Katherine Prescott's transgender son, Kyler, took his own life after being bullied online. Still in mourning since his death in May, Prescott is urging people to get behind a family friend's effort to bring more resources and support services to trans teens and their families.
"It is my hope that Kathie will have the opportunity to support many trans youth and their families, so that we as a community can better embrace these amazing kids," Prescott, 47, of San Diego, tells The Advocate.
"Kathie" is Kathie Moehlig, a local advocate for transgender rights and mother of a 13-year-old son named Sam, who is also transgender.
"Since Kyler passed, I have a far deeper sense of urgency to get this out there; this void I think we can fill," Moehlig tells The Advocate during an interview at her home in San Diego's Rancho Bernardo neighborhood.
In the wake of Kyler's death, Moehlig has launched Trans Family Support Services, and she is currently in the process of securing nonprofit status. Already, the group is providing local families with intrafamilial coaching and support and advocacy around educational issues specific to trans youth, in addition to guidance navigating the health care system — for parents and for their trans children — and the myriad legal concerns that come with being or loving someone who is transgender.
Early efforts to launch the group were under way even before Kyler's death. Moehlig helped the Prescotts deal with the onslaught of media attention that quickly followed their son's death by suicide. Advocating for the Prescott family crystallized in Moehlig's mind the need for the organization's mission, and accelerted the pace at which Trans Family Support Services took shape.
"I'm an ordained minister, so for me to say that I 'minister to the Prescott family' is an easy thing to say," Moehlig says. "I don't know if they would put it that way. But when Katherine called me and told me what happened, immediately my thought was I have to drop everything and get over there now."
The Prescotts live about 25 minutes by car from San Diego, in the city of Vista.
"They were devastated," Moehlig recalls. For several days, Katherine Prescott was unable to stop crying. She couldn't sleep or eat. Meanwhile, the requests for interviews from local and national media outlets were nonstop.
"I don't think any of us slept for about 48 hours," Moehlig reflects. "I acted as the family spokesperson and I used my training and empathy to just be there for Katherine, especially."
Moehlig is involved with and lauds the work done by existing LGBT groups and clinicians aimed at improving the lives of transgender youth in the area. Those include the San Diego LGBT Community Center and Rady Children's Hospital, which has a widely respected gender-management program.
But, Moehlig says, there are needs that specifically relate to the complex issues that come with being a family with one or more transgender members. And right now, those needs are going unmet. That's exactly what Trans Family Support Services is focused on addressing.
"There are a lot of good organizations out there," Moehlig acknowledges. "But there is a need for a holistic approach to the families of transgender kids. I think we're going to be able to do a lot of good work in that regard."
While the transgender community, writ large, is enjoying a moment in the media spotlight, many average transgender Americans live in paradoxical situations, where acceptance of gender and sexual diversity can be found alongside residual anti-LGBT bigotry.
Indeed, American culture is experiencing an increasing awareness and tolerance of transgender people, thanks in large part to the openness of celebrities and public figures including Janet Mock, Laverne Cox, and of course, most recently, Caitlyn Jenner. Still, no one can argue that it's easy to be transgender today — even in relatively liberal Southern California. Even in San Diego.
"Kyler had been bullied online, which was followed by a dive back into depression that we believe hadn't been there for a while," Moehlig says, noting that Kyler, a vegan, was also hit hard by the loss of a pet parakeet named Momo.
"Momo could nearly always be found perched somewhere on Kyler's body," Moehlig explains. "Momo died, and Kyler was very connected to Momo and all animals. The Prescotts also had chickens. First one chicken died, then another one died."
Media reports said that Kyler, who was 14 at the time of his death, had begun cutting himself after being bullied online. It was a battle he had faced before, though he had stopped cutting for nearly two years, said one report.
"We really don't want to emphasize that," Moehlig says. "What we want to do is remember Kyler for the amazing boy he was, and do what we can to ensure that trans kids feel safe and accepted at school and in the community. Kyler was loved so much by his family and friends."
San Diego has been shaken by a series of deaths by suicide of transgender teens. Kyler's was the third in as many months.
"These kids are everyone's children," says one longtime LGBT rights activist, City Commissioner Nicole Murray-Ramirez. "They not only belong to the families who loved and accepted them, in these particular cases of transgender kids who died recently, but they belong to the LGBT community, to elected officials, and to the schools where they go to learn every day, as well. They have to be able to feel safe not only at home but also at school and in the community. It's up to officials and people in charge to make sure transgender youth do feel safe on the streets, in public spaces, and especially at school."
Sam Moehlig, Kathie's son, first met Kyler at a support group for transgender youth at the San Diego LGBT Community Center's Transforming Families program.
"We met like four or five times," the younger Moehlig tells The Advocate. "We weren't like crazy-tight or best friends, but we were close enough that it hurts that he's gone. We weren't on the exact same path, but we both knew what it was like to be not like everyone else. It's like when someone says, 'I understand how hard it must be for you,' but they're not transgender. When you meet another trans boy around your age, you know they really do understand."
Listening intently as her son explains what it's like to be a 13-year-old transgender boy in Southern California's affluent suburbs circa 2015, Moehlig reveals that her son was adopted as an infant. Sam chimes in to say that he feels lucky to have been adopted by a family like the Moehligs, who have loved and accepted him no matter what.
But the young Moehlig is lucky in another way, he says: "When I transitioned, the depression and everything stopped. For Kyler, it didn't."
Still reeling from the pain of losing her beloved son Kyler, Prescott has not said if she will take an active role in Moehlig's organization. But Moehlig is sure that, if Prescott approves of the idea, Trans Family Support Services will name one of its programs in honor of her son.
"I tragically lost my son Kyler, but I hope that his story helps more families understand the needs of their transgender kids," Prescott says. "Kathie Moehlig is just the person these families will need to support them in their journeys and to help their kids live their dream of being their true, authentic selves."
Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page has been established to help the Prescotts create the Kyler Prescott Courage Garden. So far, more than $12,000 has been raised. More information can be found at Kyler Prescott's memorial Facebook page.