In January, 16-year-old Jackie Evancho will join the ranks of Beyoncé and Aretha Franklin when she sings for President-elect Donald Trump at his inauguration ceremony. While many people may not be familiar with Jackie's musical talents (her career was kickstarted after a stint on America's Got Talent in 2010), Trump won't be the first president she's serenaded. But while Jackie has sung for a Democratic president, her upcoming performance for Trump is proving to be far more controversial given the fact her sister has come out publicly as transgender. So, who is Juliet Evancho, Jackie's sister?
While there's nothing to suggest that Jackie is anything other than supportive and accepting of her sister's transition, the teenage opera singer has taken some flak online regarding her decision to sing for a man whose administration is stacked with vocal opponents to transgender rights. "My family is kind of a big target. I have a transgender sister, and so a lot of hate goes towards us," Jackie recently told People magazine. Juliet's involvement in a transgender bathroom access lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district has also made the family the subject of increased scrutiny.
Although Juliet only came out publicly as transgender last year, she's had questions about her gender rolling around in her mind since she was a young child. "For as long as I can remember I've always been into what would be classified as 'girly' things," Juliet wrote in an essay for Teen Vogue on her experience coming out to family and then later the world. "I played dress up with my sister Jackie, loved Barbies, and occasionally we'd raid my mom's makeup kits together."
As a young child, Juliet reportedly expressed her confusion to her parents, who sought the advice of a doctor who advised them all to consider it something Juliet would "grow out of." "I continued to suppress those feelings," Juliet wrote for Teen Vogue. "I played little league baseball and joined cub scouts, but deep down I knew I wasn't just experimenting or exploring my feminine side. By the time I was 11, I took those internal thoughts and verbalized them to myself as I looked in the mirror. I said, 'I am a girl trapped in a boy’s body.'"
When Jackie became a national star on America's Got Talent, Juliet reportedly found herself facing further questions about how opening up about identifying as transgender would affect her family. "Jackie’s newfound fame put our entire family under a microscope. This made things even more difficult for me," Juliet wrote. "Now, I not only worried about what my family thought of me, but I also worried about some trashy magazine trying to make a spectacle out of me if they found out, and it hurting my family."
Juliet's first public appearance as a transgender woman came in 2015 when she walked the red carpet with Jackie at the Global Lyme Alliance's inaugural gala in New York. In a 2015 interview with People, Jackie said she initially had some concerns her sister would be teased when she first came out. "I actually cried because what worried me was that she was going to get teased," Jackie said. "She told me she was transgender, and I was actually very happy for her because she finally found herself and she can be who she wants to be."
Later that same year, Jackie released a touching music video for a cover of Ed Sheeran's "All of the Stars," in which she told her sister's story. She dedicated the video "to the bravery and personal journey that people go through as transitioning transgender teens" and told People, "I accept anyone who wants to be whoever they want to be."
In May 2016, Jackie reiterated her support for her sister, telling CBS Pittsburgh she knew the decision had not been easy. "For her to come out is just really hard. She's so brave and I'm proud of her for that,” Jackie said, adding "it was no big deal to me."
In October, Juliet and two other transgender students filed a lawsuit in Pennsylvania after their school reversed its "longstanding inclusive restroom practice" at the urging of anti-LGBTQ groups. "The day after the vote, it felt different in school: I felt exposed and vulnerable," Juliet said about the school's decision to force transgender students to use bathrooms that correspond to biological gender at birth, according to the Daily Beast. "I even thought about dropping out, or trying to finish school from home. But then my classmates nominated me for homecoming queen, showing that they know, accept and respect me for who I am. So, why can’t everyone else?"
While Jackie may be fielding questions and criticisms about her decision to accept Trump's invitation to perform at his inauguration despite his questionable stance on transgender issues, her sister Juliet has so far refrained from commenting on the issue or Trump.