Celebrating a warrior spirit for justice: Jaci Adams

To know Jaci Adams was like knowing pure, directed energy. After an early life with plenty of bruises and scars, she rose above pity parties and delved into the work of helping to ensure equal treatment for all.

Jaci kept on fighting that good fight until Saturday, Feb. 15, when she lost her battle with cancer.

She was unrelenting in her efforts, partly because she knew what it was like to be on the wrong side of the law, for any number of reasons. Because she knew how challenging and rewarding it could be to live with and fight HIV/AIDS daily. And because she understood rejection along familial, ethnic and gender lines, as well as the gratification of acceptance, respect and living life with purpose.

Jaci Adams: 1957-2014

Jaci Adams was a pioneering trans advocate who fought for dignity and equality for all Philadelphians. Photo courtesy: The Mazzoni Center

Jaci’s combined life experiences – from small-town West Virginia to urbane West Philadelphia – forged her authenticity and ability to touch hearts and minds. The AIDS Law Project, the Temple University Community Advisory Board and the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund are just a few of the many organizations that directly benefited from her drive; countless others enjoyed her involvement.

Her work in the criminal justice system, particularly, had immense impact across the city, from being one of the longest standing members of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee to helping to train area judges and members of the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office.

“One thing that was so great about Jaci was that she could speak from her unique perspective of somebody who has been through the system and also somebody who knew how to effectively advocate for reforms,” said Rue Landau, executive director of PCHR. “The training sessions she helped lead were amazing and transformative. She helped broaden perspectives and respect for all worlds.”

Jaci embraced the powerful and the powerless and shared her warmth and counsel, be that with the district attorney of Philadelphia or a homeless teen on the corner. Jaci had, as one friend put it, “the smile of a true crusader who never allowed anyone to go unnoticed.”

Last spring, her spirit and story helped her earn the Elixir Activist Leader Award, among her many other deserved recognitions. She is equally deserving of a place in our collective memory. It’s not just the city’s LGBT residents and advocates feeling this loss. It’s a feeling shared by many residents of this city and region focused on the cause of social justice, Jaci’s cause.

Indeed, Jaci Adams was one of a kind. She will be missed.

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