” I’m a transgender woman so I grew up as a presenting male, ” Danielle Stewart said as she sat on the porch of Dopra Zupras Restauarant in Beckley. “Now that I’m back, since I served in the army for 23 years …I decided it was time to transition.
Stewart is from the Beckley area. Born a male, she knew as early as junior high that she was definitively different from everyone else…but felt like there was no room in society to be different.
“The idea of being open then… it wasn’t even an option,” Stewart recalled. “Even rumors would cause everybody to freak out all over town.”
After living most of her life in fear of what others could possibly think, Stewart decided to make the transition to become a woman in 2015. This included procedures like a brow lift, breast augmentation, among others.
Despite her physical changes, she no longer had to hide who she was on the inside.
“It’s indescribable how good it feels to wake up and be authentic and to not live a lie,” Stewart said as she closed her eyes in relief. “I spent so much energy hiding and hating myself and doing things that weren’t good for me because I didn’t like myself.”
Stewart is pleased to say the support from people in the community has made her transition experience a positive one thus far, but stresses that not everyone is as lucky. Her partner Christina Baisden finds Danielle to be more than a role model for her own transgender son who found difficulty transitioning at a young age.
“It was really a traumatic experience with him going through the school system and dealing with all the bullying,” Baisden said. “There are no policies that protect our young transgender individuals that are going through the education system.”
Stewart and Baisden are turning their experiences into a reason to become activists for change in a once conservative city. Aside from being leading voices in support of the LBTQ Ordinance that passed in January, Stewart is a powerful voice on the City of Beckley’s Human Rights Commission and a board member of LGBTQ advocacy group, Fairness West Virginia..
With Baisden by her side, she inspires and plans events with other active members of the LBTQ community like singer Greg Lily and U.S Department of Veterans of Affairs’ Amy Stepp.
“She has changed this community,” Lily stressed. “She has helped educate people and she’s done it with a sense of real integrity, I love her, I’m proud of her. “
“To have a group like this in a small town where you don’t feel like you have options I think is a huge step for everyone else coming up in the world today that may be questioning or concerned for their future here,” Stepp added.
Stewart and Baisden want their actions to let a younger generation know that there are people in Southern West Virginia that are inclusive and accepting. They stress that they’re work to do as far as education, protection and policies… but they are working on it.