Marcelas Owens, 17, of Seattle, Washington, became known as the "Obamacare kid" after advocating for the passage of the Affordable Care Act six years ago at a White House ceremony, following the death of her mother. The teenager came out as transgender and is being raised by her accepting grandmother, CNN reported Friday.
Marcelas, who became active in the fight for the Affordable Care Act as a child, came out to her grandmother at 16 by donning a wig and putting on a dress, according to CNN:
"It was an autumn evening near dark and her grandmother was downstairs watching television. Marcelas put on a black wig, a red-and-white striped skirt and pink lipstick.
Then she walked downstairs and stood before her grandmother. Owens didn't bat an eye, Marcelas recalls.
'Grandma, if I wanted to be a girl, what would you tell me that I should do?'
Owens thought Marcelas was joking at first. Then she realized her grandchild was serious. She told Marcelas that if she wanted her honest opinion, she preferred that she would stay a boy.
'But I would respect you if you decided to change and be somebody else,' she said."
Marcelas told CNN that her grandmother's statement of acceptance gave her the freedom to live authentically and open as a transgender woman. "Even though she preferred me as a boy she respected my choice to choose," Marcelas told CNN. "That gave me a sort of blessing."
In a birthday card addressed to Marcelas that was posted on Facebook, her grandmother wrote:
"So today, on your 17th birthday; I tell you AND the world; My grandson is on a new journey in life... I am so happy that SHE has trusted our relationship enough where SHE felt more comfortable sharing with me first; BEFORE the rest of the world... I give my heart & blessing to HER. I LOVE YOU AND YOUR COURAGE IN LIFE, MORE THAN YOU WILL EVER KNOW. Walk your journey in love & light."
While Marcelas' fight for the Affordable Care Act was successful, she now has other battles to take up, should she decide to once again lend her voice to activism. As part of her transition, she is starting to consider hormone therapy. While Obamacare prohibits denying coverage to transgender people on the basis of identity, providers are not categorically required to cover transition-related care, including hormone therapy, mental health services, and gender-affirming surgeries.
President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act in the East Room of the White House on March 23, 2010 as Marcelas Owens watches.
Marcelas, who wants to be a surgeon, told CNN she felt pressure to live up to the "Obamacare kid," who made headlines six years ago, and it was holding her back from embracing her gender identity:
"'I was like, I'm the Obamacare kid and I have to live as the Obamacare kid. That was kind of my reason for not identifying as who I was.'
Then she realized that her experience as a kid didn't have to be a burden; it could be a blessing.
If she could help others in one struggle, why not another? Transgender teens, especially those of color, have few people to look up to. Maybe she could lead the way. If she could deal with Rush Limbaugh's scorn at 11, maybe she could handle being out in front of another divisive issue.
'This would be kind of a new thing,' she says. 'I would help advance another issue. It'll be good for me.'"