Speaking the truth isn’t always easy, but it is always necessary. Onjheney Warren, MSW, uses their voice to advocate for reproductive rights and sexual health care for all Texans, all while balancing other crucially important volunteer and employment responsibilities. Warren is often found on the front lines of various causes, championing and empowering vulnerable populations. And at the age of 28, they are just getting started.
Warren’s journey to discovering their nonbinary identity culminated in an “aha moment” during the COVID-19 lockdown. “I feel like a lot of people realized things during the pandemic,” they explain. “I started doing research on what it means to be nonbinary, and what the terminology actually meant. I talked to one of my friends who is nonbinary and they said, ‘Onjheney, cisgender people don’t stress about their gender as much as you do. You should think about these things, because it sounds like you’re going through a lot with figuring out your gender identity.”
For Warren, the puzzle pieces eventually fell into place. “I didn’t feel as comfortable in my body as I thought I did. To many people, I come off as very feminine and, as a woman, that is how I’ve been socialized. I think realizing I am nonbinary was a rejection of that—a realization that I don’t know if I really identify with that as much as I thought I did.”
Although they have found authenticity in their identity, Warren explains the experience wasn’t easy. “I had to reject everything I thought about myself to be true. To me, gender isn’t binary. You can be any gender and express yourself—identify yourself—in any way that you want. I had to realize that I could do that for myself.”
In their full-time job, Warren supports students at the beginning of their college journey and beyond. “I work for a nonprofit in the college-access field. We support high school students through their journey into higher education. We help them apply to colleges and figure out the financial aid. My job, specifically, is to support them in their transition to college.”
Those students are in capable hands as Warren guides them through the process of being a college student. “I’m all-hands-on-deck, helping them figure out what they need to successfully make it to the first day of class. As they become sophomores and juniors, I’m more of a mentor or coach advising them. They come to me when they don’t know where to go or who to contact in various situations.”
In addition to empowering the next generation of leaders, Warren serves on the board of directors for Grace Place, a local nonprofit with a mission of supporting youth and young adults of all genders and sexualities who are experiencing homelessness.
Warren’s lifelong passion for public service ultimately led to their advocacy work. “My journey with Planned Parenthood began when I moved to Houston in 2018. I was looking for a reproductive and sexual healthcare clinic and I hadn’t had positive experiences in the past with other OB/GYNs, so I was trying to find a place where I could feel affirmed and validated,” they explain. During one visit, Warren shared their personal story on a comment card and was soon invited to be a Planned Parenthood Storyteller. “A storyteller is basically a champion for Planned Parenthood. In April 2023, I was chosen to be a national storyteller, which is really amazing because I get to participate in monthly calls where I learn how to be a better advocate for Planned Parenthood and other causes.”
Watching politicians roll back reproductive and sexual-health rights fuels Warren’s fire. “These are targeted attacks, and we need to fight back.” That advocacy work even landed Warren in front of a microphone at the Texas State Capitol during the 2023 Legislative Session. “I was there with Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, which is the advocacy arm of the Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas. We were showing support for legislation regarding comprehensive access to reproductive-health entities, which would allow Planned Parenthood and other providers to receive federal and state funding to do their work.”
Standing alongside Texas reproductive-rights icon Wendy Davis, Warren’s presence at the event gave voice to the voiceless. “My job was to just share my story and talk about how Planned Parenthood has helped me feel safe, heard, and validated. I spoke about my experiences with them and how I have been judged by previous healthcare providers who were supposed to be there for me regarding my sexual reproductive health care, but ended up making me feel like I was wrong.”
Warren invites others with a passion for advocacy and public service to join them in the fight. “It can be very scary and very intimidating, but advocacy needs to be equitable. People need to be met where they are and give what they can, because there are a lot of things happening and a lot of fighting that needs to be done.”
Follow along with Onjheney on Instagram at @onjh.warr.