Jackie Evancho may have sung at the inauguration, but when President Donald Trump rescinded Obama-era protections for transgender people, she changed her tune.
For the new issue of PEOPLE, the 16-year-old classical vocalist opened up about the backlash she received for her appearance at the Inaugural and how why she wants to sit down with Trump and her trans sister Juliet to discuss transgender rights.
“I [performed] because it’s always been about the honor and not about the politics. I try my best to stay out of politics,” says Evancho. But when Trump took action that could harm her sister, she felt compelled to speak up — “because at that point, something had changed that was going to affect a cause that I believe in. It was going to affect my sister, who I truly love, and people that I know. It was just natural instinct. I had to do something about it.”
Indeed, the America’s Got Talent alum — whose new album Two Hearts drops Friday — took to social media in February after Trump signed the executive order rolling back protections for trans youth, requesting a meeting with the President. The White House said Trump would “welcome” a meeting but have yet to confirm an appointment.
“We’re actively working on it,” says Evancho, who remains hopeful she’ll get the opportunity to sit down with Trump.
As for what Evancho would say if she gets the chance to meet with the President?
“I would talk to him about some of the horrors that [Juliet] has experienced,” Evancho says. “Hopefully make it a federal issue — and create some sort of law that will protect my sister and people in her situation.”
Now 18, Evancho’s sister Juliet — born Jacob — struggled with her gender identity from a young age, slowly coming out as transgender to her mom Lisa, 50, Jackie, and dad Michael, 47, when she was 13 before coming out publicly in October 2015 in an exclusive PEOPLE interview. Evancho says Juliet has been bullied since she began transitioning, with classmates directing mean language at her and their siblings (Zachary, 14, and Rachel, 13) and even throwing trash and hard candy at Juliet.
Having been in the spotlight since she was 10, Evancho is used to bullying and didn’t bat an eye at the online backlash that followed her inauguration performance announcement. “It is what it is; you can’t control the world, and you can’t change everyone’s opinion,” she says, “so it’s best to just ignore it so you don’t lose your mind.”
But Evancho took it personally when she says Juliet was singled out. In October, Juliet filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the Pine-Richland School District after being barred from using the bathrooms of her choice.
“It makes me feel terrible —no one should have to deal with that,” Jackie says of how her sister has been treated at school.
In February, a judge granted a preliminary injunction allowing trans students to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity. But both Evancho and her sister — an aspiring model who underwent sex reassignment surgery in January — are intent on continuing to use their platform to advocate for trans rights.
“My goals are mainly just to continue what I’m doing, but on a bigger scale — to inspire people, to use my voice to do good, to help people,” Evancho says. “I definitely want to change things.”
- For more on Jackie and Juliet Evancho’s Fight for Trans Rights, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands everywhere Friday.
Adds Juliet: “Getting the messages that we get like, ‘Oh, you’re so inspiring. You’ve helped me come out to my family’ or ‘You’ve saved us from being in a dark place’ from Jackie’s music … Just hearing those type of things help us keep going, knowing that we’re doing something right.”
While the girls’ dad Michael says “nobody wants their kids to be a target of bullying or hatred,” he’s thrilled his daughters are wielding their fame for good: “My wife and I are extremely proud of the fact that Jackie chooses to share her gift with the world and that Juliet is brave enough to stand up for who she is, and, through her experiences, possibly be able to help others.”