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Will Beckham Cole

“If you look at my CV it looks like a really obvious path, but that’s only in hindsight. Getting here was actually very circuitous and circumstantial—and luck and of course hard work and perseverance, but also just life. It was messy.”

Bloomberg School of Public Health

International Public Health, PhD 2013

Director of Research Projects at The Trevor Project

Will’s Podcast Episode

In this episode, we discuss what inspired Will to pursue a PhD in International Public Health, his academic career at Johns Hopkins, and his decision to leave academia for the non-profit sector, where he now uses his skillset to support LGBTQ+ youth at The Trevor Project.

Learn More About Will’s Story

My career path began with a parasite. It was my month-long bout of poorly treated malaria that piqued my interest in public health, during an undergrad semester abroad in Zanzibar. Most of my graduate school years and early career—12 years in all—I lived in Zanzibar and Iringa, Tanzania. I am intrigued by the social and behavioral complexities of conditions like malaria and HIV that defy simple health interventions; for my doctorate, I explored the intersections of family planning, motherhood, and HIV among female sex workers. Afterward, I continued grassroots work with sex workers, and taught public health to study abroad students. Pictured, I translate and contextualize a health promotion poster during a health center tour in 2017 (“Family planning: better life, better family” in Swahili). Outside of work, I was a wife, mother, community organizer, mountain biker, hiker, and volunteer at my son’s international school.

While working as JHU faculty and still living in Tanzania, I slowly uncovered a deep truth about myself: I am a transgender man. This revelation led me to move to the US with my son in 2018, after which I amicably but painfully divorced his dad. After beginning transition, I discovered my queer sexuality. I was welcomed into the vibrant queer community in Baltimore and on campus, where I refocused my research and teaching to LGBTQ health. In mid-2020, at a socially distanced, outdoor party, I met my husband, Josh (also trans). Pictured, Josh and I joyfully open the dance floor at our 2022 wedding. Our marriage is a proud celebration of trans love and euphoria. In 2022, the anti-transgender environment in the US compelled me to accept a job at The Trevor Project, where I direct research and advocate for LGBTQ youth mental health nationally and globally.