A Kansas activist known for her work on transgender issues has died. Stephanie Mott, 61, was a mental health clinician, LGBTQ advocate and prolific public speaker who traveled the country to share her experiences as a transgender Christian woman.
Mott served as the vice chair of Equality Kansas, chaired the LGBTQ caucus of the Kansas Democrats and founded the Kansas Statewide Transgender Equality Project.
Friend and colleague Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said Mott played an important role in fighting against policies that could have negatively affected transgender people’s lives.
“She helped make fighting those kinds of discriminatory laws our priority,” Witt said in an interview. “There’s a hole in our organization now that can never be filled.”
Mott was admitted to Stormont Vail Hospital in Topeka late Sunday night. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports she suffered an apparent heart attack and died on Monday.
Mott was born in 1957 in Lawrence, Kansas. According to her website, she grew up on a small farm outside of Eudora, with two sisters, two brothers and parents she described as loving and good providers.
Mott was assigned male at birth and lived as a man for most of her life. She knew from an early age that she was transgender.
“The very first thing I remember knowing about myself was that inside, I was like my sisters, and outside, I was like my brothers,” Mott told KCUR in a 2012 interview. “I was leading a double life by the time I was six or seven years old.”
As a child, she spent hours flipping through the Encyclopedia Britannica, trying to find out more about herself. Mott told KCUR that all she knew was that she wouldn’t be accepted by the people around her.
“They felt like, that people like me were an abomination before God, and that was very difficult for me to deal with,” Mott said. “This was the only thing that I couldn’t talk to my parents about.”
As an adult, Mott struggled with alcohol and drug use. She told KCUR she dropped out of college and got married, and then divorced, at a young age.
“There was no real chance for me to be the person I was supposed to be,” she said, “and to take part in life with joy and happiness.”
Mott eventually became homeless in 2005. It was the turning point that led to her transition.
“It turns out that it was the most blessed thing that could have ever happened to me,” she told KCUR. “I made the decision to do what I needed to do, to be able to live as a woman.”
She got herself into addiction treatment and saw a therapist about her gender identity. In July 2006, she joined the Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, on the invitation of a friend who told her it welcomed transgender members. Two weeks later, Mott began coming to church under her new name, Stephanie.
“I got to be Stephanie in front of God and everybody. And it was okay, and it was beautiful, and it was amazing,” Mott said. “And I haven’t looked back since.”
In the following years, Mott jumped into local, state and national activism. In 2010, she helped found the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, known as KSTEP, and served as executive director and president.
In 2011, Mott began traveling the country, speaking at churches about her experiences as a Christian transgender woman. In 2015, she ran unsuccessfully for an empty Democratic seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. She earned bachelor’s and master's degrees in social work at Washburn University and got a job at Valeo Behavioral Health Care in Topeka.
Mott wrote songs about her identity, faith and politics and posted performances on Youtube. One song, called “I Just Came in Here to Pee,” criticized proposed legislation that would have forbidden transgender people from using public bathrooms consistent with their gender identities.
As a part of Equality Kansas, Mott played a major role in the organization’s lawsuit against then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s proposed voter ID requirements in 2013, according to executive director Tom Witt.
Mott also served as a plaintiff on other lawsuits pertaining to LGBTQ rights. In 2016, she sued the Kansas Department of Health and Environment so she could change the gender on her birth certificate to female. She eventually dropped the suit, but KSTEP became a plaintiff in a 2018 federal lawsuit filed by New York City-based Lambda Legal on behalf of transgender Kansans seeking to change their birth certificates.
Elected officials, activist organizations and community members reacted with shock and sadness following news of Mott’s death on Monday.
In a post on Twitter, Gov. Laura Kelly called Mott a “champion for equality.”
“She will be missed,” she said, “but her advocacy to improve Kansas will be remembered.”
Stephanie Mott was a champion for equality and a role model for the LGBTQ+ community. She will be missed, but her advocacy to improve Kansas will be remembered. https://t.co/w0Ck57g3FF
— Laura Kelly (@LauraKellyKS) March 5, 2019
Lambda Legal issued a statement calling Mott “a mighty hero.”
A post on the Facebook page of Equality Kansas also mourns Mott: “Stephanie served unselfishly, often putting the needs of the Kansas LGBT community ahead of her own,” the post reads. “We cannot find adequate words to express our grief at her passing.”
In 2012, Mott told KCUR she didn’t want to force people to change their minds if they didn’t agree with her existence.
“I believe that God created me exactly the way that God intended to create me,” she said. “The better job I do of exposing my humanity, the more difficult it is for someone to justify discrimination.”
Nomin Ujiyediin is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @NominUJ.
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