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24 September 2011

JoAnna Erin McNamara (1950 – 1998) engineer, lawyer.

A Lakota Sioux who was a student of aerospace engineering at Kent State University, Ohio, where he witnessed the shootings of students by the national guard May 4, 1970.

He became an engineer and married, but then he and his wife divorced and Joanna started to transition. While she was waiting for surgery, her father on his deathbed made her promise to stop transition. Attempting to keep this promise, she remarried her wife, and had a mastectomy.

This did not work, and she and her wife divorced a second time. As JoAnna she studied law in Salem, Oregon. On graduation in 1996, she acted pro bono for Lori Buckwalter who had been fired from Consolidated Freightways for starting transition, and intended to marry a woman before surgery.

McNamara won her argument that transgender persons were covered by Oregon disability law. This led to a conflict with transactivist Margaret O’Hartigan who felt that she deserved the credit as she had been campaigning on the same case.  In either case, Oregon became the second US State (after Minnesota) to protect trans persons in its employment law.

JoAnna became active in the Oregon Gay/Lesbian Law Association, the US National Lesbian and Gay Law Association and the US Transgender Law Conference: the latter two where she worked with Phyllis Frye and they were allowed to put the case to the US Federal Government that trans persons should be covered under Title VII, Sex  Discrimination Protection.

JoAnna was also active in the Metropolitan Community Church.

However as a known transsexual she was unable to find employment, and committed suicide at age 48.

*Not the Chief of Staff in the Canadian Government, nor the professor of dance.
  • Joanna McNamara. Employment Discrimination and the Transsexual. 1995 PDF 
  • Kay Brown. “JoAnna McNamara”.   Transsexual, Transgender, and Intersex History. Archive
  • Richard Trotter"Transgender Discrimination And The Law".  Contemporary Issues In Education Research, 3,2, February 2010: 59-60.  PDF 


  1. Joanna was my aunt and sister to my mother, JoAndes McNamara, now JoAndes Johnson. I'd like to correct your characterization of her death by suicide. She suffered from crohn's, and had hemorrhaged again after spending time in hospital. Having seen her father die of the same disease at a relatively young age, perhaps of course along with the reasons you've mentioned here and I am sure, many other reasons we can never know, she chose to end her life.
    Maggie Tomaszewski

  2. Mary Jane McNamara26/4/23 18:22

    Well said Maggie. Some in the trans gender world, twisted some of the facts of my (to me he will always be) my brothers life. I did accept his transition, but he will always be Brian to me. I've seen an obit published by his ex wife, that only talked about herself with no mention of the rest of us. She is a narcissist. I really just wish people would get their facts right. If you can't get it from the horses mouth, try the family. The transgender world was messing with his head, his ex was messing with his head. Who wasn't messing with his head? Us. I would be more than happy to give you said facts.

  3. Jane, please do not attempt to align me with your transphobia. You've misunderstood the intent behind my original comment, which I now regret posting in the first place.
    At a time when the human rights of trans people are under attack everywhere, to read your post really hurt me.
    Her name was Joanna, not Brian, and if you "accepted 'his' transition" you wouldn't dead name her here or misgender her over and over again. Talking about the "trans community" in this way is gross and again, very hurtful especially now when all LGBTQI rights are under attack.
    The trans community didn't mess with her head. Living in a transphobic world did.

    1. Not to mention the fact that she was living with Crohn's in a country where your health insurance is tied to your employment....employment which she could not get due to systemic transphobia. It truly is transphobia that killed her.


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