This month, I’m excited to interview the amazing Stephanie Mott, executive director of K-STEP, Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project. In September, K-STEP sponsored the TransKansas Conference, the first-ever transgender conference in Kansas. Mott is an integral voice on issues for transgender people in Kansas and an emerging voice on the national level as a blogger for the Huffington Post. Stephanie is working each and every day to make things better for people in the LGBT community.
1. K-STEP has been a significant asset to the state of Kansas. How did this organization begin and when?
Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project (K-STEP) was formed in August 2010 in direct response to the failure of the Lawrence Human Relations Commission to recommend to the City Commission that gender identity should be included in the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance (November 2009). I received feedback from the HRC and others that even though I had lived and worked for nearly 30 years in the Lawrence area, because I was living in Topeka, I was considered an “outside” voice. The idea for K-STEP was born from that feedback, as it became clear that Kansas needed a statewide voice for transgender people. Fifteen people from around Kansas met in Salina, Kan., at the library on Aug. 14, 2010, and decided to form K-STEP. Eleven days later, we submitted paperwork and became incorporated as a nonprofit corporation in Kansas.
2. What does the average day for Stephanie Mott and K-STEP entail?
I work 40 hours per week as an office assistant/grant writer in the Shawnee County Commission office. I am currently taking nine hours of classes at Washburn University in pursuit of a Bachelor of Social Work degree. I am doing my practicum, 16 hours per week at Valeo Behavioral Health Care, working with people with severe persistent mental illness. In addition to serving as the executive director of K-STEP, I am the state board chair for Equality Kansas [previously Kansas Equality Coalition>, vice president of the Topeka Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and a commissioner on the City of Topeka Human Relations Commission.
The average day is very busy. Some part of the average day is normally dedicated to each of these commitments. I am also the adopted mom for a cat named Mr. Kitty.
3. The TransKansas Conference in September was the first of its kind in Kansas. What a great accomplishment! To begin with, how did the idea for this conference come about and how long did it take to plan?
Thank you. The idea for this conference came from the first time I spoke at a national conference. It was outside of Washington, D.C., for the International Foundation for Gender Education. Sitting at a table during the conference banquet, I looked around and there were transgender people everywhere. Everyone was in a space where they could just be totally who they truly were, without fear and in absolute, honest freedom. I cried a little, happy tears, and I promised myself to one day help create a space like that in Kansas. This was April 24, 2010.
K-STEP began preparing for a conference in mid-2011. About 18 months ago, we committed to doing a conference in 2013. When Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center agreed to let us use their space, we began planning in earnest in late 2012.
4. What topics were covered at the conference?
We had 19 workshops and a debriefing meeting over the span of Sept. 6-8. The topics included transgender public policy, transgender rights, medical care, therapy, spirituality, family of trans* persons, hair removal, creating safe spaces, and more. The full schedule can be found at http://transkansas.com/schedule.pdf. On Saturday evening, the 7th, we had a banquet at the Lawrence Holidome. Nathan Phelps, the estranged son of Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church, was our keynote speaker. And I will tell you that when I looked around the room, there were many transgender people who were able to be totally who they truly were, without fear and in absolute, honest freedom.
5. How many people attended? Are there plans in the works for a second annual conference?
We had about 100 attendees for the conference, and about 70 for the banquet. We covered our costs plus not quite $250 more. This will be helpful as we have already started planning TransKansas II. It will be in Wichita and is tentatively planned for July 2014. We are hoping to involve lots of people in the planning. Kansas organizations and individuals who are interested in helping with planning the conference should contact Alexander Earles, TransKansas II planning committee chair, at email@example.com.
6. Now that it’s behind you, what was the most fulfilling aspect of the conference?
Clearly, knowing that K-STEP was able to create that kind of space in Kansas was wonderfully fulfilling. This conference seemed like an impossible dream in a state where discrimination is a part of everyday life for far too many people. It seemed like it might have been more than K-STEP could do, at first. I can’t tell you how many people and organizations joined with K-STEP to help make this happen.
7. What is the most important thing for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people to know and understand about transgender people?
Before I answer that question, I would like to say what I think is the most important thing for transgender people to know about LGB people. Just because someone is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, there is no reason to expect them to understand what it is like to be transgender. It is totally illogical to expect LGB people to have some inherent understanding of what it’s like to have your inside not match your outside.
That said, it is just that simple. My inside did not match my outside. Transgender people have a whole range of identities. Sometimes, we’re not sure about our identity. Sometimes, we know it without doubt. I did not become a woman. I stopped pretending to be a man. The real thing we all need to know about each other is that people don’t fit in boxes.
8. There is a big issue with transgender youth and homelessness. How can we as a community help these kids?
I wish I knew the answer to this, especially when the person is under the age of 18. In Kansas, and I don’t know about Missouri, helping a minor child to run away from their home, or sheltering a minor child, is a felony. What has to happen is laws need to change. I believe that it takes both political action and education. I believe that in the next five to 10 years, we will see progress even more amazing than the progress we have seen in the last five to 10 years. I believe that our most effective tool is positive transgender (LGBT) visibility. I believe that the best thing we can do is to get involved in the community with helping other people who are poor and oppressed.
The things we most need to do include voting in every election, no matter what, working in our local governments to effect change, and letting people get to know us as caring, loving human beings.
9. OK, I’ve asked a number of serious questions, so let me have some fun with the last two. What do you like to do for fun?
I love to write. I try to write in a way that it seems like I am standing next to you and having a conversation with a friend. One day, I hope to be able to write for a living. That might be the most significant thing on my bucket list.
I love to sing. Singing is good for the soul. There’s no possibility that I will ever appear on The Voice or American Idol, but I am thinking about some YouTube clips at some point in the future.
I love to play the piano. It offers me great release from the tensions of being an activist.
I love to play Apples to Apples with friends. And laugh until it hurts.
10. If you could be any cookie, what would you be?
I would be a snickerdoodle — full of sugar and spice and everything nice.”