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  • Photo by Rob Bartlett

Gina Duncan

Trans rights advocate | For opening hearts and minds

It's hard to track Gina Duncan down.

The director of transgender equality for Equality Florida, the state's leading LGBTQ civil rights organization, is busy wearing many different hats. She teaches trans cultural competency training to small workplaces and major corporations. She chairs TransAction Florida, a 27-member advisory board from all over the state that advocates for trans rights and protections through public policy. And some days, Duncan goes to Tallahassee to remind state lawmakers that she and other trans people deserve respect – not simply acceptance.

"I don't want you to accept me," she says. "I want you to treat me equally as you feel about yourself. And asking for acceptance kind of speaks to that person having power over you, like saying, 'I will accept you or I won't.' Well, too bad. Either way, I'm going to be me, you be you, and if we respect each other's identities and our hearts, then that's good."

The 63-year-old Orlando resident has concentrated on building a solid support structure for Florida's trans community, the kind that didn't exist when she started transitioning in 2006.

Before, Duncan was known as the captain of an undefeated Merritt Island High School football team, homecoming king and student government vice president at East Carolina University. The life she had was "common Americana," she says, with a beautiful wife, two kids and a regional manager position at Wells Fargo.

That changed after she came out – her support came mostly from close family members and her employer, though some days were tough. After she was profiled by the Orlando Sentinel, Duncan got a call from the local steering committee of the Human Rights Campaign because they needed more visible transgender voices in town.

The connection launched Duncan on a path of advocacy and activism. She's been president of Orlando's LGBT chamber of commerce, the Metropolitan Business Association, done a TED talk and even ran for Orange County Commission in 2012. After a gunman killed 49 people at the gay nightclub Pulse in 2016, she comforted the community and helped expand Equality Florida's advocacy to include gun reforms.

"The most gratifying thing is feeling like you're moving the needle at least a little bit," she says. "My goal is if I can open a heart and a mind a day, then I've done my job."

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