Community Impact

Singing her Pride Month story out loud

Violet Hunter, a transgender woman and Walgreens analyst, shares how she found the strength to become her true self with help from team members.

Sarah Cason, Walgreens Stories
I’m just a person. I’m just living my life,” says Violet Opal Hunter, as she beams into a camera from a brightly painted room, surrounded by musical instruments. She’s at ease at her home in Ellijay, Georgia, a town of 1,847 people at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Ellijay draws tourists for its apple orchards, wineries and Appalachian hiking trails. Lesser known to the traveling public is what drew Hunter in: its tight-knit LGBTQ+ community. It’s in this community that Hunter, a Walgreens reporting analyst, performs as Doctor Deathray, the lead vocalist in her band, Doctor Deathray and Her Implements of Destruction.
It’s also in this community that she found a new, chosen family after coming out as a transgender woman.
Hunter began her transition in Ellijay with support from the community connections within Walgreens Pride Alliance business resource group (BRG). She has experienced the freedom to discover her true self after spending more than 20 years in a body that she says didn’t feel right to her.

Finding the right notes

Hunter was assigned the male sex at birth and was perceived to be male while growing up in suburban Atlanta in the ’90s. She played with trucks and Transformers, but, soon enough, gendered differences became apparent to her. When she brought a purple backpack, her favorite color, to school in sixth grade, kids teased her for favoring the “gay” color. She soon bought a black backpack to fit in.
A determined extrovert, Hunter discovered an affinity for music in her teenage years. Through music, she formed friendships and later a band, and Hunter felt freest when performing onstage in non-conforming clothes.

Hunter on vocals, performing at the Ellijay Makerspace in 2022.

“The band would dress in costume and inevitably we'd go to Goodwill to get outfits,” says Hunter. “I would always go to the women's section to find my costume pieces and would explore that space a bit, and that was me breaking into that part of my identity. But it was still definitely the South in the early 2000s. So, you know, I’d try to do what's proper, and I’d try to do what's ‘right’.”
Hunter would continue to live the “classic male lifestyle” into her 20s and was sporting a beard when she first joined Walgreens as a customer service representative in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. But conforming to an identity that no longer felt true to her eventually took a toll, and Hunter dealt with depression that was later diagnosed as bipolar disorder.

During this time, she found an outlet in community theater. And soon being cast in the play “Pageant” would change the course of her life.

“I was Miss West Coast,” Hunter reminisces, “and I had a glorious blonde wig and wore everything from the evening gown to the swimsuit. That was when I was like, ‘You know what, I’m not a cisgender guy.’ I started transitioning shortly after that.”

Key change

To start her transition, Hunter first confided in her close friends. When she felt comfortable, she posted about her transition on Facebook and found inclusive online groups for transgender and nonconforming people.
But not everyone was supportive of her announcement.
“I lost friends, gigs and opportunities when I did that,” says Hunter. Some of her family members did not accept the news, and she was excluded from a Christmas gathering.
Still, she chose to stay true to herself. Her transition journey began in March 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Her initial medical appointments to begin hormone therapy were delayed. In the meantime, as Hunter continued to seek support in her community, she made a special connection to a fellow Walgreens team member, Simon Stapleton. Stapleton introduced her to a gender nonconforming community group in the Muscle Shoals area. It wouldn’t take long before the two graduated from virtual chats to in-person dates, and soon, they fell in love.

“My partner is transmasculine and nonbinary. They have been my rock. They have been out and open for many years prior to me coming out, and since they’ve gone through the same things, we can relate to each other. I just love them,” Hunter says, her grin returning.
When deciding on a new name to fit her identity, she hearkened back to the bullying around her favorite purple backpack. Her new name would be Violet Opal Hunter: Violet, to represent her true self, and Opal, an ode to her great-grandmother, known lovingly as “Mama Ope.”

Supporting accompaniments 

Hunter cultivated an accepting community around her, including her co-workers at Walgreens. One of her first resources was the Pride Alliance BRG.
The BRG is a voice for Walgreens LGBTQ+ team members, customers and communities, partnering with allies and promoting an inclusive environment to which everyone can bring their authentic selves. Having this inclusive workplace community has been critical not only for Hunter’s happiness, but as a resource to support her transition.
“Nobody on the board [of the BRG] at the time had gone through transition, but I had questions and they helped get me answers. They got my name changed in the HR system and supported me when I sent out the email sharing my name change,” she remarks.
Hunter also leaned on her friendships at work when embarking on her gender reassignment surgery in 2021. Walgreens has worked with its medical plan carriers to expand its coverage and offer medically necessary, trans-inclusive services that may include surgical procedures, prescription drug coverage and mental health benefits.

March to the beat of your own drum

Even with all the support, some challenges remain. For instance, Hunter must travel to a Vanderbilt University health clinic in Nashville to see the right specialists for her gender-affirming care. But she’s able to stay positive because she’s surrounded by her friends and family in Ellijay.
“I'm in a little rural mountain town in Georgia, and I know more trans people and queer people here than almost anywhere else I've lived.”
And the future feels bright. Hunter owns her own record label, Analog Revolution, which recently produced a new album
for her band. The artists under her label are also considering organizing a regional tour. As a result of this supportive community, Hunter is feeling good.

“I'm living my life to be authentic and to be happy,” she says. “It's a very difficult path, and I don't need anybody else to make it more difficult. This isn't a rebellion or a strike against anyone. This is me, living the way I need to live, living the way to be myself.”

Hunter working remotely from Ellijay, in her workspace that doubles as a recording studio.

Celebrate Pride Month by tuning in to a playlist curated by Hunter, featuring her favorite LGBTQ+ artists:

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