Kai Shappley, a Pearland native who now lives in Austin, is the inspiration for the function size documentary, Mama Bears, which premiered at South by Southwest on March 13. Now simply eleven years outdated, Kai turned a nationally acknowledged activist 5 years in the past after she and her conservative Christian mom, Kimberly Shappley, started difficult laws concentrating on trans folks in Texas. In 2017, she appeared on the Texas Capitol sitting on her mom’s lap whereas her mom testified in opposition to SB 91, a invoice that aimed to stop transgender folks from utilizing the restrooms that matched their gender identities. In 2021, Kai returned to the Capitol, this time to testify by herself in opposition to SB 1311 and SB 1646, which aimed to criminalize gender-affirming medical remedy for trans kids and classify it as “child abuse.”
Their activism caught the eye of filmmaker Daresha Kyi, who was commissioned by the ACLU to direct a quick documentary about Kai and Kimberly, Trans in America: Texas Strong. The movie gained an Emmy for Outstanding Short Documentary and thru Kimberly, Kyi realized of the Facebook group Mama Bears, which serves as an area for moms of LGBTQ kids. Kyi started increasing the quick on Kai right into a function that features two different devoutly Christian households within the group.
In Oklahoma, we meet Sara Cunningham, a mom who spent days in mattress, shocked after her son, Parker, got here out to her when he was 21 years outdated. And in California, Tenita Lewis Artry nonetheless struggles to just accept that her grownup daughter, Tammi Terrell Morris, is a lesbian. Mama Bears takes a considerate have a look at the relationships between Kai, Parker, and Tammi and their moms as they reconcile their religion with their love for his or her LGBTQ kids.
Read More: Is It Illegal to Have a Transgender Child in Texas?
Although the movie depicts a group of moms excited to have discovered others who’re on related journeys, the group appears to supply solely a tenuous connection between the households on the coronary heart of the documentary. Sara, Parker’s mom, seems to be the group’s most energetic participant, attending Mama Bears meetups and Pride marches and even beginning Free Mom Hugs, a LGBTQ advocacy nonprofit. It’s unclear whether or not Tammi’s mom is a member of Mama Bears, but it surely appears unlikely as a result of just a little greater than midway by the documentary, we’re knowledgeable that Tenita has determined to cease taking part in filming. Finding the Mama Bears group helps Tammi higher perceive her personal mom, however extra vital, it leads her to the Reformation Project, a corporation that promotes LGBTQ inclusion in church buildings. For her half, Kimberly shares with the Facebook group how her final church “tried to cast demons out of” Kai and asks different members for prayer and “guidance to make wise choices to raise [Kai] well.” But aside from that, the movie doesn’t spend a lot time delving into Kimberly’s relationship with Mama Bears, both.
While the Mama Bears connection feels barely contrived, the documentary is nonetheless highly effective when it explores every character’s understanding of gender, sexuality, and Christianity. Parker talks about how he would learn the Bible looking for verses that affirmed him, solely to return away feeling as if “God’s love does have a limit.” Tammi grew up in a group that believed an individual couldn’t be brazenly homosexual and a Christian, and she or he even recounts how after her nephew died on her birthday, a relative basically blamed his demise on her sexuality. The expertise was so traumatic it drove Tammi again into the closet and into a wedding with a person. Ultimately, Kimberly’s and Sara’s love for his or her kids led them to new understandings of Christianity. “The truth is that Kai has made me a better Christian,” Kimberly says.
There are quiet and triumphant, if bittersweet, conclusions to Parker and Tammi’s tales within the movie. Parker now accompanies his mother on excursions for Free Mom Hugs. And though Tenita disappears from the documentary, Tammi insists that her mom nonetheless loves and helps her. Plus, after a long time of denying her personal sexuality, Tammi is brazenly in a relationship with a lady. But Kai’s story is a little more difficult. As a trans lady underneath eighteen dwelling in Texas, she faces totally different challenges than Parker and Tammi.
The Shappleys spend a lot of the documentary combating in opposition to 2017’s toilet payments, after the Pearland ISD superintendent testified in assist of them and Kai’s college preemptively enforced them, outing her as a trans lady and proscribing her to the lavatory within the nurse’s workplace. The previous couple of scenes with Kai embody a go to from the late Monica Roberts, a Black transgender journalist from Houston who ran the weblog TransGriot. Kai is aware of her merely as “Aunt Monica.” Roberts died in 2020, however she left behind a legacy of Black and trans activism. During her go to with the Shappleys, she affords wofreelancertamals of encouragement to a weary Kimberly. “It’s only going to get better, we are going to win,” Roberts says. “This is a rough patch that we’re going through right now, but I really and truly believe that we are on the correct side of human history, and we will win this.”
Her prophecy in regards to the toilet payments ultimately proved true; the payments failed. And so did the 2021 payments in search of to categorise gender-affirming medical look after trans kids as baby abuse. But the concepts behind these 2021 payments stay on: earlier this 12 months, an opinion from Attorney General Ken Paxton spurred a letter from Texas governor Greg Abbott directing the Department of Family and Protective Services to research dad and mom of trans kids for baby abuse. And there are a minimum of a couple of hundred anti-trans payments into account throughout the nation. Roberts’s wofreelancertamals provide a timeless beacon of hope for Kai, Kimberly, and households like theirs, however one can’t assist however surprise simply what number of tough patches they’ll should climate.