Never stop learning. Keep studying your passions and remember what lead you to start your business in the first place. Always expand on those core values and don’t be afraid to take in new information and new ideas every day.
Chriss Nelson is a young, queer activist from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. They have been volunteering in the LGBTQ+ community for seven years and found their passion and heart in the transgender community. It’s Chriss’ mission to help transgender youth to feel loved and accepted by their families, communities, and medical providers through their activism.
Where did the idea for Trans Minor Rights come from?
In December of 2014, a 17-year-old girl named Leelah Alcorn took her own life. Her family denied her the medical treatment that she needed to transition. Since she had completed male puberty, she felt that she’d never have the opportunity to look or sound like the woman she knew she was. Her story inspired me to make it legal for transgender minors to consent to puberty blockers without requiring permission from a parent. I started the petition in 2015 and founded Trans Minors Rights in 2018 to help move the petition forward.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I work full-time outside of my activism, so I use whatever free-time I have to dedicate to Trans Minors Rights. I’m constantly reading studies, emailing experts, and communicating with my team. I make sure I always have access to my phone in order to respond to emails or answer calls. Then, when I get home, I make dinner, eat with my husband, and then spend an hour or two researching or following up with my contacts.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I rely a lot on other activists and my friends. Building a non-profit is definitely not a one-person job. I’m grateful to have close friends that help give advice, challenge my ideas, and move branding products to and from different LGBT pride events. I also try to be fearless and confident in reaching out to other activists to collaborate on projects. I never know what kind of opportunity reaching out to a more prominent figure might turn into!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Gender neutral bathrooms! Transgender issues have been very public, lately, and many schools, cities, and communities have been responding positively and trying to create change to help transgender people in their areas. More gender neutral bathrooms are a great sign that people are beginning to understand that gender is a spectrum.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Mindfullness. I make it a habit to constantly be mindful of my thoughts and feelings. Being a leader can be stressful, so if I catch my heart beating rapidly or my breath quickening, I can calm myself down. This is particularly useful if I’m having a debate that might get heated (which happens often when speaking on transgender issues). Keeping a level head can help me to think more clearly and work more productively.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be yourself. Not everyone will understand you, and that’s ok. Let them be confused or angry or scared. As long as you know who you are and you accept yourself, you’ll find where you belong. Eventually, people will come around who love you for you.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
There’s no harm in allowing a child to transition. The first step in any gender transition is the social aspect. A transgender child will sometimes change their name, pronouns, and which bathroom they use. Before or just after puberty hits, they may start puberty blockers (which are reversible and make no permanent changes). A social transition has been largely proven to benefit a transgender child’s mental health and social well-being.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Ask for help. If you’re overwhelmed, see if someone else can handle the reigns for a day or two and give yourself a break. Collaborate with others on big projects and events. Your mental health is important to running your business. It can’t function properly if you’re not in your best shape.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I engage in tons of public speaking events. Probably at least one per month, at this point. It helps me to help others while I promote my business and our values. It opens the door to collaborations with others, especially if you’re speaking on a panel. Going out into the world and connecting with like-minded people is one of the best ways to grow your business.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Trans Minors Rights was almost acquired by another company which could’ve given us more exposure. When they asked us what we could do to help them, I blanked. This encouraged me to think about how to expand the mission of Trans Minors Rights to help more people and grow into the future.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
When I was in high school, I wanted to create a children’s toy that included something for various stages of development. There’d be velcro on the sides for textile feel and the ability to stick multiple toys together and pull them apart for developing motor skills. They’d be animal shaped (because who doesn’t love stuffed animals) and have the first letter of the animal’s name on the back to help with the alphabet. I think it’d be a great idea, particularly for low-income families, to have a company that creates all-purpose toys that could benefit their child through several years of life.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently started spending $85/mo on Dreamers // Doers! It’s a company that helps entrepreneurial women to connect with other people and useful resources. They’re how I heard about IdeaMensch!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use Google Drive for everything. There’s so much free storage and I can open my documents anywhere. File management and file sharing is so easy with Google.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recently finished Elvis Duran’s documentary “Where do I Begin?” It was inspirational to read his story about growing up as a gay kid in Texas and making it to the top of his career as a radio show host on the largest top 40 station in the country. Even if you don’t listen to Elvis Duran and The Morning Show, I’d highly recommend this book if you’re looking for motivation!
What is your favorite quote?
“Life sucks and then you die.”
I’m not sure who said it. I heard that quote in high school and almost made it my senior quote for the yearbook, but I figured it was too morbid. I do think about it often, though. Sometimes life sucks. And it sucks for minority communities a lot of the time. That’s why I do what I do. I try to reduce the suck so that people who are unfortunate enough to have ever said those words might begin to feel differently. They might have an opportunity to feel like life isn’t that bad.
- Work with people. Collaborate, ask for help, and constantly learn from others. They’re what will really push you and your company to greatness.
- Never stop learning. Keep studying your passions and remember what lead you to start your business in the first place. Always expand on those core values and don’t be afraid to take in new information and new ideas every day.
- Don’t let life suck. Do what you have to in order to keep your mind focused and calm. Take care of yourself and you can help others. Then everyone’s lives will suck a little less.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.