If you ask Phyllis Frye how she’s doing she’ll probably tell you “I’m enjoying my life and I hope I live another twenty plus years.” That answer might have differed some decades ago. Frye, now 69-years-old, embarked on a journey over 40 years ago that led to the many titles she holds today including lawyer and partner of Frye, Oaks, Benavidez & O’Neil, transgender rights advocate, wife, the first out, transgender court judge, and the moniker “grandmother” of the transgender legal and political movement – a title that she’s proud to hold. “There’s no doubt about it, I did a lot for the movement so I don’t mind carrying the weight of that title,” said Frye.
But before she carried the weight of that title, she carried the weight of the movement and the fight for transgender equality on her shoulders. In the summer of 1976, Frye went full-time transgender; from Phillip to Phyllis, and though she didn’t know it then, began a plight that would help spearhead the acceptance of the transgender community.
A mix of rallies, lobbying and pure hard work went into her part of the trans community progression.
She also endured a plethora of unfortunate events that included being disowned from her parents and siblings, becoming the victim of obscene vandalism, enduring exile from various social/professional groups and organizations, and losing her then wife and son. However, she failed to cease. Frye had a mission and it was going to get accomplished.
“I had to fight against the law that made cross-dressing illegal, I had to fight against LGBT prejudice in general, I had to fight within the community because a lot of the organizations were not trans inclusive.”
Fortunately for Frye, she was able to see her work come into fruition -“I didn’t know how happy I’d be now in my life, because I didn’t think I’d be alive,” said Frye. Plus, she’s still be able to contribute to the fight without being at the forefront.
When it comes to society accepting the trans community, progress has been made, but there is still work to be done. Last year, the state of North Carolina underwent scrutiny for their stance on the bathroom bill (the bill that keeps transgender individuals from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity), an issue Texas is currently going through. Although Texas residents, businesses and organizations everywhere are outraged at legislatures, Frye isn’t too worried and ensures that it’s not hurting the trans community. “Everything they say they’re (legislators) afraid of is already illegal,” says Frye. “They’re afraid someone will go into the restroom and expose him or herself, that’s indecent exposure and it’s illegal. They’re afraid someone will masturbate, that’s public lewdness, that’s illegal. They’re afraid people will record others and take pictures, well that’s invasive recording with a video camera and that’s illegal too.”
Progression has proven that the transgender movement has come so far, but the work to continue advancing is evergreen. However, no one person can lead the fight forever. Movements are meant to be passed on, new generations pick up where their predecessor’s left off and those who were once leaders can now be supporters. Frye can attest to that, “Yes people want me around and people love me, people see me as role model but I’m not needed, and that is very liberating. That is very freeing.”
Today, Frye is still making a large impact in the transgender community but she’s doing so from a different position. During the few days of the week when she comes into the office, she handles only transgender-based cases. Anyone looking to have their name and gender identification changed on their driver’s license (without having to go through a biological change) can come see Frye. As for the days she’s not in office, you can catch her spending time with her wife, Trish (they celebrated 44 years of marriage last week) and their dogs. Enjoying what is now a simple life, Frye is staying healthy and looking forward to living out the next 20 years.