Those who know Sean, know how special, amazing, personable, kind, and warm-hearted he/they are. If you don't know Sean yet, reach out and introduce yourself. Sean's organization, Bryant's Bridge, is what we so desperately need: safe, supportive housing that affirms our vulnerable LGBTQ+ people.
I knew who I was at a very young age, but I spent the first 53 years of my life living solely as Susan, a significant part of me, but not my most authentic expression. While I go primarily by Sean, Susan is still part of the balance and perhaps even a second spirit within me. I have been a social worker since 1989, and practiced as an MSSW since 1998, working with adults, children and families in numerous capacities in social work, including domestic violence, adolescent residential care, home health, hospice and HIV/AIDS care, a child and family therapist, and school social worker. I currently work full-time with the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee and have for 8 years, working with students and supervising internships. I maintain a coaching practice that is focused on areas of spiritual, personal and professional growth.
As a non-binary parent of a multiracial family, I specialize in work with the LGBT community, with White parents raising non-White children, and with issues surrounding grief and spirituality. I seek to guide social work students in becoming advanced practitioners committed to appreciating diversity in a way that understands and affirms all clients. I welcome clients of all races, ethnicities, religions, nationalities, gender identifications and social groups. I started Bryant's Bridge because I believe that no youth should or needs to be homeless, but I also acknowledge that our LGBTQ+ youth face some of the most complex and greatest challenges during the period of transition from youth to adulthood. They are most vulnerable to abandonment, abuse, drugs, sex trafficking and other harms young. The transgender population faces even greater challenges related to self-discovery, physical safety, bullying and obtaining supportive career opportunities.
My father was a minister, and a very broad-minded and accepting person, especially with regard to understanding who I was and seeing the vision for what I could accomplish. He challenged me to be the best I could be, to make learning a lifelong process, to become who I was truly meant to be, and to influence the world for good. He specifically told me that I could reach thousands of people that the church could not because I was able to be and see things differently. He encouraged me to live authentically. I have many people that inspire me today. The youth living at Bryant's Bridge are my greatest inspiration at the moment. Their devotion to each other and their embrace of what we are trying to accomplish as an organization is remarkable. It makes me believe that what I dream about is a real possibility.
Sean/Susan's Coming Out Story
My first girlfriend outed me to my mother as she was leaving me, not to be hurtful, but to help my mother understand why she was leaving despite her love for me. My mother, as much as she loved me, was unable to respond positively. She asked me not to tell my father, a renowned pastor, because she thought it would break his heart. She also asked me not to tell my brother because she felt he would not accept me. I was instantly lost and alone, separated from the support that I had known all my life. I believe this to be a common experience within our community. In an attempt to find stability, I became involved with an alcoholic who was nearly 20 years my senior. I left the relationship a year later at gunpoint with nowhere to go, but luckily, not willing to return to that. My most important memory at this time was of my friend Neita, who said directly to me, “I know you don’t believe this at this moment, but YOU WILL BE OK. You will grow and become.” I went to my parents, and they allowed me to live with my brother, who at the time was in active addiction, in a run-down house in a less than desirable part of the city. They did not know what had happened, but were very supportive of me. I had been volunteering with a local HIV+ agency in town doing support groups and helping the community, and I got a job starting social services for the HIV+ community and found my love for advocacy. Although we lost many (there was still no good treatment in 1994), the experience changed me. In 1996, I returned to school at the University of Tennessee to get my MSSW degree. Fast forward 21 years or so, I have a wife of 15 years, a successful career, three beautiful children, and the return of my mother who lived with us for 8 years before her death at age 91, in November of 2017. On January 23, 2019, a little more than a year after her death, I realized that I had been living a less than authentic life, and upon waking one morning, wrote a poem entitled “The Other Person”. It was the beginning of my second "coming out" and a major new direction. I felt compelled to live a more authentic life. The name Sean came by dream a number of months later, and I began to transition at the beginning of the pandemic. I wondered what would happen if I just stopped shaving after 30 years. My little beard appeared, and I suddenly felt like myself in a way I never had. It opened my eyes to a life I had only dreamed of since childhood. While my wife and I are divorced after nearly 20 years, she stood by me through the changes and supported my becoming. I live with great appreciation for that.
Sean/Susan's Encouragement To Us
I would want others to remember that that we know our needs as a population better than anyone. They are unique, and often difficult for the general population to understand. We can best make a difference by coming together, and by working alongside each other in community, both within and outside of our own LGBATQ+ community. I stand by my belief that community creates change. I believe we must be individual examples of positivity in the face of oppression, criticism and with regard to systemic barriers that seek to prevent us from thriving. I believe we can make a difference if we unite.
For our teens and youth, seize the opportunity that your generation is providing to embrace greater acceptance, offer your talents, learn about the systems of oppression, how they came about and why, and step into the leadership roles that will create greater change. Use older adults as role models for how to survive and thrive, but have the courage to embrace change and bring friends and family members along for the ride. If you can, find your voice and realize that you matter a great deal. You are our future, and your generation is ready for a new way of being. For parents, regardless of LGBTQ+ status, the best thing you can do for your children is to allow them to explore and become who they are meant to be with the safety and security of love and acceptance, and without your specific expectations or demands. If you can give them opportunities to explore, and trust that they can find their path, they will. They will not reject your ideas and the influence you have had and continue to have in your life. When they feel confused, you have the choice to either support their growth by listening and affirming their ability, or destroy their self-esteem with harsh words and actions. If you give them a little space, they will surprise you with their strength and compassion, and find their way to happiness rather quickly. Remember if you can that you are very important to them, regardless of how or what they show you.
I believe we must become truly united and find more effective ways to support each other and work together. I would like to see us build communities with our allies, where we can give and receive support freely. We must decide what is most important/what we all need most to thrive as a community, and then find ways to act on those things that can bring this about. We must be willing to present to the world a unified front, and find and embrace an approach that allows us to focus on our needs as an entire community. We must define what true inclusivity means and live that on a daily basis.
The best way we can support each other is this is by honoring each other as individuals, by listening to each other, and by seeking to join in support of ALL members of our community, from the elders to the youth. We must find ways to care for each other and to use our individual gifts and talents to benefit the collective. We must resist the outside forces that seek to divide us by race, gender, socio-economic status and other differences. We have the opportunity to show the world what respect for difference truly looks like. Each of us brings something different, but EVERYONE brings something. As we learn to understand this idea, we will be able to confidently invite the world to join in acceptance in a way that allows them to find their own kindness, love and compassion.
"The world is changed by our example. But we must believe this and act upon it as a community. We must vote, work to change harmful policies and promote human rights. The system changes when people change, but leadership for that change is a responsibility that each of us can choose to provide in all of our circles of interaction every day. This is our opportunity and our charge." - Sean/Susan Bryant
Jaime Combs is the most appropriate and perfect person to be our first LGBTQ+ hero that we recognize, especially given that it's time for Pride month. Jaime is fierce, funny, resilient, and couragous. She is an amazing role model. Please read below to learn about her life and to find inspiration:
Jaime Combs grew up in Elizabethton, moved to Knoxville to attend Johnson Bible College, and then moved to Maryville. She worked as a stylist and owned her salon for several years. Jaime met the love of her life, Carla Lewis. They raised two children together and are now the proud grandparents of three grandchildren and one French bulldog. Jaime and Carla were attending service at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church when an armed male committed a mass shooting at the church. Seven were injured and two people were killed. Greg McKendry, one of Jaime’s friends was unfortunately one of the individuals who was killed during this shooting.
This horrific event compelled Jaime to become an advocate for the transgender community. She became president of the Knoxville chapter of PFLAG and then was the first transgender South Eastern Regional Director of PFLAG. Jaime and Carla then moved to Nashville where she became a Connectus Health (https://www.connectus.org/) board member, and she serves as Chair of the Personnel Committee as well as a member of the Quality Committee. Jaime has acted as a volunteer with the Transbuddy program at Vanderbilt's Transgender Health Clinic (https://www.vumc.org/lgbtq/trans-buddy-program).
Jaime appeared in a music video by Grammy winning artist Jennifer Nettles, where she was featured as the first openly transgender woman to be in a nationally released music video. She is featured in the Trans ilient docuseries, "Climbing Every Mountain," which was produced to reveal struggles many face when trying to receive transgender healthcare in Appalachia. Jaime appeared in a training video that is being used by Vanderbilt Hospital to educate their staff about working with our transgender community. Jaime has devoted much of her time at Legislative Plaza in response to Tennessee’s anti-transgender legislation. She is one of the plaintiffs challenging Tennessee's Birth Certificate law, which prohibits Tennesseans from changing gender markers on their birth certificates. Tennessee is the only state in the nation that has this law against their citizens.
From Jaime to the world: “For young people who are transgender, I want to tell them that they know themselves better than anyone else. Believe in yourself and find others that believe in you, develop a support system for you, especially if your family is not supportive. You can create the life that you choose, you can overcome obstacles, never give up and never let your heart become hardened. There is beauty in the world, choose to see it, and see as much of the world as you possibly can. For parents of transgender youth, I would advise you to listen to your child and educate yourself on trans issues. I would advise parents to find support among their friends or parents of other trans children. I would advise parents to let go of any guilt if you were hesitant to accept your child or even if some small part of you feels like it's your "fault" that your child is trans. Remind yourself that you are figuring this out just like your child is figuring it all out. LOVE YOUR CHILD.”
“I love you! I want young people to know that they are loved and lovable exactly as they are, that there will be days that appear to be very dark but they don't last and always keep looking for the light. I want young people to find their passion, the one thing they can excel at. I hope young people will pursue their education so that many opportunities will be available to them. I want young people to know that they are not alone. And I want parents to know although their child will have struggles, that their child can still have a wonderful life and that they have the ability to find love and happiness, and can achieve many of their dreams.”
Jaime is a mature (we never tell a woman’s age) Transwoman who started her transition in the 1990’s. She is also a survivor of the Knoxville Church Shooting that took place in 2008.
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