Veteran L.A. prosecutor takes courageous step to live her true identity as transgender woman

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- As Pride month comes to a close, we shine a spotlight on why it's important.

Yes, it's a celebration, but also an opportunity to talk about being understanding and accepting of all people, no matter their gender or sexuality.

ABC7's David Ono sat down with a veteran deputy district attorney in Los Angeles who is incredibly courageous, not only because of what she does, but who she is.

"Every time that it would come up, I would have to beat it down and make it go away because I thought I was some kind of pervert," Jessie McGrath said in a powerful admission. "I thought I was evil. I thought I was unholy. I thought it was wrong."

After more than 50 years of confusion and difficulty, today, with absolute clarity, she proudly talks about who she really is.

"I always knew from the time that I was little," McGrath recalls. "I still remember getting in trouble in kindergarten because when it was nap time, I wanted to sleep with the girls because I was a girl, and I got in trouble for that."

McGrath has lived a fascinating life, filled with stunning accomplishments and incredible denial.

For 31 years she has fought for the greater good as a deputy district attorney for L.A. County, trying important cases, making sure criminals are taken off our streets.

But at the same time, she has lived an extremely difficult personal life. For 27 of those 31 years in the DA's office, Jessie was a man named Jeff who, growing up, lived the life expected of him: playing sports, serving in the military, getting married, having five children, but burying her true identity.

"I remember going to Big Lots and buying some make-up and I got some clothes and for a day or two I used it, and it was such a good feeling, but then that feeling of shame came over me and I had to get rid of that," McGrath recalled. "So I drove it 3 miles away to a park and threw it away in its trash can there because I was so ashamed, and it was so wrong. I finally started doing some research and discover that I was not unusual. I was not a demon. I was not some type of crazy person -- that this is a real thing and it had a name."

So four years ago, that hard working man named Jeff made the faithful and courageous decision to become Jessie.

"Once I came out to myself as being trans, which by the way was the hardest person that I had to come out to, was myself," McGrath described. "I like to say it was like one morning waking up and discovering that the sky is blue, that flowers smell good and that birds sing."

A word of warning: McGrath gave Ono permission to use her former name, but you must know to do so without permission is called "dead naming" and it's considered extremely disrespectful.

To be born with a gender you don't identify with means you may be destined for a world that lacks understanding, and compassion. Their unemployment rate is three times higher, 30% have been homeless, an incredible 40% have attempted suicide. This year alone, 10 have been murdered. To come out and live authentically is dangerous and frightening.

"In about 70% of the cases, a late-in-life transitioner loses their family," McGrath said. "Their kids refuse to accept them. Their spouse divorces them. Their parents, if they're still alive, refuse to acknowledge them."

Jessie is among the lucky. Her children, whom she calls her greatest accomplishment, have been accepting of her transition, which is vitally important. But the ex-wife is a different story.

"After we got divorced, she basically totally stopped talking to me," McGrath said. "She doesn't acknowledge my existence, really."

But Jessie takes a brave approach to her new life. She doesn't quietly hide in the shadows. She puts herself out there, publicly talking about her transition, teaching us what life is like for the million and a half trans people that live in this country.

McGrath is a woman who fights for the good in courtrooms where she once stood as a man, and that takes courage. She is fully aware that her visibility in a very complicated world is what leads to greater understanding.

"It's what I have between my ears that's really important," McGrath emphasized. "It's my soul, it's my spirit, it's who I am."

This week is also a poignant and sad anniversary for Jessie. Her dear friend, also transgender, took her own life one year ago. She couldn't bear the fact that her family was no longer in her life.

You can watch the full, fascinating interview with Jessie McGrath below or on our ABC7 YouTube channel.

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Watch the full interview with Los Angeles veteran Deputy District Attorney Jessie McGrath.

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