One afternoon in August 2016, an everyday suburban mom, her hair pulled back, wearing a conservative sweater, approached the microphone at a Pearland ISD school-board meeting. Her voice quavered a bit as she read from her prepared statement.
“I am an ordained minister, and I am the parent of a transgender child at PISD,” began Kimberly Shappley. But before she got that first sentence out completely, John Kelly, district superintendent, pushed his chair back, stood up, and walked out.
Shappley continued, explaining to the remaining school-board members that transgender people have much higher rates of suicide, and that transgender children raised in a supportive environment fare much better. She urged the school board to allow these kids to use the bathroom of their choice; she said that Kelly, still out of the room, was promoting hatred and violence against LGBTQ people.
The superintendent returned to his chair at the end of Shappley’s allotted five minutes, just in time to hear her closing remarks. “I’m a mom of a little girl that I would like to see live,” she said, looking up at Kelly from her paper. “Please understand, I’m not fighting about bathrooms. I’m fighting about her life.”
It was a fight Shappley had never expected to wade into—certainly not on the side of LGBTQ people. Born in Alabama to an ultra-conservative family and raised in Mississippi, Shappley is a self-described conservative Christian minister and former Tea Partier who peppers her conversation with religious ruminations. “The Bible is the inspired word of Christ,” she’ll say.
But a lot has changed in a short time for Shappley, whose entire worldview—and self-image—shattered the moment she finally decided, after a long struggle, to let her daughter Kai be herself.