AUSTIN (KXAN) — A national spotlight is shining brightly on a Texas transgender girl for her activism last year pushing back on legislation.
Several times during the 2021 legislative session, Kai Shappley made the trip to the Texas State Capitol with her mother to testify against bills that would affect transgender Texans. Those appearances helped lead the 11-year-old to recently be named a finalist for Time Kid of the Year.
“I started my activism because I thought it was unfair how they were treating us,” Shappley told KXAN in an interview Tuesday. “We’ve seen a lot of what’s going on multiple times in history, and it’s just history repeating itself over and over. It’s terrible, so I started speaking out because I wanted that to stop.”
During one Senate committee hearing in April last year, Shappley sat in front of a microphone and shared her opposition to legislation that would have criminalized providing or assisting a young person with gender-affirming health care as child abuse. Video of her two-minute-long remarks went viral on social media, and a clip of them has now garnered more than 25,000 views on Shappley’s own YouTube page.
“I do not like spending my free time asking adults to make good choices,” Shappley said in the remarks she read off her iPhone.
“It makes me sad that some politicians use trans kids like me to get votes from people who hate me just because I exist,” she added. “God made me. God loves me for who I am, and God does not make mistakes.”
The bill in question, Senate Bill 1646, ultimately did not pass. However, another bill that barred transgender student-athletes from competing on school sports teams corresponding to their gender identity cleared both chambers, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law in October last year. The law officially went into effect Tuesday along with several other bills.
Shappley’s mother, Kimberly, said her 11-year-old daughter pushed to become more active in the movement. They would work together last year to craft her remarks when Shappley spoke at the statehouse, which Kimberly said was important since they only had a short amount of time to make an impact.
“Kai was born with this strength. This isn’t anything that she was taught. It’s just who she is. It’s why she was able to transition at a young early age,” Kimberly said. “Being the mother of a transgender child who’s consistently under attack, being her mom has made me a better person. It’s made me a better Christian. It’s made me a better neighbor. It’s made me a better friend. It’s made me a better mom to all of my kids.”
After moving three times over the years, Kimberly said she and her family now live in Austin because “it’s the safest place for her to be.” She said some families with transgender children have moved to other states with more protections, but the number of places considering and enacting similar policies to Texas’ is growing. The Shappleys anticipate that they’ll have to fight against other legislative restrictions in the future.
“We need people to stop being silent, and we need people who are allies to stop being on the sideline,” Kimberly said. “It’s time for people to help us. I don’t think people realize that.”
Shappley also urged younger people to join in this fight and shared some suggestions about what they can do to make a difference.
“Write letters to everybody who you think will be able to help and talk to your parents about it,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak out about it.”
A run for higher office may also be in the cards for Shappley. She said she’d like to one day run for president — along with becoming an actress and raising 103 cats.
“I’m a bold and strong, independent little lady,” Shappley said, “and I will keep fighting for as long as I need to.”