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Common Ground leader uses experiences to help LGBQT youth

As he walks across the room to dig out the old photos from his book bag, Cameron Spiegel hesitates for a moment. He is not the same person in those pictures. He grasps them, holding them tight to his chest as if he is reminiscing about the person he once was. Or perhaps he does not want to remember those days.

Spiegel, a North Carolina native, who is now 20-years-old, is transgender, someone who identifies as a different gender than the one he was born with.

“I started realizing from a certain age I wasn’t happy, but I didn’t know what to do to be happy,” Spiegel said. “I had a lot of issues growing up. I was sent to a therapist for depression and attention deficit disorder and all sorts of things.”

Cameron chooses his words carefully as he talks about the little things he did growing up that made him different.

“I started getting into cross-play and dressing up and I would always choose cross-plays that were male,” he said. “I always really liked the idea of being able to present myself masculine, having other people think I was masculine. I didn’t want people to think I was weak, and I didn’t want people doing things for me.”

It wasn’t until high school that he realized the word transgender applied to him.

In high school, Spiegel not only worried about telling his mother, but said he was extremely worried to tell his father because he was taking away the only little girl his father had.

Despite Spiegel’s initial concerns, his father became one of his biggest supporters.

“I am always 2,000 percent behind my kids,” said Alan Spiegel, Cameron’s father. “Like any dad, you want the best for your kids. The first time Cameron and I talked about it just with his voice and tone there was more of a comfort level. There was more of a happiness.”

Spiegel found that happiness through a transformation of his appearance and his body. During one summer before he started college, he underwent top surgery, the removal of the breasts. Now his chest sits upright like a man, and there is little indication that he had a women’s figure. When he speaks, his voice is soft, but slightly deep, due to hormone pills that also changed his appearance.

Spiegel has light brown hair that hangs right below the ears. His face is also covered in light brown facial hair. And though he’s only 5-foot-5, he now walks with a confidence that makes him seem much taller.

Once Spiegel found happiness in himself, he went out to help others. He volunteers his time as the president of Common Ground, a LGBQT organization, at Columbia College. Through this organization, he seeks to help others define themselves and cope with everyday struggles.

Some of the group members are just like Spiegel when he was in high school. Some are still working on finding who they are and what they want. Others just like being there for the company. The group’s members say this is the one place judgment is left at the door. It is the one place a person can come, sit on a beanbag, kick up their feet and relax.

Common Ground member, Christopher Owens, choked up with emotion when he talked about the difference the group, and Spiegel, have made in his life.

“Cameron makes me want to do more for the LGBQT community,” Owens said. “I went initially to meet people, but it turned into something more than that. I’ve made connections and, best of all, family.”

Although Spiegel helps others, he still seems to help himself in the process. He has come a long way from feeling like he was a guy trapped in a girl’s body.

Those deep, dark, depressive days are behind him now, he says. He walks with his head held high. He is the person he wants to be. And he’s able to say he is glad he made the decision he did.

“My only regret is allowing myself to live in unhappiness for such a long a time.”

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