By Yaasmeen Piper
Tyler Titus graduated high school having endured bullying from his peers, attempting suicide twice and under his dead name (a name assigned to someone at birth that they do not go by anymore) which was “Tiffany.”
“I almost believed that I was broken,” Titus said.
Even when he came out as a “lesbian” in college and gave birth to two kids, something still did not feel right. His thoughts on his sexuality shifted to thoughts about his gender.
Titus drove out to a cornfield and sat for hours in his car. His thoughts shifted to his family and his children who he believed would be targeted if he came out as transgender.
“For me,” Titus said,” It would be easier for [my family] to endure the loss of Tiffany than to have to endure Tyler.”
According to Titus, most of the night was a blur, not because of alcohol or any substances but just mere depression.
“The next day I went out and got help and thank God that I did,” he said. “Thank God that I did because it turn out that I am pretty cool and I can do some pretty bada** things.”
Today, Titus stands as the first openly transgender person elected into office in Pa.
His position on the Erie, Pa school board gave him a platform to share his story and advocate for underprivileged children.
He got a chance to do just this last Thursday, March 22 in Stroud. The event was hosted by ESU’s PRIDE organization and the College Democrats.
“The day I won was surreal. My phone never stopped ringing,” Titus said. “A lot of people who to know what is it like to be a young LGBT person, going into a political climate that our current presidential administration has created? What is that process like for you?”
Currently, he works as a clinical therapist, mainly with kids who are dependent or delinquent. His love for kids came from his parents who took in foster kids and had adopted children.
“The world made them believe that they were broken and something was wrong with them, and I can completely relate to that sensation or that feeling, and wanting just one person to understand what I was going through and so that’s what I did,” Titus said. “I wanted to be the person who understood what these kids were going through.”
The Erie school district where Titus worked was suffering from a financial crisis; the state was coming in and threatening to shut them down and take over; students were fleetings and their economy was crashing, he said.
“I was b**ching about how bad it was and said ‘somebody needs to do something. This is awful and it isn’t fair to the kids,’” he said. “ [My friend] just looked me dead in the eye and said ‘well, you’re somebody.’”
Within 20 minutes of this conversation he had created his petition to join the race to be elected for the Erie school board.
“I was the last one to throw my name in the race,” he said. “I had about 36 hours to get all the signatures I needed because I had to turn them in, and I did it.”
Due to complication with paperwork, Titus and all the other Democratic candidates were dropped from the race leaving only Republican candidates on the ballot. However, he did not stop there. He decided to run a write-in campaign. He took to the streets, knocking on hundreds of doors, going into houses and making phone calls, asking people for their vote.
“[I told myself] first off you’re trans,” he said.
“So, now you have to win people over because you’re trans. Second, people don’t generally win write-in campaigns. It’s just not a thing that happens, So that just made me say ‘now I’m really gonna do it.’ And I did.”
From this, he got back on the ballot and ended up knocking out the Republicans and the Democratic candidates and eventually winning the election for Erie’s school board.
“The cool thing was that this election got national attention,” Titus said.
“There were eight of us– eight trans individuals that got elected into office in the same year. We all went on this tour together to inspire young, LGBT–especially trans– individuals to get up and [get] active because now more than ever we need minorities and representation.”
Titus said he is encouraging all minorities to try to get involved in politics in some way, especially on the local level. In his school district, which is around 11,500 kids, minorities make up 40-45% of them.
However, there is only one person of color on the Erie school board.
“If you look at our teachers, we have teachers who don’t look like the kids that they are teaching.
We don’t have police officers who represent the people that they are protecting,” he said.
“We have this huge, huge disconnect between the people and the people speaking for the people.”
Today, Titus said the Erie school district is still under a lot of pressure with rallying more support for their refugee population and pushing against the cyber schools. He is still fighting for his district and says if people feel as passionate as he does about his community they should get involved.
“Everybody can make a difference in different ways, in a way that makes you feel alive and a way that makes you feel passionate,” he said.
“Not everyone is meant for office. That’s okay. But, everyone can help on a political campaign, everyone can endorse a candidate, everyone can knock on door, you can share memes, everybody can send out texts, people can get people registered to vote. There are all these ways to help.”
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