Why this 11-year-old transgender activist is fighting for the right to medical care in Texas

In the US there are currently 238 proposed anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures. More than half target the transgender community and specifically gender-affirming care for trans youth. Fighting for equality has become a mission for 11 year-old Kai Shappley, a trans youth activist who says her identity is not up for debate.

At 8 years-old, Shappley got an opportunity to use her voice when she went to Congress in Washington D.C. and shared her story with several representatives. Then in April 2021, Shappley confidently sat in front of the Texas Senate Committee to share her experiences as a transgender child. She was there to protest Senate bill 1646, which would have banned doctors from providing gender-affirming treatment to transgender children in the state. The bill failed, and Shappley’s testimony went viral.

“To the people that can't get the treatment that they need, and they have no way to work around it, it can be very harmful. It can make harmful changes to their body that can never be erased,” says Shappley. “I knew that I had to do something to stop that.”

“I have a pretty loud mouth,” she adds. “My story is important and it's my mom's job to worry. It's my job to tell my story. I'm not supposed to worry,” says Shappley.

While Bill 1646 was struck down, the fight for trans rights in Texas continues to make national headlines. Last February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton classified gender-affirming surgery for trans youth as "child abuse" that required an investigation from the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. Families of trans youth filed lawsuits, and a Texas judge declared the directive to be unconstitutional. There is currently a halt on any parental investigations until at least July when a trial will be held.

Video Transcript

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: What message do you want to send to other young trans youth?

KAI SHAPPLEY: I want to say that no matter what anybody tells you, there are more people for you than against you. Knowing that I'm inspiring other people is inspiring me to keep on inspiring people.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So far in 2022, state lawmakers have proposed a record 238 anti-LGBTQ bills. About half of those target the trans community. Today, I'm joined by Kai Shappley, an 11-year-old trans activist who uses her platform to protect trans youth. We know about you, because of your amazing platform and all of the activism you've been doing. When did you first start identifying as transgender, and how did your family support you?

KAI SHAPPLEY: I was always a girl, but I was about three when I realized my mom and some of the people around me didn't know who I was. It took a little bit, obviously, but at about 4 and 1/2, I came out publicly. It was pretty difficult, but I knew who I was and I was not going to back down. I like a good challenge, so. My moms supported me through this journey. She's done a lot-- a lot. She sacrificed quite a few things for me, and I will forever appreciate that.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You mentioned your mom and her strength and her support, and at five, you watched her testify before Texas lawmakers about trans rights. How did that make you feel to watch her do that for you?

KAI SHAPPLEY: Just seeing how she went up there and she started talking, I was like, that is my mom. That is a very powerful woman. I mean, if it weren't for her, I probably wouldn't have found my own voice. While that moment happened, I was like, you know? What I have to speak up. I have to start talking to. Texas legislators have been attacking me since pre-K. When it comes to bills that target trans youth, I immediately feel angry. It's been very scary and overwhelming. It makes me sad that some politicians use trans kids like me to get votes from people who hate me just because I exist.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Last year you when you were in the fourth grade, you testified in front of the Texas Senate committee, right? And that video went viral. What do you remember from that day?

KAI SHAPPLEY: That was really important to me, because what they were trying to do, then and there, was not OK, and I knew that I had to do something to stop that.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So what empowers you to use your voice without fear?

KAI SHAPPLEY: Well I have a pretty loud mouth that's one of the reasons. But I think the main reason, was because my story is important, and it's my mom's job to worry. It's my job to tell my story. So I'm not supposed to worry. I just have to tell my story.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So there's a lot of states that have anti-trans bills, including Texas, and they want to limit gender affirming treatments. Why do you think that's harmful?

KAI SHAPPLEY: To the people that can't get the treatment that they need and they have no way to work around it, it can be very harmful. It can make harmful changes to their body that can never be erased. It would be amazing if people could try to educate themselves, and whatever their gift or talent is, if you could use that to help us, that would be amazing.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: That's a really good piece of advice, I think. People are always struggling with ways to help, but we all have our own ways, right, that we can contribute to the conversation and the fight to protect trans kids, right?


BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: So what are your hopes and dreams for Kai in the future?

KAI SHAPPLEY: I hope that she's a successful, rich, famous actress, and that she got her mom that little ranch in the middle of nowhere that she wanted. And I hope that she's able to spread peace to everybody around her.

BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You know, and I see that happening for you, Kai, because you have such a beautiful light and positive energy and your confidence radiates through the screen and I think you're a leader for yourself and for so many other young children. Thank you so much for joining us today and continuing to use your platform to empower and protect trans youth.

KAI SHAPPLEY: Thank you for having me.

- Do we have any questions? Any questions for Kai? All right.

KAI SHAPPLEY: Seriously? None of y'all want to know more about me?

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