Courage to Come Back mental health award recipient wants to show trans people there is hope

It’s believed to be a first in the 25-year history of the Courage To Come Back Awards – an honouree who is transgender. Jodi Gray is the recipient of the 2023 award in the mental health category.

The Vancouverite, who still speaks with a bit of a twang native to her home state of North Carolina, grew up in a deeply religious conservative Christian household.

“I knew I was different,” she recalled. “I knew I couldn’t say anything about it. And I just felt like it was wrong to be different.”

A childhood filled with severe abuse and poverty would lead to anxiety and depression that would plague her for decades, costing her jobs and relationships, including the one with her son.

Jodi Gray is the 2023 Courage to Come Back mental health category award recipient. (Courage to Come Back Awards)

Jodi Gray is the 2023 Courage to Come Back mental health category award recipient. (Courage to Come Back Awards)

“My first suicide attempt was right after I lost contact with my son and realized I wouldn’t see him again.”

And then she came to realize she was transgender.

“I realized it probably in my 30s and I fought against it until I transitioned about eight years ago,” she admitted.

Complicating matters further was how doctors would conflate her mental health issues with her gender – two different issues entirely.

“They couldn’t look past that to see that even though I’m transgender, I’m a person and I have other issues as well in my life.”

It’s an experience she says is typical among those in the trans community.

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“Unfortunately, trans people don’t get treated very well in the mental health system. A lot will avoid treatment because of the way they are treated in the system,” she explained.

That’s why Gray now advocates for others like her, first as a peer support worker, and as the head of a housing project for transgender, two-spirited, and gender-diverse people.

She hopes her story can serve as a beacon to others.

“There is hope and you can do what you want to do, and your life can have meaning and happiness again.”

Gray, who had gender-affirming surgery in 2021, says she has never felt happier or more fulfilled.

“I wish I didn’t have to go through everything I went through to get there, but I’m the happiest that I’ve ever been probably in my entire life.”

She is happy to be a trailblazer too.

“I’m the first transgender woman, from what I understand, to receive the [Courage To Come Back] award, and I think that’s huge for the trans community. I can’t say enough. It’s just a great honour. I appreciate Coast Mental Health for recognizing me.”

CityNews is a proud sponsor of the Coast Mental Health Courage to Come Back Awards, celebrating 25 years of raising critical funds for British Columbians living with mental illness.

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