Samantha's Corner - April, 2019

Stephanie Mott speaking on the steps of the Kansas Capitol in Topeka, Ks at 2015 rally to protest former Kansas Governor Sam Brownback's removal of protection from discrimination for LGBT people in Kansas. Photo: J. Long

As spring is upon us, we have many exciting things on the horizon. And we’ve been mourning the loss of one of our area’s most active and vocal transgender activists, Stephanie Mott.

First, we have so many things planned over the next two months that it almost makes my head spin. While traffic was down due to the bitter cold this winter, our contact points were up in all categories.

We are actively planning our LGBTQ+ Forum with the AIDS Service Foundation and The Whole Person on April 4, our April 19 Mayoral Forum, and our Queer Teen Prom on May 3. We are also developing programming on topics about asexual, intersex and polyamorous identities. On the horizon is an educational series on difficult subjects, such as conversion therapy, decriminalization of HIV, and consent in the gay culture. Our most significant program for 2019 will be a jobs fair late this summer.

One important change and testament to our growth is the addition of staff, via the VISTA Volunteer Program. Please join me in welcoming our AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, Zachary Daniel Mallory. Zach is working with Literacy KC. The organization seeks to advance literacy with direct services and advocacy, and collaborates with communities, families, and individuals to improve literacy skills and enhance quality of life. He is very passionate about his advocacy work and is excited to be working with the Kansas City Center for Inclusion, and we are thrilled to have him as our volunteer coordinator and to help with grant writing.

March also included outreach and further collaboration around the metro.  We spent two days in Independence, Missouri, conducting listening sessions and surveys on the needs of the local community. We hosted a Queer Watch Party along with VisitKC and Prairiefire. We also announced our collaboration with the Kansas City United Church of Christ on a LGBTQ+ Wedding Fair and with the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce on our Mayoral Forum.

In March, we attended the MAGLCC Transgender Day of Visibility event and the UMKC Pride Breakfast. At the breakfast, we were guests of SAVE Inc. and got to listen to some tremendous speakers tell their stories of empowerment. The keynote speaker was Sarah McBride, the press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign and a transgender activist. She talked about the importance of being impatient, that the fight for equality is now and not something to compromise. At that point, my thoughts moved to the loss of Stephanie Mott and her fight for the now!

She passed away on March 4, after suffering a heart attack the previous night. Devastated does not even begin to describe our painful feelings in her absence. Stephanie was an LGBTQ leader in the fight for equality and worked tirelessly and selflessly to move public opinion and change discriminatory laws and policies. She was a champion for the most vulnerable and founded Kansas Statewide Transgender Equality Project, was the vice chair of Equality Kansas, and even successfully ran for a Democratic seat in the Kansas House of Representatives in 2015. She was a mental health advocate, working as mental health clinician,n and held a master’s degree in social work from Washburn University.

I am deeply grieved by her passing.  Stephanie was an inspiration and early role model to me. We both grew up in rural Kansas and had similar experiences growing up. I felt a connection to her, knowing I was not alone in my feelings and struggles. I was lucky enough to have attended one of her workshops. She often advocated around the country about being a Christian trans woman, about her work, and her triumphs and tribulations. Stephanie struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse at a young age, and in 2005 she became homeless. However, this was the most blessed time of her life, because it put her on the path to transition and life as the woman she always was. It was also during this time that she began attending the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, which welcomes transgender folks, and “before God and everybody,” she could be “Stephanie.”

In 2016, Stephanie sued the Kansas Department of Health and Environment [KDHE] to legally change her gender on her birth certificate, but in 2017, the case was dismissed, because the Supreme Court does not make decisions on policies, only laws. In response to her case, the KDHE responded with “[We] do not have authority to change an individual’s birth certificate with the exception of minor correction or by court order. Gender identity would not be considered a minor correction.” Minor corrections include changing “clerical errors” for cis-normative individuals who had their genders incorrect due to error by the state.

In October 2018, New York City-based Lambda Legal Defense Education Fund filed another lawsuit against KDHE to change the policy about birth certificates. This discriminatory policy is addressed in Lambda’s lawsuit, and it also cites how incorrect sex on birth certificates causes harm and violates rights to equal protection of identity and self, and outs trans individuals and discloses personal information. Given that discrimination is still common, this causes major ramification to individuals and their lives and occupation and complicates normal life.

Currently, Kansas is one of three states that has this “no exceptions” policy, the other two being Tennessee and Ohio. Thirty-five other states allow either gender change after sex reassignment surgery, or without, while other states have unclear policies. In Kansas, individuals can have their gender changed on their driver’s licenses, and on the federal level, may change their Social Security information and passports.

Changing a birth certificate isn’t just about crossing ‘t’s” and dotting “i’s;” it’s about living genuinely.

Samantha Ruggles is executive director for the Kansas City Center for Inclusion.

Photo by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash

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