Brave 11-year-old trans girl who shamed hateful lawmakers is finalist for TIME’s Kid of the Year

Kai Shappley holding a sign

An 11-year-old trans girl from Texas who battled against the state’s anti-trans bills is a finalist for TIME‘s “Kid of the Year” award.

Kai Shappley, the Austin local and diehard Dolly Parton fan, stood before a Texas Senate committee last year as legislators considered cruelly banning gender-affirming care for young people.

The actor and her mother quickly became known by Texas lawmakers during the 2021 legislative session – but this wasn’t the only time her family squared off against the state.

In 2017, a proposed law to restrict trans people’s use of public bathrooms sunk because of efforts by Shappley, who was six at the time when she and her mother shamed its proponents and supporters.

Now, Shappley is one of 20 finalists for the top TIME and Nickoledon award that honours young leaders in areas such as social justice, science and education, according to a news release.

Kai Shappley was ‘born with this strength,’ says mother

Kai explained that efforts by Republicans across the country who have treated trans kids almost as a wedge issue to short up votes has left her demoralised.

“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 said. “God made me. God loves me for who I am. And God does not make mistakes.”

To her mother, Kai has long been a source of resilience to those around her.

“Kai was born with this strength,” Kai’s mother, Kimberly Shappley, told Austin television station KXAN.

“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.

“Being the mother of a transgender child who’s consistently under attack, being her mum has made me a better person. It’s made me a better Christian.

“It’s made me a better neighbour. It’s made me a better friend. It’s made me a better mum to all of my kids.”

Against bills that described life-saving gender-affirming treatments as tantamount to “child abuse”, Shappley testified for the first time by herself in April. Some legislators, she said, couldn’t even look her in the eye as she spoke.

“Mom was like: ‘I’ll go up there with you,'” she recalled. “But I said: ‘I think I’m strong enough to talk for myself now’.”

“I love ballet, math, science, and geology,” Shappley told the committee at the time.

“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.”

When neither of the bills passed, Texas governor Greg Abbott later signed a disgraceful bill in October barring trans students from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity.

Abbott was not alone. Alarming activists and igniting fear in the parents and guardians of trans teens, more than 130 anti-trans bills were pushed by state legislatures in 2021, according to the Human Rights Watch.

Only this week did the South Dakota senate push through a trans sports ban, becoming the first chamber to do so in 2022.

“It makes me want to keep on going, knowing that there are so many people who rely on me,” Kai Shappley told TIME.

“Activism matters to me because it is a way to show that we belong.

“It’s a way to show that we will fight for what is right. We won’t sit silent.”