More than a game show win

She’ll take Breaking Barriers for $2,000, please.

When Amy Schneider ended her 40-game streak as “Jeopardy!” champion Wednesday night, she had the second-longest winning streak on the TV show – the longest for a woman – and took home more than $1.3 million.

But the California-based engineering director also scored a different kind of victory. Early in her run, she became a face and voice for those who identify as transgender. With every “first” she’s achieved – the first trans woman to earn over $1 million, to qualify for the show’s Tournament of Champions, to win as many matches as she’s won – Schneider took another step forward and crossed another boundary.

She did it all without much pomp, with humility and a wry sense of humor, just a talented, smart woman who knew a lot about a wide range of subjects, someone we got to know through brief excerpts from personal stories for a minute or two each evening.

“Peril!” has had a rocky road since the death of longtime host Alex Trebek last year, including the announcement of a new host who quickly quit after a series of discriminatory comments emerged that he had held on. If we’re cynical, we might see casting Schneider as a candidate as a savvy business move to bring in a stream of good publicity.

But no one could have predicted Schneider’s run, the place she would take in our living rooms over the past two months, or the impact she might yet have.

Of course, this is just a game show. And she’s just a game show winner. Its success does not change the deep and murderous physical and emotional pain that trans men and women across the country experience day in and day out. That doesn’t change the scores of discriminatory bills percolating in dozens of states that could limit the ability of trans men and women to participate in sports or use a bathroom or receive medical care. This doesn’t change the ongoing horrific violence, which disproportionately affects black trans women – the Human Rights Campaign reported that 2021 was the deadliest year on record for people who identify as transgender or not. gender-conform.

And that doesn’t change the backlash Schneider herself has received.

But in an essay Schneider wrote after her defeat, she noted that she feared being rejected or seen as “a freak, a pervert, a man in a robe, a liar, a mental patient.” Instead, she said, the vast majority of those who reached out offered their support.

And perhaps among the millions of viewers who watched Schneider’s run or read the reports were those looking for ways to speak with family and friends about who they are. Perhaps Schneider’s fame allowed them to enter these conversations. Maybe that led to an understanding, an embrace.

Schneider’s success and the millions of people who supported her are far more important than any successful Final Jeopardy bet.

EDITORIAL BOARD MEMBERS are experienced journalists who offer reasoned, fact-based opinions to encourage informed debate on the issues facing our community.