Interview: Jessica Zyrie, star of Absolut Vodka’s Celebrating Trans Acceptance film, talks family acceptance, trans representation, and her LGBTQ heroes

Last month, Absolut Vodka unveiled its latest LGBTQ Pride initiative as Planet Earth’s Favorite Vodka in support of creating a more sustainable, and accepting, society for all. In partnership with GLAAD and Pride festivals across the country, Absolut committed to honoring the past 50 years of Pride by paying homage to the people, protests and protagonists who have taken a stand alongside the LGBTQ community fighting for visibility and acceptance.

Absolut has also committed to a multi-year partnership to support GLAAD's work accelerating acceptance for LGBTQ people and provoking dialogue that leads to cultural change every day. In doing so, Absolut and GLAAD have recently released a new campaign video called “Celebrating Trans Acceptance,” staring transgender model and advocate Jessica Zyrie and her father Wayne. The video showcases what it means for a father to be accepting and loving of his trans child. Check out the powerful campaign video below:

GLAAD had the chance to speak with Jessica about her role in the campaign, the importance of Pride, trans representation and advocacy, and her own personal LGBTQ heroes. Read the full interview below, and be sure to check out all the ways Absolut is supporting GLAAD and featuring stories of acceptance from LGBTQ people at AbsolutPride.com/GLAAD.

GLAAD: Can you talk a bit about how the concept of this video came to be?

Jessica: So upon being selected, they were telling me the entire idea of the video was a trans woman getting ready for her first Pride event ever, and she has some sort of anticipation about going out into the world and going to Pride. Basically, we wanted to show the importance of the relationship of an accepting father comforting his daughter and helping her get ready. I definitely relate to that idea of getting ready and going out into the world for the first time. I think a lot of people in the community have experienced that as well, like those feelings of going out into the world as yourself and wondering who that is, but having that support at home definitely helps.

G: How was your experience filming the video? What was your reaction when you saw the final cut?

J: Shooting it was super emotional and also really fun. Everyone was super great, and everyone worked super hard to make sure that we were able to have the short commercial tell such an important narrative. It was a long day, but super emotional and I say that because when I saw the final cut, all of the hardships and all of the difficult pieces of my journey and everything up until that point… it was overwhelming in the best of ways. It makes me speechless looking at it and seeing how we were able to tell that with such authenticity. It was an amazing day. My dad and I definitely got to bond by taking some time away. It was our first time in London and we both got to take some time away from our everyday lives and really experience that time together and use that time to realize where we were - not just physically, but in life and how far how both of us have come to get to that point. So there’s a lot of emotion put into this campaign.

G: As you said, the video centers a lot on your relationship with your father. What has been the most important advice your father has given you throughout your journey?

J: That’s a really good question. My father has always given me advice to ensure that my life is better than any of the struggles he has ever encountered. As a father, he has always tried to protect me and minimize any pain or trauma or anything that I may face. I think the most important thing I have learned from my father is just how to love and how to appreciate people for who they are and for where they are. I think he has done an amazing job at doing that. Just by watching his example, I am able to pass that along and love people and appreciate them for where they’re at.

G: How did it feel to partner with Absolut on this campaign in support of the transgender community and GLAAD?

J: Wow, I am so honored and I’m still in shock. I’ve had a lot of people message me about seeing this campaign all over, and I just continue to realize the reach this campaign has and the message behind it. It is really difficult for me to express how much this means to me, like I said, to tell such an important narrative for my community. I’m still kind of in shock. It’s still kind of surreal.

G: Yeah, the relationship between you and your father is so beautiful and so powerful. It’s definitely going to reach and impact a lot of people.

J: Yeah, I mean it already has. I’ve had a lot of people talk to me about them being on their phones or watching TV and seeing it. I’ve had people from even outside of the trans community or outside of someone who has a trans daughter or trans son, you know, just parents in general, reach out to me and tell me how emotional the campaign has made them. I’ve had people from within the trans community reach out and talk about how it gives them hope and how powerful and important it is. To be a part of that makes me so honored.

G: This June represents a historic Pride month, as we celebrate 50 years since Stonewall and the emergence of the LGBTQ movement. As a Black trans woman in today’s society, what does pride mean to you?

J: That’s also a really good question. So, pride to me means finding comfort with the pieces of yourself that society tells you shouldn’t exist. For me, it means remembering struggles that the community has faced and the history that has led us here, and celebrating the achievements along the way. I know there’s still a lot of work that has to be done, including all of the homicides of Black trans women that have been happening, especially this month. I think there has been five homicides of trans women of color just this month.

There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I do think it’s important to celebrate our identities together, all within the community. That way we can learn from one another and learn to be better allies to one another, because even though we all may fit under the LGBTQIA+ community, some of our struggles may look a bit different. So, I think it’s important to sit back and listen to others’ struggles and learn how we can best uplift and support each other.

G: Near the end of the video, there is a statement on-screen that reads: “Trans people rejected by their families are significantly more likely to face homelessness or attempt suicide.” Do you have any advice or messages you want to send to trans people out there that may be struggling with these issues?

J: I would like to say this journey will have hardships and difficulties along the way. But I would like for trans individuals who are struggling with some of these issues to know that they are valid and they are worthy. I personally know the feeling of feeling alone, and the danger associated with that. What helped me get through those times was knowing that I was deserving. So I want them to know that they are deserving of love exactly where they are and where they continue to go in life. There are people in this world who will love you just as you are and that makes all the difference.

G: When was the first time you saw yourself represented in the media (TV, film, print, or other) and how did that make you feel?

J: I guess I do have an interesting perspective on that. I think a lot of times, previously, anyone that may have resembled someone that may have been trans has been represented in a negative light. Now, there’s a lot of TV shows, films, and campaigns that are starting to show the actual representation of trans individuals, and I think that is so important and so powerful. One of the first times that I saw someone who represented me, I want to say was when I was 14 or 15 years old. It was through a YouTube channel and I don’t remember exactly how I stumbled across the page, but I do remember this one individual. She was talking about herself and her life and she just had so much confidence and so much happiness. I didn’t realize that it was possible at that point in my life to find happiness and be yourself.

It really changed my perspective on life, and that’s why I am very excited to see actual representation in the media of the trans community in different campaigns today.

G: Final question for you - who is your LGBTQ hero, and why?

J: Oh, that’s so hard to pick just one. I might have to give you a more general answer because it’s really hard to pick just one. So, generally trans elders are my heroes, and people who were living in their truths before there was as much support as there is today. That really inspires me because it is still difficult and we’re still going through so much now. I can only imagine, just a few decades ago living in that time and how there was less support and less representation that was out there, how difficult it would’ve been.

I think of Miss Major, who has worked against so many things and been such a pioneer for imprisonment, police violence, racism, poverty, and she’s been doing work for over four decades. I think of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera - for not only starting the riots, but addressing the needs of the community that are still relevant today, like homelessness, shelter, and support. They were starting this movement while addressing the needs in the community. They are also very important. I could keep going, but I think I’ll stop there.

Generally, I definitely applaud the individuals that were able to live visibly, authentically and unapologetically before there was social media and so much support because I feel like that is really what helped me. It was seeing social media and seeing such a community that I could find so easily on my phone. I can’t imagine living back before those times and not seeing that representation, having those feelings of loneliness and still being able to find your truth. That is powerful.