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Texas trans activist, 11, flees the state after years of advocacy

Kimberly Shappley said she’s moving her family out of Texas to protect her 11-year-old daughter, Kai, who has become a prominent trans rights activist.
Image: From left; Kimberly and her children Kaleb and Kai.
Kimberly Shappley and her children, Kaleb and Kai.Courtesy Kimberly Shappley

Kai Shappley, an 11-year-old transgender activist in Texas, is leaving the state after having fought anti-trans bills there since she was 5. 

Kai shared a photo on social media Monday. It showed a yard sign that said, “Garage sale.”

“My mom sold our home & everything that doesn’t fit in our car because the state I was born in is not safe for trans kids,” Kai said in the tweet. “Anyways… happy Independence Day to everyone who gets to celebrate that.”

Her mom, Kimberly Shappley, had resisted moving for years — even after the state considered more than 50 bills targeting trans people last year, and even after it began investigating parents for abuse if they were suspected of providing gender-affirming medical care to their kids. 

Shappley said she first began planning a move during last year’s legislative session, when Kai testified against a bill that would have made it a felony for doctors to provide trans minors with gender-affirming medical care. 

But then, she said, two recent events kicked the slow planning process into “overdrive”: the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade last month and an interview that her 9-year-old son, Kaleb, did with Vogue magazine as part of an article about Kai. 

“We pray when people are in danger, for them not to be in danger and for them all to be OK,” Kaleb told Vogue as he walked across a playground.

“We pray for people not to take mom away. We pray about everyone, everything. Because CPS wants to take Kai away because she’s trans, and we’re going to get adopted and Kai will have to be forced not to be trans,” Kaleb said, referring to the state Child Protective Services. 

Shappley said that when she saw the interview, she thought, “I can’t keep doing this to my kids.”

“The damage is already being done,” she said. “They don’t even have to take my kids to cause them trauma. And by me staying here, I feel like I’m allowing them to continue to cause trauma to my family.”

She said she doesn’t blame families who can’t leave the state, because most don’t have the money — even though she doesn’t, either. She said she planned to sell everything and camp out of her car with Kai, Kaleb and their three cats and one dog until they find a place they can call home. 

But then Kai’s tweet about their garage sale went viral, and she said people who wanted to support the family persuaded her to set up a GoFundMe fundraiser to help fund their move.

“It was humiliating as hell,” she said. “It’s not in my nature to ask for help.”

Now, she said, she plans to buy a motor home and turn the move into a road trip, because they still don’t know for sure where they will settle.

“They’re going to enjoy this road trip, and we’re going to make it as fun as we can,” she said. “It’s their job to have fun, and it’s my job to worry.”

Kai, an aspiring actor who previously described herself to NBC News as “the most Southern activist you will ever meet,” said she feels some sadness, “but there’s more excitement than there is disappointment, because it means that I can start somewhere new, and I can make new friends, and I can make new possibilities.”

Kai is a huge Dolly Parton fan, and her mom said the family might try to stop at a Dollywood in Tennessee during their journey.

Image: Kai and Mulan the chicken.
Kai and Mulan the chicken. Courtesy Kimberly Shappley

Through tears, Shappley said one of the hardest moments of the move so far has been rehoming their flock of 20 chickens.

“We didn’t have chickens because we wanted eggs. … We had to give away eggs just because we had to buy off the neighbors,” she said, laughing. “There’s no reason in city limits that anybody should have 20 chickens, especially when five of them are roosters. We are really good pet owners, so they all had names, they all had tricks. We knew their personalities.”

Shappley said that her family will be OK but that there are others who are also trying to flee their states, some of whom have also set up fundraisers through GoFundMe. Then there are some families who can’t leave at all. She said that those being forced to flee are refugees and that the Biden administration isn’t doing enough to support them.

“Where’s the help? Where’s the relocation assistance? They know it’s not safe for families,” she said. Although the administration has taken action against efforts to restrict gender-affirming care through the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, Shappley described them as “backdoor” efforts because they’re not widely known to those who might be helped by them and because they don’t help families in need of immediate assistance.

“I don’t want a back door — we’re not somebody’s dirty little secret,” she said. “I want a front door and a front parking spot. We’ve been through some s---. It’s time for somebody to help, not just my family, but all the trans kids and their families.”

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