Daniella Carter, an advocate for LGBT youth, spoke about her journey as a trans woman at a lecture Monday, working to raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of vulnerable youth.
“I knew that if I could overcome sexual assault 12 times and still have a smile on my face, then there was somebody out there who needed to hear my story,” Carter said.
The lecturer said she was first abused by members of her adopted family. “While they were exploring their identity and sexuality, I was like a science project,” she said.
Carter said she ran away from home at the age of 14, after disclosing to her foster mother that she “was no longer like the other children at school.”
“I knew it was my moment of liberation,” she explained. “It was my moment to not only free myself, not only of the abuse, the neglect and the trauma I experience in the home, but to free myself from the notion of who I’m supposed to become and then redefine my path in becoming the woman I am today on this stage.”
Due to the lack of resources and support for trans youth in the foster care system, Carter said she was forced to live in subways while continuing her education at a prestigious high school in Westchester County, N.Y.
When she was in college, Carter said she was brutally assaulted and raped by a stranger on the streets.
“The police … began to question me as if I was the one who attacked someone, as if I was the person who deserved to be violated,” she said of the incident.
After that “moment of rape and violence,” Carter said she knew “my existence was greater than me.”
“It was never about me,” she said. “It was about the young people out there, and the countless LGBT youth, specifically trans women, who have encountered rape and have not gotten the respect, dignity and justice that should come from an egregious act like that.”
Carter said she has since taken part in many activism initiatives, including “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word” — a documentary made by actress and trans advocate Laverne Cox about the struggles of transgender youth.
“Every opportunity I’ve gotten I believe is because of my passion and my willingness to be vulnerable and to be exposed in front of people, and I just hope that I can help create change in communities that don’t necessarily have resources for people like myself,” she said.
Carter emphasized the importance of the friends who accepted, supported and loved her throughout her journey.
“When you come across people who are vulnerable, who lack self-acceptance, it is our duty as next generation leaders to uplift that narrative,” she said.
SASSY, a program in the Cornell Public Service Center, was founded in 2009 after students volunteered with the Girls Educational and Mentoring Services organization in New York City during an Alternative Breaks trip. This event was part of Transgender Awareness Month and SASSY’s annual Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Awareness Week.