Jake Hofheimer

For the fourth summer in a row, 19-year-old Jake Hofheimer is trading his native Los Angeles for Camp Aranu’tiq, a safe haven for transgender and gender-nonconforming kids tucked in the woods of New Hampshire.

“The main reason this camp is really important to me is that it showed me that there are other people like me,” says the former camper, who now gives back as a volunteer counselor and lifeguard.

Hofheimer was assigned female at birth, but he never felt at home under that label, refusing to wear girls’ school uniforms and adopting the name “Jake” during make-believe games with his brother.

“I didn’t have the language or vocabulary to really explain what I was feeling. I didn’t think there was anyone like me, so I just kept my mouth shut,” Hofheimer recalls.

As a teen, he did find the language: transgender. After coming out to his parents and transferring out of his all-girls middle school, Hofheimer found refuge at New Roads School, a progressive Santa Monica prep school founded on principles of diversity and independent thinking. Within days he came out to his teachers and classmates, a decision that felt “liberating.”

In his junior year, Hofheimer became the school’s first transgender baseball player — a move that caught the attention of the Los Angeles Times and ESPN The Magazine and gave him national visibility. He saw this moment in the spotlight as an opportunity to spread awareness.

“I wouldn’t say that me coming out and being a trans baseball player made any sort of difference in terms of realities [for trans youth],” he says. “But I do think it’s helped to reassure other trans folks that being trans doesn’t have to restrict you from doing what you love.”

Now a Women & Gender Studies major at the University of Colorado Boulder, Hofheimer has set aside his baseball glove for a new passion: advocacy work. He volunteers with the Jewish LGBTQ organization JQ International, and in March he became the first trans person — and the first teen — to win their Trailblazer Award.

Hofheimer admits he “felt kind of weird” about receiving the honor at such a young age, especially with so much he wants to accomplish still on the horizon. But he’s already chipping away at his advocacy goals in small ways — like mentoring young campers at Camp Aranu’tiq, the same place that welcomed him in his adolescence, helping him blossom into the person he is today.

“It’s a place where I wasn’t ‘that trans kid’ anymore. I was just a kid,” Hofheimer says. “And that feeling — the best way to describe it is freeing.”

— Stephanie Case