An 11-year-old Texas transgender girl who testified against anti-trans legislation is a finalist for Time's Kid of the Year.
Kai Shappley of Austin testified before a Texas Senate committee last April when two bills banning gender-affirming care for young people were under consideration; one would even have classified providing such care as child abuse.
"I love ballet, math, science, and geology," she told the committee by way of introduction. "I spend my free time with my cats, chickens, FaceTiming my friends, and dreaming of when I finally get to meet Dolly Parton. I do not like spending my free time asking adults to make good choices."
"It makes me sad that some politicians use trans kids like me to get votes from people who hate me just because I exist," she went on. "God made me. God loves me for who I am. And God does not make mistakes."
Video of Shappley's testimony quickly went viral. The bills did not ultimately pass, although Texas legislators did later approve a bill barring trans student athletes from participating in sports under their gender identity, and Gov. Greg Abbott signed it into law.
Shappley is no stranger to the public eye. She had met with state and national lawmakers previously and spoken at many rallies, although last year's appearance at the Texas Senate marked the first time she'd testified to legislators on her own; she had usually been accompanied by her mother. She has acted on stage and television and was the subject of an Emmy-winning documentary, Trans in America: Texas Strong.
"Shappley is a force of nature," Time reports. "At only 11 years old, the trans rights activist has built a following online; children and adults have written to her saying she's inspired them to come out."
"It makes me want to keep on going, knowing that there are so many people who rely on me," she told Time.
She was only 5 when she first watched her mother, Kimberly, testify against anti-trans legislation in Texas, and the two soon began appearing together. By 2020, Kai decided she was ready to go solo. She spoke at the funeral of trans activist Monica Roberts, who'd been a mentor to her.
"Mom was like, 'I'll go up there with you,'" Kai Shappley told Time. "But I said, 'I think I'm strong enough to talk for myself now.'"
"Kai was born with this strength. This isn't anything that she was taught. It's just who she is. It's why she was able to transition at a young early age," Kimberly told Austin TV station KXAN. "Being the mother of a transgender child who's consistently under attack, being her mom has made me a better person. It's made me a better Christian. It's made me a better neighbor. It's made me a better friend. It's made me a better mom to all of my kids."
Kai is one of seven children. The family has moved several times in search of a more welcoming environment, most recently, in 2018, from Pearland, a suburb of Houston, to Austin. Kai's school in Pearland had refused to let her use the girls' restroom. The family will move away from Texas at some point.
But Kai's activism will continue, she said. "I'm a bold and strong, independent little lady," she told KXAN, "and I will keep fighting for as long as I need to."