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Tristan Vaught leads, educates on LGBTQ issues by being 'unapologetically me'

Tristan Vaught and Transform founders
Posted at 5:00 AM, Jun 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-22 06:57:13-04

CINCINNATI — Tristan Vaught's coming out was a journey -- 'process' might be a better word -- that led them to a unique role in leadership and education in our community.

"I'm unapologetically me," Vaught said. "I've had a couple of coming outs. In the 90s -- 1993, 1994 -- I came out as a lesbian and then was like, that doesn't quite fit, and then coming out as trans."

Vaught, who uses they/them pronouns, identifies as non-binary.

Tristan Vaught Consulting
Tristan Vaught owns their own consulting business, helping dozens of schools and organizations with LGBTQ training. Provided.

They co-founded Transform in 2019, a nonprofit providing free wardrobes to transgender and gender non-conforming youth in Cincinnati. With co-founders Nancy Dawson and Ella Dastillung, they found a program unique not just to Cincinnati, but possibly the country.

"We actually looked it up, to have something where it's appointment only, curated outfits -- you're here, it's not a closet or an exchange -- we're not seeing that anywhere," they said. "We've got someone coming in from Los Angeles this summer, who's got an appointment with their mom."

Transform's popularity is spawning calls for similar programs in other cities, like Portland, San Francisco, and New York, Vaught said. It just moved into a new space on Elm Street in Over-the-Rhine before the pandemic hit, and Vaught said it is already outgrowing the space.

"To come in here to be able to try [clothes] on, we've had runway shows going on, we've had kids walking through here," Vaught said. "Just the confidence. And it's also a space for community building."

That's the expansion goal for Transform, to move into a bigger space that has room for events and offices.

Nonprofit reopens to serve trans youth during Pride Month

This isn't Vaught's first time building and growing an LGBTQ-focused organization, either.

They've been program coordinator at the LGBTQ Center at the University of Cincinnati and then became the founding director of the LGBTQ+ Center at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Now, they're using that experience in their own consulting business.

"I'm in 32 school districts, and I kind of look at myself as like, I'm the person that I needed back then," Vaught said. "I'm the person that's, you know, teaching principals and superintendents and teachers on how to support trans and LGBTQ+ kids, and how to be more inclusive and belonging."

Tristan Vaught at UC
Tristan Vaught holds multiple degrees in women, gender, and sexuality studies and has worked for two university LGBTQ centers. Provided.

Vaught is a sought-after expert and trainer on LGBTQ issues and youth. They have multiple degrees in women, gender, and sexuality studies. But life experience helps drive their passion to create spaces that help the greater Cincinnati area lead on LGBTQ issues.

"If you can remember all of this stuff about pop culture, whatever your favorite thing is, you can start remembering and learning new concepts when it deals with people and respect," Vaught said. "I think this is a great thing about Cincinnati, a lot of us want to go to coffee, want to have a lunch, and want to like humanize each other even though there's this tension."

For leading by educating and creating unique programs for trans and gender non-conforming kids, Tristan Vaught is one of the Tri-State's Points of Pride.

WCPO is committed to telling the stories of LGBTQ+ people in the Tri-State year-round. If you know someone who should be recognized as a Point of Pride, send an email to or