Coming out as transgender: a Rapid City woman's story

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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - Hiding who you truly are for years, feeling like you're in the wrong body.

We introduce you to a local trans woman who shared with us her story of coming out.

People participating in Transgender Awareness Week are trying to raise the visibility of transgender and non-conforming people.

We look at some issues they face through the eyes of a trans woman here in Rapid City.

Jen Heuerman says, "I would see something that would catch my attention and then this deep voice would stomp in and say that's not for you. And it was harsh. It was like I was almost afraid, almost sorry for asking."

They're a small but fierce group in western South Dakota: the transgender community.

Jen Heuerman came out as a transgender woman a year and a half ago, but several factors held her back.

Jen Heuerman says, "When I was like six or seven years old, I saw an adult who was like me come out and they lost everything. The job, home, kids, and family. Everything. So from a really early age I was keeping that aspect of myself really well hidden even from myself."

For 36 years, Jen lived as John.

Katrina Lim asks, "How did you feel when you were still hiding yourself?"

Jen responds, "Angry. It made me feel angry."

According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, there are at least 22 transgender people who died this year in the United States because of fatal violence.

Jen says she came out during a pride celebration last year.

At the festival, a woman asked her on camera what pride meant to her.

Jen Heuerman says, "It hit me like a ton of bricks. I almost started crying because I realized I wasn't very proud of who I was. I wasn't being me."

Since coming out, Jen says she's experienced discrimination in different forms.

Jen Heuerman says, "I get looked at quite bit when I go out, which I've come to accept. Some people can be rude, some people have gotten in my face about it."

But her wife and five children accept her for who she is.

She says revealing herself was scary at first, but then it was a huge relief.

Jen Heuerman says, "I felt finally free to stop hiding, spending all that energy hiding and free to finally find out who I really am."

The Black Hills Center for Equality will host a vigil on Tuesday, November 20th at Main Street Square at 6 P.M. to bring awareness about hate crimes against transgender people.