Some people were born to overcome, born to excel and destined from birth to change the world. Nia Clark, 35, is one of them.
As a transgender youth of color who spent most of her childhood in foster care (she entered the system at 8 years old), Nia consistently struggled to find acceptance and support from the adults around her. Read that sentence again. And again.
But while many foster children take their bad situations and make them worse, Nia focused prodigiously and spent her spare time as a teenager doing brainy things like reading Shakespeare and teaching other students about HIV prevention.
She has since that time spent more than a decade racking up an impressive list of accomplishments.
Nia has worked tirelessly to change the foster care system from within as a child welfare consultant, direct care counselor, trainer, and LGBTQ youth advocate. From 2015-2017, she was the Mentoring Coordinator at LifeWorks, the youth development and mentorship program at the Los Angeles LGBT Center. In her role, she matched over 200 LGBTQ+ youth with adult mentors.
In 2016, she served as consulting producer of the Emmy-nominated MTV documentary, “Transformation,” a film featuring herself and six trans and gender-diverse youth navigating their identities.
Nia is currently a trainer for the Human Rights Campaign’s All Children – All Families Project, an initiative that provides a framework for child welfare agencies to achieve safety, permanency, and well-being by improving their practice with queer youth.
Thoroughly impressed by Clark’s hard work and extensive background in child welfare, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBSA) enlisted her help in launching a three-year national pilot project to provide more inclusive mentoring services and resources to thousands of LGBTQ youth across America.
Nia is presently a social work major at California State University, Los Angeles.
On Nov. 16, my husband Tom Tarr and I will appear with Nia Clark in Riverside County Superior Court. When we walk out of the courtroom that day, Nia will have something she has never had — two loving and legal parents. After being in each other’s lives for 20 years, we will finally be family!
Nia is, on every professional and personal level, a wonderful human being who simply makes the world a better place.
And no parents could possibly be prouder of all their child brings to the world.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out in 1991 at the age of eight. I was already in the system and told my first foster mother I was a girl. She responded by placing me in a mental institution in Rockville, Md., for over six months. I was released on the condition I stopped saying I was a girl. My birth mother had by far the worst response to me coming out. I called her on the phone when I was 12. “You are mentally ill,” she said. “You belong in foster care. I’m glad you don’t live with me. You’re going to die of AIDS.” She hung up immediately after.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
I have always admired and revered We’wha, the first well-known Two Spirit person. She was a Zuni Ihamana from New Mexico who, like me, was an orphan that faced adversity and challenged binary European standards of gender identity & expression in the late 1800s.
What’s Los Angeles’ best nightspot, past or present?
I love the Hollywood Overlook on Mulholland Drive.
Describe your dream wedding.
I spent 14 years in foster care being claimed by no one. My wedding will be the public antithesis of that! I want a full autumnal spectacle in a big church, replete with purple orchids, a sumptuous white dress, and a gaggle of friends and family.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Child welfare has literally been my life’s work. I love working with children and young adults.
What historical outcome would you change?
Instinctively, my first response would be the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but I’m gonna throw a curveball to change it up. Of the countless racial, systemic, and institutional failures in this country, I believe the Reconstruction era was truly a missed opportunity for black folks to cultivate and develop the solid socio-economic foundation to advance as a people.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Sept. 14, 1985: The premiere of The Golden Girls.
On what do you insist?
Wearing ballet flats. I tried so hard to be the girl who wears high heels.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
The Genderbread Person, a visual tool for to teach other people about sexual orientation and gender identity & expression or, as many of us educators call it, SOGIE.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
The Little Wanderer
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Absolutely nothing. I love men too much!
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Love. I believe it endures. It transcends all corporeal realms, all space and time.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
You must do your part to call out and end trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs). Women have fought so hard to not be objectified and relegated to their privates. We tell women everyday they are not defined by a mastectomy or their ability to have children. Why would any cisgender woman exact the same oppression on a trans person? Trans.Lives.Matter.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Gummy bears. My favorite candy!
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
I can’t stand when cisgender ask trans folks about “the surgery.” People always ask if I’ve had “the surgery,” as though there is this one defining medical procedure that makes me a woman. It’s not only rude to ask what anyone’s genitals look like, but it also negates all other aspects of a trans person’s journey.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Telling white lies.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
My teddy bear, Charlie. He was given to me when I was 11 years old, making him my oldest and most prized possession. He’s pretty beat up but he’s always been there, good times and bad.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I am not defined by my trauma, but rather empowered by it.
Why Los Angeles?
I lived in Boston for 30 years. I’m here because LA has no snow!