McHenry Twp. clerk comes out as transgender
For decades, those closest to Danielle Aylward, McHenry Township's clerk, have known she was transgender.
Late last week, Aylward, who is in the process of transitioning from a male to a female and prefers the pronouns she and her, made everyone else aware of how she has long identified to her family and friends by coming out as trans on social media.
Danielle Aylward, who won reelection last month as McHenry Township's clerk while on the ballot as Dan Aylward, became McHenry County's first openly transgender elected official when she came out on Facebook.
While many would call Aylward's decision to come out at 72 as courageous, she credited her late twin, who was also transgender and died by suicide years ago after transitioning from male to female, with far more bravery.
Aylward's twin was given the name Dennis at birth and chose the name Denise after her sex reassignment.
"My twin went through a sex reassignment in the late 1970s and early 80s, which was very difficult at that time, because people weren't as accepting. She ended up unfortunately paranoid schizophrenic. It's the hardest thing I ever went through, to lose a twin," Danielle Aylward said in a Sunday interview. "She was so brave. And I would have loved to do the same thing, but I didn't have the guts. The older you get, the more you say, 'I don't care anymore.'"
Aylward, a Republican, said the Republican Party in the past has been a less reliable ally of the LGBTQ community than Democrats but the GOP is more lenient in the area of transgender rights now than in the past. She flew a flag for the Donald Trump presidential reelection campaign in the backyard of her McHenry home on the Fox River.
Aylward's daughter, Jessica Franklin, a cisgendered woman who is married to a woman, agreed. Franklin refers to Aylward as her "mada."
"I'm pretty much a Republican. I think there are a lot of people within the Republican Party that do support the LGBTQ community. They just are silent. And they feel like they won't get the support," Franklin, a North Carolina resident, said. "Sometimes, people are scared to stand up. I am pleasantly always an optimistic individual. I feel like in 2021, we can get away from the idea you can't support the LGBTQ community and be a Republican."
Equality Illinois, which works to advance equal treatment and full acceptance of the LGBTQ community, also called Aylward's decision to come out publicly a positive development.
"Any time someone in a public leadership role demonstrates the courage to share who they fully are, the better off we all are as Illinoisans. Doing so reminds all of us -- especially young people -- that everyone with talent and the drive to serve can be a leader in our stage," Myles Brady Davis, director of communications for Equality Illinois, said in written statement.
Aylward joins Kristal Larson, who won election last month in Lake County as Avon Township's clerk as an openly transgender woman and is the second transgender person to be elected in Illinois, as perhaps the only openly transgender township clerks in Illinois. Jill Rose Quinn was reported by the Daily Herald to be the first openly transgender elected official in Illinois in November when she won a Cook County judgeship.
"At the local level, it's a lot more independent and a lot less polarizing. I still work with a number of prominent Republicans in Lake County. We have a number of positive conversations about this sort of thing," said Larson, who has spoken with Aylward in recent weeks about her journey. "Hopefully, this is an opportunity to extend this out toward McHenry County, as well."
So far, Aylward, who has 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, said the only responses to her coming out have been welcoming.
"McHenry has always been kind of conservative. I really thought I'd have more of a pushback, but I'm not seeing that. All the messages on Facebook I've gotten are extremely supportive," she said.