• Jackson Bird ’12
    Southwestern University

Jackson Bird has created some highly entertaining YouTube videos. Wondering what will happen when you put mashed potatoes on a waffle? Watch his video. What about candy canes? He’s made a video about that, too. (You might be sensing a theme.) But his videos exploring unlikely uses of a waffle iron aren’t what made MTV name him one of “12 Social Media Warriors Who Helped Restore Our Faith in 2016.” A writer and digital creator dedicated to demystifying the transgender experience by sharing his and others’ stories online, Bird is harnessing the power of online video and other digital tools to raise awareness of LGBTQIA+ rights and other important social issues.

Bird began his college career at Southwestern, where he studied English and religion. He was active on campus, serving as a representative in the Student Congress, a campus tour guide, and treasurer of the campus chapter of Sigma Tau Delta, the international English honor society. He also was a member of the German Club and founded the Steel Drum Club. Professor of Political Science Eric Selbin was impressed with him immediately. “Over the first few weeks, it became clear that Jackson was bright, quick, clever, fun, and funny and had a killer work ethic. But more than that, it quickly became apparent to me that Jackson saw things I did not; Jackson saw things most of us did not,” Selbin says. “And as a result, Jackson had questions. So many questions. As someone who believes that questions are far more important than answers, I was delighted, if intimidated. Here at Southwestern, we are fundamentally committed to questioning answers rather than answering questions—answers, after all, come and go, while it is questions that abide.”

After two years at Southwestern, Bird transferred to New York University and started volunteering for the Harry Potter Alliance, a nonprofit that uses the power of story to mobilize fan communities toward social action. The role turned into a full-time position as communications director, through which he spoke about youth engagement, digital media, and participatory politics at events across the country and helped lead the organization on issues such as economic inequality, net neutrality, immigration reform, and mental health. 

Bird launched his YouTube channel in 2010. In 2015, he came out publicly as transgender in one of his videos. Since then, he has been a vocal member of the trans community through his videos and writing and on social media. His 2017 TED Talk, “How to Talk (and Listen to) Trans People,” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times, and his YouTube videos have been viewed more than 2.1 million times. He is a 2018 GLAAD Rising Star Digital Innovator, a YouTube NextUp Creator, and a Logo TV Social Trailblazer nominee.

“Jack is one of the most caring, warm-hearted, kind, and creative people I know. He cares deeply about others at all levels, from our global community to the individuals lucky enough to get to work with him day in and day out,” said Katie Bowers, managing director of the Harry Potter Alliance. “His creativity and honesty make him an inspiration to fans around the world, but his kindness and dedication to making everyone’s day better make him beloved by friends and coworkers alike.”

In 2019, he released his first book, Sorted: Growing Up, Coming Out, and Finding My Place (A Transgender Memoir). Bird is currently a civic media fellow at the Annenberg Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California. 

For his inspiring attitude and commitment to, as Bowers put it, “making the world a more just, compassionate, and magical place,” the Southwestern University Alumni Association is proud to honor Jackson Bird as a Distinguished Young Alumnus.