Jeff Walker is the kind of father who works hard for his family all week. He’s a guy with a big heart, big smile, and a big beard. When it’s time to kick back and relax, he goes out to his garage and works on his car, a 2013 Ford Mustang. He is happily married and has a son in the Army National Guard. For a man from East Central Alabama, life is pretty great, but one more thing makes Walker’s life complete — his daughter, Harleigh.
“Harleigh came to us when she was 10 years old after doing her own research,” Walker said. “’I believe I am transgender,’ she said.”
Harleigh had been assigned male at birth, and for a Southern dad like Walker, it took some getting used to. “That started a journey that’s four years behind us and has been full of research, heartache, happiness, and growth,” he explained. “Of course, the first thing we had to figure out was what did that mean, what do we do?”
One of the resources Walker and his family turned to was their nearby chapter of PFLAG. Walking into their first support meeting, Walker and his wife Lisa found a community of parents and LGBTQ+ people who could help him navigate those important questions. There was even a group just for trans and gender nonconforming kids. “PFLAG has been really great,” Harleigh shared. “It’s the first place where I could be with a bunch of other kids who were just like me.”
When Walker talks about Harleigh, he glows with pride. He is clearly impressed with his daughter, who aspires to one day be President. “At 14, she spends her time learning about our government system and watching the legislative debates on C-SPAN,” he noted.
But Walker acknowledges that having a child who is transgender hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “In school, Harleigh has faced hatred, bullying, and physical altercations just for being who she is,” he said. Alabama is one of the states that has passed a law to ban trans kids from participating in school sports. The state also nearly passed a bill that would have banned trans children from gaining access to medical care.
“If they had passed that bill, my choice was to stay in Alabama and risk felony charges for the health of one child, or to leave the state and make my other child homeless because he has a commitment to the Guard.”
Having a child who is part of the LGBTQ+ community makes the issue of inequality very clear to Walker. “This community demands the same rights people like me already have,” he said. In the past year, Walker and Harleigh have become outspoken advocates for equality. They have met with representatives and senators, written the governor, and spoken at numerous events to garner support for the Equality Act and to stop the passage of anti-trans bills. “People just accept me for who I am. Harleigh deserves the same thing.”