A Mother’s Day salute to parents who fight for their trans kids.
By Kim Hogstrom
Photos by Eric Edward Schell
“Acceptance, tolerance, bravery,
compassion. These are the things
my mom taught me.”—Lady Gaga
With Mother’s Day on the horizon, OutSmart decided to recognize a special subset of moms—the ones who love their sons and daughters even when it turns out that their sons are daughters, and their daughters are sons. These mothers with trans kids provide them with unconditional love that doesn’t pale with that news. There is a growing legion of these remarkable women, some of whom refer to themselves as “Mama Bears.” They’re quickly becoming a force of nature.
Texas Moms Organize
An assembly of mothers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area is tackling the issue of trans kids head-on. Melissa Ballard, a mom with a trans child, founded Dallas-Fort Worth Trans Kids and Families (DFWTKF) with 20 people in 2015. Today, the group boasts of more than 200 official members, another 100 unofficially, and 200 more who are children.
DFWTKF members recently appeared before the Texas Senate in Austin to testify against Senate Bill 6, which would prohibit transgender people from using restrooms based of their gender identity in government buildings—essentially banning them from public spaces. (At the time of this writing, SB6 had not passed.)
Additionally, the Trump administration recently reversed Obama-administration guidance directing public schools to allow trans students to use facilities based on their gender identity.
Aware of these multi-pronged threats to their children, DFWTKF organizes, writes to politicians, places calls, marches, and speaks with the media to advance recognition of their kids’ humanity. They are demanding to be heard and understood. “We all want the same thing. We want our children to be valued, safe, and accepted,” Ballard says.
Ballard launched DFWTKF with a single motto: “You are not alone.”
“I learned how helpful it is to be with others who are on the journey,” she says. “Statistics say that 1.4 percent of the population is transgender, but we think it is a larger portion than that. Right now, one in 134 American teens identifies as trans. Society hasn’t acknowledged or understood this, but we are here to make that change.”
Nancy and Lily
From the beginning, Houstonian Nancy Sims says her child was a miracle. Sims had been told she could not have children, so when she returned home from the hospital with her newborn, Sims was feeling blessed—a feeling that continues to this day.
Thirteen years later, on an ordinary evening, Sims was cleaning up after dinner when her teen said: “Please sit down, Mom. There is something I have to tell you. I’m a girl.”
“I just kept cleaning,” says Sims. “I didn’t hear her. It took a couple of minutes to get my full attention. Then Lily said: ‘I’m a girl, Mom! I have to tell you I’m a girl!’ When I finally heard her, my very first thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, my child is in danger.’”
Sims, a highly regarded college professor and communications specialist, has also spent her entire life as a cisgender advocate for the LGBTQ community. “I knew about the abuse and violence that trans people suffer, and I knew the trans suicide rate—about 40 percent. I thought, ‘That is not going to happen to my child. Not my daughter,’” remembers Sims.
The trans suicide rate dropped slightly in 2016, and another encouraging statistic also emerged: among trans kids who are accepted by family and friends, the suicide rate plummets to that of the general population.
“Lily and I went to counseling throughout her transition, which was great for both of us. It’s been difficult, but I am a person of deep faith, and I know God wants me to love my child unconditionally. Nothing else will do,” Sims says.
Now 16, Sims’ daughter, Lily Pando, is a vocal advocate for the LGBTQ community. She was invited to sit on Houston mayor Sylvester Turner’s LGBTQ Advisory Board as its only teen. Lily also speaks to high school students regularly. “My mom’s support plays a big role,” Lily says. “Her love allows me to be out and visible, which is how the trans community can really make a difference.”
“I am so proud of my daughter—her courage, her intelligence, and her willingness to speak out,” adds Sims. “My daughter really is a miracle. I landed the ‘daughter lottery’ with Lily Pando.”
Kimberly and Kai
Pearland resident Kimberly Shappley was an evangelical Christian and a straight-ticket Republican Tea Party member when she gave birth to Joseph six years ago. It was the beginning of a journey that changed her life.
Kai was only three when she announced she was a girl. The adjustment to this information wasn’t easy for either Kim or her daughter.
“I come from a large Southern family. My church and family were big elements in our lives. In my evangelical bubble, I knew nothing about transgender people. Nothing,” Shappley states.
“Then I read about conversion therapy, so I tried to change Kai. There were a lot of spankings and time-outs during this period. I tried to modify her behavior for a year. It was hell for both of us,” Shappley remembers.
One evening, Shappley overheard her child praying out loud. Kai was asking God to take “Joseph” home to be with Jesus and to never bring him back.
“It was just awful,” Shappley says. “I heard my child praying for her own death. I decided I would rather have a trans child than a dead child, so I dug in and read everything I could to help me understand.”
Shappley let Kai transition at age four. In response, she lost about 98 percent of her family and friends. “In reality, Kai never transitioned,” Shappley explains. “Kai has always been Kai. It was me who changed, me who transitioned.”
Today, Shappley reports that her daughter has bloomed into an outgoing, happy, funny child, and the warmth and compassion of the LGBTQ community filled the void left by her absent friends and family. She still identifies as a deeply dedicated Christian, but wonders how her prior beliefs could have drifted so far from the love and acceptance modeled by Jesus.
But is she still a Republican? “No. Even Republicans don’t want to be Republican anymore,” Shappley says, laughing out loud.
Attorney Phyllis Randolph Frye
OutSmart spoke with Houston attorney and longtime trans activist Phyllis Frye about trans kids and the legal process that goes along with transitioning.
Frye helps kids as young as five wade through the courts to obtain name and gender-marker changes, and one question she often hears is, “Maybe my kid is in a ‘trans phase.’ What if they change their mind?”
“That’s the beauty of the court order— it can be reversed easily, unlike surgery. Surgery goes in one direction only,” Frye says. “However, I have taken trans kids through the courts for more than 20 years now, and no child has ever gone back. Being trans is not a phase!”
What can we all do to help? “Parents need to come out as the parents of trans kids to everyone they know. They need to join their local PFLAG, Equality Texas, and the ACLU. Each should give their state politicians, their U.S. congressperson, and both senators a polite but firm earful. And each parent should get everyone they know to do the same,” Frye says.