Amy Schneider, the first out transgender contestant to qualify for Jeopardy!’s Tournament of Champions, says she hopes to be a source of support and inspiration for young trans people.
Schneider has won nine consecutive games on the venerable show and competes again on the episode airing Tuesday (the episodes are taped several weeks in advance). She is not the show’s first trans contestant or winner, but she is the first to achieve the distinction of qualifying for the Tournament of Champions. To be in the tournament, which takes place in the spring, contestants must have won at least five games in the previous season. The show used to have champions step down from regular-season competition after five wins and just return for the tournament, but now it allows them to go on as long as they keep winning — Ken Jennings, currently hosting, holds the record of 74 regular-season wins.
Schneider, an engineering manager who lives in Oakland, Calif., made a subtle statement by wearing a trans Pride flag pin on the Thanksgiving episode. “The fact is, I don’t actually think about being trans all that often, and so when appearing on national television, I wanted to represent that part of my identity accurately: as important, but also relatively minor,” she wrote on Twitter.
“But I also didn’t want it to seem as if it was some kind of shameful secret. While it’s gratifying to know that people didn’t necessarily know I was trans until they read about it, I do want people to know that aspect of me. I think being trans is really cool! And there’s a specific reason I thought Thanksgiving would be the right time to wear that pin. Thanksgiving is a holiday that is all about family. And that can be hard for anybody who has been ostracized or otherwise cut off from their family ... a group which, sadly, still includes a disproportionately high number of trans people, especially trans youth and trans people of color. So, it felt like a good time to show my membership in, and support of, a community that might be having a hard time right now.” She did a video about the importance of the pin as well.
She has used her Twitter feed (@Jeopardamy) to encourage donations to LGBTQ+ organizations. “This holiday season, as you spend time with family and loved ones, and as you budget out your shopping plans, I would love it if you could find a way to donate to an organization that helps LGBTQ people in need,” she tweeted. Two she holds especially dear are Trans Lifeline and the Transgender Law Center.
Schneider has impressed audience with her breadth of knowledge, and she has defied some stereotypes of people who work in the sciences, revealing, for instance, that she’s a tarot card reader. She also has been a stand-up comedian. She has been a Jeopardy! fan all her life and auditioned for the show three times, finally making it on her third try. A few years ago, a man who was then her brother-in-law appeared on Jeopardy! and won three games, but now she’s bested him.
Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Schneider had few trans role models, but the ones she found as an adult inspired her, and now she hopes to inspire other trans people.
“Seeing other trans women in a good spotlight inspired me to not be afraid of trying to compete in the thing I have always loved,” she told San Francisco Bay Area TV station KGO. “I am so incredibly grateful. Hopefully I can send a positive message to the nerdy trans girl who wants to be on the show too.”
She and her girlfriend are discussing how to spend her winnings; plans include travel and buying a home in Oakland. After her fifth win, everything else has been “gravy on top,” she wrote in Newsweek.
“Ultimately, I’m not going to be feeling too much pressure at the Tournament of Champions because I know I’ve already had this success,” she added. “I’ll do my best and what happens, happens.”