By Shaley Howard
Women make history in a multitude of ways. Some make changes through politics, some through art, some through protest, and many simply by living authentic lives, being true to themselves. They carve their own path, despite any opposition from our culture and society. National Women’s History Month is a time when we are able to spotlight a few of the many women who have made or are making history. We continue the quest to forge new, better futures, while knowing we truly do stand on the shoulders of giants. Proud Queer Portland would like to showcase a few queer women in our own backyard who, in their own way, make history.
BAD ASS BITCH. That is how Shannon Scott describes herself and she’s 100% right. Shannon is a transgender woman who’s blazing a path for equality and basic rights for transgender people, women, LGBTQ+ and anyone else who faces prejudice and discrimination.
Born in a small town in central Montana, Shannon enlisted in the military at the age of 17 before she could even vote. She finished at the top of her class and went on to serve for almost 12 years in the US Air Force as an electronics specialist. She was deployed overseas several times, including postings in South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. She was highly decorated and earned the Meritorious Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, War on Terrorism Medal, Basic Military Honor Graduate, and many more. But despite all of her achievements, Shannon had a lingering feeling that would suddenly be brought to the fore.
One day, on a routine mission, Shannon was flying back to the states on a plane loaded with unusual military cargo. When she asked what was, another crew member told her it was human remains. This was a pivotal moment for Shannon. She spent the next seven hours staring at these containers, considering the ultimate questions about life and wondering “Why me? Why did these people die and I didn’t?” It was during this contemplatory moment that the gravity of living her authentic life hit her with the velocity of a jet engine and she decided she could no longer remain silent – or closeted about who she was.
“Life is about so much more. Life is for being brave. It’s for living. So that’s what I did. When I got back home I decided I wasn’t going to lie about who I was anymore. I wasn’t going to go to the grave having never told the world my truth. I didn’t want to die with regret. Shoulda, woulda, coulda are phrases I left behind that day.”
When she returned home, Shannon stopped seeing mental health therapist she’d be seeing for years in the hope that they would "fix her" and help remove the feelings she’d carried with her throughout her lifetime. “The truth of the matter was, I was never broken and I didn’t need fixing. I needed a supportive word and a helping hand," Scott told me.
After that, she began her physical transition. It was slow at first and she tried her best to keep things as quiet as she could. But eventually people began to notice. The following two years of her transition were the most difficult of her life. She lost almost everyone – her friends, family and the love of her life. To top things off during this isolating and painful period, she was told by her supervisor one day that if she did not stop transitioning, she would be dishonorably discharged, the worst possible outcome for anyone in the military.
“I was heartbroken. I felt so betrayed. An organization that I had given my entire adult life to, an organization that I was willing to die for, now won’t have me – when I’m at my most courageous and genuine self.”
After crying in her supervisor’s office, Shannon went home and sat alone with a gun in her hand. In a dark and lonely place, she knew at this point in her life she had two choices: she could end her suffering then and there, or she could take a terrifying leap into an unknown world. It was at this critical moment, she heard a voice coming into her head, loudly asserting ‘NO! You have more to do.’ Not knowing if it was the voice of God, or the spirit or what, she says she really didn’t care, because an enormous sense of clarity and calm came to her. Shannon put the gun down and from that day on, her life was forever changed.
Within weeks of that pivotal experience, Shannon was offered a job from the Federal Aviation Administration. There she found a much more accepting and tolerant workplace and was able to leave the military with honorable discharge. Today, Shannon is the small business owner of United Equality Consulting specializing in LGBTQ workplace inclusion training. She’s worked on the Board of Governors for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), Basic Rights Oregon (BRO), Oregon Women's Campaign School, and has lead multiple one-on-one queer women and family mentorships and support. She is also very open and vocal about her experiences and is often asked to speak on transgender issues and rights.
“The greatest obstacles we face by far are fear and ignorance. I am motivated because I know just how hard it is to live outside societal gender norms. No one should have to suffer so terribly just to live an authentic and honest life. So many folks do not understand what it is to be a member of the LGBTQ community or even to recognize the inequality between gender. I have found that when folks encounter something they do not understand the initial response is often fear. That is why simply being visible is such a critical first step in creating a cultural shift.”
When asked about the advice she would give to others who struggle in today’s social and political climate with prejudice and discrimination Shannon replied,
“This is your life. Period. No one is going to live it for you, but many will try to control some aspect of it. Most will do this out of fear. Be brave, look them in the eye and say you're going to try it the way that feels right to you. Be smart, listen to those who truly love you, but follow your own path. The rewards and the consequences are yours, and both have value. The sooner you fall, the sooner you fly.”
Thank you for all you do Shannon. You truly are one amazing and courageous Bad Ass Bitch.
Photo portrait of Shannon Scott courtesy Gia Goodrich of vevstudiosportland.com.