Transgender Actress, Reality TV Star Returns to Iowa to Advocate for LGBTQ Rights

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- The One Iowa Gala celebrated its tenth anniversary Friday and ten years of legalized same-sex marriage in Iowa.

More than a thousand people attended, including Cassandra Cass, a transgender woman, actress and reality TV star from Iowa.

“Coming back to Iowa was a very emotional experience for me because I don’t really have good memories. I have memories of feeling different,” said Cass.

Cass talked about what it was like growing up in Des Moines.

“Ended up going to Lincoln High School, I was a Railsplitter, but it was a very difficult childhood. My father was a single father, and I was one of four boys. Originally I was number three and my father didn’t understand me, so at 16 years old I told my dad I would like to live my life as a girl, as Cassandra, and he looked at me and said, 'you are going to be the ugliest woman, and who is ever going to want to be with that.' Well, that destroyed me, and I basically took an overdose of pills. They had to pump my stomach and I remember thinking, 'I cant let them win,'” said Cass.

After being disowned by her family, Cass moved to Florida, then to Los Angeles. She says attending the One Iowa Gala was a full circle moment because it was her father who escorted her to the gala.

“My father who told me that I would never be beautiful and that no one would love me, well he told me I was beautiful, and he told me he loved me,” said Cass.

Cass has starred in the series "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," various reality shows and LGBTQ-centered films.

Cass said she has been abused and a victim of hate crimes, but she uses her painful experiences as fuel to excel in her acting career and mentoring LGBTQ youth.

“Realize that difference that maybe you are going through right now might be the thing that ends up saving you. It's that whole ugly duckling story,” said Cass. “Just believe in yourself and know that tomorrow is another day.”

Cass is performing a burlesque show Saturday night at the Garden Nightclub in Des Moines.

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