The inspiration for the TransKansas conference came to Stephanie Mott in February 2010, when she was attending a similar conference elsewhere in the country.
"For the only time at that part of my life, I sat there as a transgender person and I was in the majority," Mott said. And the people around her, "they were free." They could be who they were without having to worry how others would receive them, she said.
Mott, the executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, or K-STEP, decided to bring a similar conference to Kansas. This weekend saw the inauguration of the Kansas conference, drawing about 100 people to speak and learn about transgender issues.
Workshops on everything from spirituality to public policy to hair removal were held at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday night, K-STEP held a banquet at the Lawrence Holiday Inn, featuring keynote speaker Nathan Phelps — the son of Fred Phelps, pastor with the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, which has led public demonstrations against homosexuality at the funerals of dead U.S. soldiers.
Today Nathan Phelps, who lives in Canada, is an LGBT advocate, often speaking in and around Kansas, including Topeka. He says that part of his efforts in the area are an attempt to try to "undo some of the damage" done by his father's church.
Saturday evening, Phelps pointed to the "profound level of ignorance and fear out there" over transgender issues.
Mott, who spent most of her life living as a man before transitioning to a woman, says most of the people she's talked to in Kansas are either of the "live and let live variety" or they don't fully understand what being transgendered is. Her goal is to try to educate people by expressing who she is.
"I'm the only one who can really know who's in here," she said. "But who I am is just as natural."
Mott said a second TransKansas conference is in the works, but she doesn't know yet where or when it will be held. K-Step, formed in August 2010, has given 200 presentations on transgender issues across the state.