Rebekah was only 10 years old when the Trump administration rolled back its protections for transgender students — but she, as a transgender student, felt compelled to act on behalf of herself and her community.
“I can change the world," Rebekah asserted in a new episode of Marvel's Hero Project, a Disney Plus series that profiles youth who are making a difference. Each installment celebrates the accomplishments of the young hero and presents them with a comic book illustrating their "selfless acts of bravery and kindness."
And indeed, Rebekah did help change the world with bravery and kindness. A native of New Jersey, she and her family partnered with organizations like Garden State Equality to give speeches and demonstrate that trans people are not the villains that the federal government and right-wing media make them out to be.
To enact change on a local level and change hearts and minds, Rebekah even appeared before the New Jersey legislature to lobby for Assembly Bill 1335, legislation that would mandate LGBTQ history curriculum in public schools.
“I’ve never seen myself in the history they’re teaching," Rebekah told legislators, pointing to LGBTQ figures like Harvey Milk, Marsha P. Johnson — and possibly, one day, herself — as figures that young people need to learn about.
Her voice made a difference. N.J. Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law in February, and LGBTQ-inclusive lessons will begin next year.
Marvel's Hero Project — the first nonscripted production from the superhero studio — recounts Rebekah's remarkable journey as a young activist. The docuseries shows that, in addition to a being public advocate, Rebekah is a role model for other young trans people in a support group and a singer in her Christian church, where her father is a pastor. She even spoke about her story at a youth conference organized by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2018.
The episode of Marvel's Hero Project also shows her coming-out journey. She articulated that she was trans by age 8, when her mother outlined the LGBTQ acronym after a search for gender-nonconforming bathing suits.
Below, Rebekah and her mother, Jamie, discuss the episode, her activism, a surprise appearance from a possibility model, and her own history-making role as the first transgender hero in a Marvel production.
The Advocate: How does it feel to be the first transgender kid to be a Marvel hero?
Rebekah: It's really surprising and cool. But I also think that it's really important to have a transgender kid in one of these companies because representation is really helpful for kids who are going through their transition to know that they are not alone and that there are people fighting for them.
What was your reaction when you first saw the comic and how they designed it?
I was speechless. I was like, "Oh, my gosh!" And then I looked at the comic and I was like, "How did they do all this?" I was just really astonished.
Have you ever felt that you were represented in the media before?
Yeah, I think so because now that there are more people advocating for LGBTQ rights. There are faces and people who can help people like me — especially people like [transgender teen activist] Jazz [Jennings] who helped me through my transition and helped others through theirs.
What was it like to get a call from Jazz? That must have been pretty exciting.
It was so cool. I was like, "Are you sure?" Yeah, it was really amazing.
How does Jazz inspire you?
She inspires me by being a role model for kids like me to help them come out and transition. But she also inspires me because she's just a kid — well, not a kid — but just a regular person like any other. But there's also a way that I can relate to her.
Now you're a role model for other people. How does that feel?
It feels really cool to be someone who can help other kids going through their own transitions and also just amazing to be that kind of person to support others and show that trans kids are just like any other kids.
Going along with the theme of heroes — what do you think your power is?
I think my power is acceptance because I accept everyone for their differences and I can empower and tell other people ... that everyone is the same and there's nothing wrong with LGBTQ kids.
And you've helped change the world a little bit. In part, because of your activism, New Jersey has now approved an LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum, which is just fantastic. How does it feel to be a part of that change?
I feel that it's really important for all kids to learn about LGBTQ people and how they can impact our world and our history. Because they can see that transgender and all LGBTQ people are ... like them and they can change the world.
Do you have any recommendations of LGBTQ books for New Jersey schools?
I Am Jazz. I love that book and I use that book a lot to educate, like, friends and families who are still learning [about trans issues].
I was struck by how big of a role that religion plays in your life and your family. I'm curious, how does faith and God guide you?
Faith guides me in my activism by giving me something else to teach other people. There's a lot of [misconceptions] that being LGBTQ, you cannot be Christian or you can't be loved by God. But in truth, God made you who you are and God does not make mistakes. So you're meant to be yourself.
What would you say to people who would use religion to promote hate against our community?
The Bible says that God accepts everyone and loves everyone for who they are. And the Bible also says that we should love one another. And by using the Bible as a weapon, it's abusing the power of these words.
In the episode, you talked about this perception that adults won't listen to young people. What have you learned from your journey about the power of your voice and the voice of young people?
The power of kids my age is really important because adults can see that this is a real issue and that, even though you may not think it, it's affecting kids and young people in your everyday world.
In the episode, we also saw that you received $10,000 for a donation to an organization in your honor. Which organization did you choose?
I gave that to the Trevor Project. They give a lot of really good statistics on mental health and suicide rates on LGBTQ kids. Then they're also a helpline to them so they can assist people through their transitions.
We saw in the first issue of your comic your fight for acceptance in schools. If there's another issue, what would it be about? Where's your fight going next?
It would be more about accepting others for all their differences and about supporting other kids for who they are and being themselves.
What message do you hope that your story sends to the world, especially through a big platform like Disney?
You can be yourself and accept others' differences and that there's hope for the world. LGBTQ kids are like every other kid and they are just being themselves.
What would you say to the transgender kids who might be watching?
I want to tell trans kids that they're not alone. That there's nothing wrong with them. There are people fighting for them and they should keep being themselves no matter what.
And for Rebekah's mom, how does it feel to have a daughter as a Marvel hero?
Jamie: It's wild and overwhelming and super surreal. I mean, you don't expect your kid to be a Marvel superhero, but I think hope is a really big theme for us. It's a lot of hope for Rebekah and for her future and for the impact she can have on so many other families and young people. We're so grateful for the people who were that hope for us — Jazz Jennings and her family and for the other advocates that have been visible, giving us the information we needed to support our kid. We're super excited to get to contribute to that and watch Rebekah's story have that positive impact on others.
It's also so inspiring to see how you and your husband support Rebekah so much without question. How do you hope parents who are watching this respond to your family's story?
I really just hope that parents realize that loving your kid is a basic part of parenting and that it's not exceptional. We always get told what amazing parents we are. And while that's super kind and Rebekah would sometimes like to argue that, it's not exceptional to love your kid, and that includes your transgender kid. This is who she is and who she was created to be. And it can be a really joy-filled house. The world is a scary place, but there's a lot of joy and hope in raising a transgender child.