Kimberly Shappley didn’t vote for Barack Obama, but she recalls the exact moment she became grateful for him.
A lifelong conservative Republican, Shappley found herself sobbing with joy when then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch told transgender Americans, “We see you” and “We stand with you” a few days before the White House issued guidelines requiring schools to treat students’ gender identity as their sex.
“I sobbed with relief, and in my mind, I thought our fight just got shortened and it was going to be easier,” Shappley says.
Shappley’s daughter Kai started telling her mom that she was a girl at age 3. At first, they tried to discourage her, hiding “girl toys” and even punishing her for insisting, but after meetings with a series of psychologists and psychiatrists, the Texas nursing student and devout evangelical Christian began to accept she had a daughter.
Shappley was always skeptical of the Trump administration’s claims that it would support LGBTQ rights, given Mike Pence’s record of supporting measures limiting them.
That didn’t make the Justice and Education departments’ Feb. 22, 2017, announcement rescinding the Obama-era guidelines any easier to stomach, particularly the notion that protections for trans students should be a “states’ rights” issue.
“He just threw my kid under the bus, so to speak,” she says. “He just said it’s OK for people to discriminate against her because of where we live. It’s still the United States. I shouldn’t have to decide which town or state is safe enough or welcoming enough or kind enough to let us live there.”
It was a crushing blow after losing her family and almost all of her friends when her daughter came out.
Living in a conservative Houston suburb, many of her neighbors still have trouble accepting her daughter is a girl who belongs in the girls’ bathroom.
Still, after months of agonizing, Shappley made the decision to continue to attend her church, where she says she and Kai still get dirty looks. Nevertheless, she believes it’s important to continue to engage her community, even if that means changing one mind at a time.
“They still have to see me and they still have to see my daughter, and they still have to see that we love the Lord, that we still study our Bible, that we still pray, that we’re still good people,” she says. “And I think that a lot of times the best advocacy is just being there, being present, being seen, and not hiding.”
Through online support and advocacy groups, Shappley keeps in close touch with thousands of moms of transgender youth who identify as Christian. She says helping Kai navigate the world has enriched her faith.
“One of the things that I realized for me is that the Bible helps me be a better person,” she says. “The Bible doesn’t help me tell other people how to be a better person, and that’s not what it was given to us for. It’s not a weapon for us to hurt other people, or tell them what they’re supposed to do or not do. It’s there so that we read it and we change.”
Shappley doesn’t expect Trump to come around to her way of thinking, though she hopes he heeds his own advice from the campaign trail.
“He said it didn’t matter to him which bathroom Caitlyn Jenner used at Trump Tower. If that is really true, and that is at the core of what he believes, then he should tell people that: ‘This is right, and this is wrong. This is what I see.'”
In the bathroom debate, she sees parallels to the civil rights movement, where public safety concerns were used to mask a broader bigotry.
Winning with opponents in the White House, she believes, will mean fighting in every school district in every town across America.
“Call your school board members. Call your superintendent,” she advises. “Call them, call them, call them. These are people that are elected, so just continuing to call them and let them hear. Whether they agree or not isn’t even the point. So I would encourage everyone who votes, especially, to call the school board members where you live. Call your superintendent that you elected.”
Fighting on Kai’s behalf and encouraging others to do so, she explains, is her duty a parent and a Christian.
“Is it challenging? Yes. Is it discouraging? Yes. But I can’t just stop because right now my child is 6 and I’m fighting for her now so that when she’s 13 or 20 or 50 or 75 years old that hopefully I’ve done enough, I’ve been loud enough, I’ve been vocal enough that there’s been change. Because as her mom, I won’t always be there for her.”
For Shappley herself, that means continuing to show up.
“We want people to see that we’re just people. We’re a family. We’re crazy, and our house is sometimes messy. It’s crazy to think that we have to show people that we’re human.”