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Agent of change

Jeremiah Allen, ’15, asks how the world can be better for the LGBTQ community

Oregon State University’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences has more than 25,000 alumni around the world. One of those alums, Jeremiah Allen, has been named an OSU Alumni Association Fellow thanks to his work for the LGBTQ community.

Allison Davis-White Eyes, director of community diversity relations in the Office of Institutional Diversity, moderated a discussion with Jeremiah during his on-campus celebration. She says, “Jeremiah’s experience shows we can all take individual social responsibility for making the world a better place.”

Challenging the status quo

Since receiving his Bachelor of Science in Public Health with a health promotion and health behavior option, Jeremiah has been a social change agent.

Jeremiah is project director for the Pride Foundation in Seattle, leading a statewide public education campaign, TRANSform WA, celebrating the dignity, diversity and humanity of transgender and gender diverse people. He also leads Washington SAFE Alliance and sits on the executive committee of Washington Won’t Discriminate. This trifecta defeated two anti-transgender ballot initiatives in 2016 and 2017 in Washington State.

Jeremiah recently partnered with Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab as a producer and casting director to create the three-part film series Authentically Us: Stories from the transgender community. The series premiered at South by Southwest (SXSW), Tribeca, Cannes and other film festivals around the world before making its university debut in the Women’s Building during Jeremiah’s day-long celebration.

“We hope to combat mass media messaging by showing the true and authentic humanity of transgender and gender diverse people,” Jeremiah says. “It’s not a film about them being transgender, it’s about people just living their lives. With virtual reality, these stories can create empathy on a deeper level.”

Finding place and purpose

Jeremiah’s Oregon State experience was a mix of personal struggle and triumph.

“When I came to OSU I had two goals, getting into medical school and fleeing any thought that I could possibly be part of the LGBTQ community,” Jeremiah says.

As a single parent of three kids and a first-generation college student, Jeremiah immersed himself in school and being a parent. “After my first year at OSU I was completely disconnected,” Jeremiah says. “I had no friends; my grades were suffering, and I didn’t think I could continue.”

Thanks to Charlene Martinez, associate director of integrated learning for Diversity and Cultural Engagement, Jeremiah learned of a personal development and mentoring opportunity. He applied and says the tools he learned from the program, Charlene and the rest of the Diversity and Cultural Engagement team allowed him to take the steps to come out, at the time as a lesbian, now as a transgender man.

“I am a queer, transmasculine, black and indigenous tribal member of the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and Lakota Sioux tribe,” Jeremiah says.

His intersecting identities led him to advocate for change on campus.

He worked as a liaison for SOL: LGBTQ Multicultural Support Network and interned at Student Health Services, where he led Oregon State’s first social justice and health inequity symposium.

Jeremiah says these experiences were the catalyst for his storytelling and advocacy work. At TransformWA, Jeremiah uses the power of courageous storytelling to drive policy change.

“My time at OSU and the relationships I built are a direct influence on the person I am today and my work as a social change agent,” Jeremiah says. “I’m working to remove barriers and inequity, so all people, regardless of their identity, can have access to the tools necessary to live full, healthy lives.”

Public health provides the tools

Originally a biology major, Jeremiah switched to public health after taking a social determinants of health class. “That class was really the first time I was exposed to health disparities,” Jeremiah says. “I learned people were really looking at how different social identities affect access to health care.”

Jeremiah says his degree prepared him to work with different communities and evaluate their access to services. “It gave me the tools to ask really critical questions about barriers that affect different communities and how intersectionality really matters.”

Jeremiah’s drive to lead social change is unrelenting. In addition to full-time employment, Jeremiah is pursuing a master of public administration degree with an emphasis in policy and governance at Seattle University.

“I’m good at finding areas for improvement,” Jeremiah says. “I’m always asking how we can do something better.”