AUSTIN (KXAN) — A documentary debuting at South by Southwest features a Texas mother whose political beliefs changed because of her transgender child.
The film “Mama Bears” borrows the name from a Facebook group that began in 2014 and grew to now include more than 32,000 mothers with kids in the LGBTQ+ community. In a clip from the film, Kimberly Shappley of Austin talked about what being part of that group did for her.
“They gave me other examples of mamas who were going to do whatever they had to do for their kid, and they didn’t have to throw Jesus out the window to do it,” Shappley said.
During a rally Monday morning outside the Texas Capitol, the documentary’s director, Daresha Kyi, said she first learned about the Mama Bears group after reading an article about how Shappley fought for her daughter Kai’s right to use her school’s restroom. Kyi said Shappley specifically cited the supportive online community for helping her to shift her staunchly conservative views to become a more accepting LGBTQ+ advocate.
Kyi said she wanted the documentary to highlight these kinds of shifting attitudes from mothers like Shappley.
“They, to me, are the journey of the hero because in order to make that kind of transformation, you have to look at your life radically. You have to examine everything you ever believed, and you have to pick and choose what you’re going to do,” Kyi said. “Are you going to operate from a place of love, or are you going to stay connected to the beliefs that are keeping you from loving your own child? How can they be right if they stop you from love? For these women to take those journeys, I know that wasn’t easy. We all know it’s not easy to change, but it’s important and it’s necessary.”
The film’s release coincides with Texas Republican lawmakers renewing scrutiny on families with transgender kids. Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services in February to open child abuse investigations into parents seeking gender-affirming care. This directive cited Attorney Ken Paxton’s recent legal opinion that certain transitioning procedures and treatments should qualify as child abuse under current Texas law.
Last week a Travis County district judge blocked DFPS from proceeding with child abuse investigations into Texas families of trans kids. However, Paxton announced on Twitter he’s already appealing that decision.
A spokesperson for DFPS confirmed the agency opened at least nine child abuse investigations so far into families with trans kids. More than 80 people addressed the DFPS Council on Friday to share their opposition directly to the agency tasked with carrying out Abbott’s order about transgender health care investigations.
At Monday’s rally, Shappley urged people to step up and support Texas organizations advocating for the trans community now that these investigations have officially begun.
“We sit here and tell you it’s happening, but I don’t think you understand,” Shappley said, holding back tears. “People we have been fighting with for years have left Texas. They’ve run, and some of the people ran from Texas and now they’re in states that are also moving the same d*** bills. Help us!”
So far the outcry lately has done little to change the types of policies pursued by the state’s top Republican leaders. However, Kyi said she hopes her documentary showing at SXSW can perhaps breakthrough and have an impact on their thinking about issues impacting the LGBTQ+ community.
“This is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to reach in and touch people and change them, transform them, open them, teach them — that’s the point,” Kyi said Monday.
Democratic Rep. Erin Zwiener, a member of the Texas House LGBTQ Caucus, said films like “Mama Bears” should also help dispel misinformation about trans kids and the care they receive.
“Our job is to open the hearts of the public, to open the hearts of the leaders who can be reached and to hopefully mobilize folks to send a strong message that attacking families, attacking children is not okay here in Texas,” Zwiener said.
Screening details for the “Mama Bears” documentary are available on the SXSW website.