love trumps Hate" and "Yes We Can," but it is not allowing Sanders delegates to bring “unapproved” signs into Wells Fargo, he said. On Wednesday when Sanders delegates began chanting “No More War,” the committee shut off the lights in those sections, he said.
Clinton will need to continue to earn Sanders loyalists' support and votes by keeping the promises of a more progressive policy direction, he added. Many younger progressives don’t believe Clinton has represented issues progressive Democrats care about the way she claims, Tannenbaum said.
In Tannenbam’s mind, Clinton has not shown people her authentic self.
“One of the biggest problems Hillary faces is her image. No one seems to know who Hillary herself really is, they only see what her campaign wants them to see,” he said. “The more honestly she speaks about the issues and the more we learn about her life's work and all the good she's done, the more votes she'll get.”
Tannenbaum says the convention has given him a bigger picture of Clinton and the work she has done over her decades of public service and the progressive causes for which she has fought. He admits he is starting to like Clinton — something that surprises him. He hopes to continue to see more unscripted Clinton as the campaign progresses.
“When you’re voting for a president, you’re voting for a person, not an idea,” he said. “I respect people who are themselves and aren’t afraid to be themselves. It’s not just how you appear to the world, it’s how you appear to yourself.”
While Clinton’s candidacy is growing on him, Tannenbaum said, for now, his main goal going forward is to work against Trump, a candidate who terrifies him.
“My main goal is the beat him, however possible,” he said.
Right now, Tannenbaum said it would be hard for him to support Clinton’s candidacy the way he supported Sanders'. But he doesn’t believe that Trump will be successful in wooing disenchanted Sanders supporters, though he acknowledged Trump’s outsider status appeals to them.
“Just because we don’t like Hillary doesn’t mean we’re going to vote for this dictator-like man,” Tannenbaum said. “Some of what he says resonates with Bernie supporters, mostly that big money is running our government and hurting our economy, but I don’t think that is enough to get Bernie supporters.”
Tannenbaum also plans to continue to work to push Sanders’ progressive agenda in the Democratic Party. His experience has awakened in him a new interest in politics, especially to be a voice for people who feel they are outsiders and underrepresented.
“There are way too many people in the world who feel ashamed of who they are and threatened by their own communities,” Tannenbaum said this week. “It’s the job of our lawmakers to make it clear that they are just as American as anyone else.”