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Jackie Evancho hopes to meet Trump, change his mind on transgender rights | TribLIVE.com
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Jackie Evancho hopes to meet Trump, change his mind on transgender rights

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Jackie Evancho
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Jackie Evancho
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jackie Evancho, the Pine Township singing phenom, takes a break from shooting a video at WPXI's studios in the North Hills to sit for a portrait, Thursday, March 2, 2017.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jackie Evancho, the 16-year-old Pine Township singing phenom, gets her hair done by Shadyside makeup artist, Reema Anbari (far right) as a family friend, Nanna Sander of Denmark (far left) and WPXI producer, Carly Boucher (second from left) look on. Evancho was shooting a video at WPXI's studios in the North Hills, Thursday, March 2, 2017.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jackie Evancho, the 16-year-old Pine Township singing phenom,gets her hair done by Shadyside makeup artist, Reema Anbari (right) as WPXI producer, Carly Boucher (left) looks on, before Evancho resumed shooting a video at WPXI's studios in the North Hills, Thursday, March 2, 2017.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jackie Evancho, the 16-year-old Pine Township singing phenom, gets her hair done by Shadyside makeup artist, Reema Anbari (left) as a family friend, Nanna Sander of Denmark, takes a photo before Evancho resumed shooting a video at WPXI's studios in the North Hills, Thursday, March 2, 2017.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Jackie Evancho, the Pine Township singing phenom, gets ready for hair and makeup before resuming shooting a video at WPXI's studios in the North Hills, Thursday, March 2, 2017.

President Trump could be sitting down to discuss transgender rights with Western Pennsylvania’s Evancho sisters as early as this month, 16-year-old classical crossover singer Jackie Evancho told the Tribune-Review on Thursday.

“I don’t know what I’ll say exactly,” said Evancho, the “America’s Got Talent” alum from Richland who faced backlash for her decision to perform the national anthem at Trump’s inauguration.

“But I do know that my goal is going to be to take the ‘state issue’ now and make it federal, so that there can be a law or something passed to protect my sister and people like her.”

The teen opera-turned-pop sensation emphasized she usually prefers to steer clear of politics.

She viewed singing at the inauguration as accepting an honor, not making a statement.

But now she is — feeling an urgency to speak out in support of her sister, 18-year-old Juliet Evancho, who came out as transgender two years ago.

Juliet Evancho entered the national spotlight in her own right last fall, when she joined two fellow transgender high school students in suing the Pine-Richland School District over a controversial new bathroom policy.

“Just because I disagree with the president doesn’t mean that I despise him,” Jackie Evancho said. “I’m American and have the right to disagree with my president.”

Last week, the Trump administration scrapped Obama-era directives regarding transgender students.

Obama had threatened to withhold federal funding from schools that did not let children use bathrooms that correspond with their chosen gender identity.

Trump argued that such decisions should be left to schools and the states.

Jackie Evancho took to Twitter to ask Trump to give her and her sister “the honor 2 meet with u 2 talk #transgender rights.”

A media firestorm ensued.

“The second she did that, everybody was spinning it, “Jackie’s turning on the president,’” said Lisa Evancho, mother to Jackie and Juliet.

To the contrary, Jackie Evancho said she’s hopeful that Trump will lend the sisters an open mind and compassionate ear.

She wants to convey to him the concerns she has about hate crimes and bullying confronting transgender people across America.

“I want to make him aware of the horrors that my sister deals with in terms of discrimination,” she said. “She’s had some really terrible things like trash thrown at her, name-calling, things thrown at her head.”

While Jackie Evancho shot a music video Thursday at Trib news partner WPXI’s studio in the North Hills, Juliet Evancho participated in a fashion show at the Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District.

Born Jacob, Juliet Evancho came out as transgender at age 16.

Initially, most Pine-Richland students seemed to be accepting of her transition.

Then the district began discussing a controversial bathroom policy last spring, after which the high school’s few transgender students became targets of taunting and bullying, the Evanchos said.

“People didn’t care before,” Jackie Evancho said. “It was just the parents — after one parent found out about it, actually.”

Her mother, Lisa Evancho, said the policy and related debate seemed to “embolden some of these kids,” Lisa Evancho said. “They hear their parents talking, and then they think it’s OK for them to act out, and it’s unfortunate.”

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Mark Hornak ruled Pine-Richland officials must allow transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity while the district’s new restroom policy is challenged in court.

The judge agreed with the plaintiffs’ claims that the restroom rules could be causing the affected transgender students harm, including “genuine distress, anxiety, discomfort and humiliation.”

“It’s been a small victory, and it’s given us a lot more hope,” Jackie Evancho said. “But we still hope to make it better for everyone, and not just a temporary fix for the people that we live around.”

The Evancho family has been in contact with White House officials about arranging a meeting with Trump and expects to schedule a formal meeting “toward the end of the month,” Lisa and Jackie Evancho said.

A White House spokesperson declined to provide any updates on the anticipated meeting.

“It’s funny because we kind of feel like entertainers should just be entertainers, they should shut up and sing or act or whatever,” Lisa Evancho said, “but in Jackie’s case, she had to take a stand because it is her sister, and that’s why she did it.”

In the meantime, Jackie Evancho offered some advice for individuals and their loved ones who are struggling with gender identity issues: “I know that it gets really tough, and I know that there are moments when you just want to give up.

“But please don’t, because the minute that you can control your own life and be your own person, everything is going to be so much better.

“There’s a light at the end of every tunnel, even if it takes forever to get there.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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