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One Missouri family has decided to move to a state with more protections for LGBTQ+ families

Three blonde children look over a railing into a leafy area. The child on the left puts her arm around the other two.
Kassidy Arena
(From left to right) "Violet," "James" and "Em" look out into their backyard in Columbia Tuesday, May 16. They had a few seconds to pose together before running off to their prospective after school activities.

Katherine Sasser showed off her two-story house in Columbia. She described her backyard as a "wonder."

The carpets in the house are freshly vacuumed and the three kids’ rooms are clean and tidy so she and her family are ready for when they move.

But they’re not moving for fun, or for a job. Sasser and her family are moving because they no longer feel safe in the state.

“I can’t tell you how grueling the last couple of months have been and how hard it was when we were before the decision," Sasser remembered. "But now that we’ve made our decision, it’s not easy to say goodbye. It’s not easy to be in transition. But I know that we’re doing the right thing for our family.”

Sasser has a blended family. She and her girlfriend Kelly, along with Sasser’s ex-husband and his fiancée, raise three children together. They are all moving out of state. For their privacy, they will be using pseudonyms. "James" is the youngest, with "Violet" in the middle and "Em" is the oldest.

Em identifies within the LGBTQ+ community and is transgender. She loves to play soccer, much like her younger siblings who also love sports. But one thing that differentiates Em from her sister Violet, is that she loves math.

Family Decision

Sasser and her now ex-husband noticed Em didn't always act like her assigned sex at birth. Sasser remembered at one point, when Em was three years old, she tried to dress Em in a dinosaur shirt and cargo pants. "And she refused to put them on," Sasser said.

She learned, through much research and many conversations, that it was better for her daughter's wellbeing to support Em rather than pressure her to act or dress a certain way.

"What I learned through that process was trying to negotiate her experience to protect her actually was shutting her down," Sasser said. "It was actually creating an environment where she couldn't be herself."

Sasser had been a teacher for 10 years in Columbia and recently stepped down from her role as a member of the Columbia School Board.

“As a family, we have made the difficult but necessary decision that Missouri is no longer a safe place for us," she said at a school board meeting Monday, May 8 when she announced her resignation.

She cited a bill passed by the legislature that effectively bans trans children from playing school sports on a team that matches their gender identity.If a school does allow it, they will lose state funding. Another bill awaiting the Governor’s signature will ban some health care for trans children–like puberty blockers and hormone prescriptions.

These types of actions are the same kinds that eight-year-old Violet testified against in the Missouri Legislature last year. Here's a portion of her testimony that she wrote herself: "For all of Em's life, people have been telling her she's not allowed to be herself. And this legislation is doing just that—it's telling her and kids like her that it's not safe for them to be themselves."

The American Civil Liberties Union has been tracking 48 bills in Missouri labeled as anti-LGBTQ. Texas is the only state with more bills being tracked, at 52. In April, Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency order that placed restrictions on gender-affirming care for all ages. Bailey has since withdrawn the emergency ruling, citing the legislature's bills.

To all the adults who are acting unkindly, why are you acting unkindly?

And it's actions like these that Sasser doesn't want her family to be exposed to.

“We support and care about our kids and are going to make every decision that we need to so that they can be safe, so that they can show up as their full selves," she said. "Because really, these conversations, both the laws and what gets normalized in the conversation about trans kids, makes it no longer safe for us.”

Sasser said she thinks much of the anti-trans conversations she hears stem from misinformation. For one, Sasser said, Em's gender-affirming care at age 11 just includes consultations every six months with an endocrinologist. They talk about how things are going and what future care looks like on the medical side.

The Big Move

The whole family is moving to Colorado, a place they feel they can be their full selves without fear of retribution from the state. Em, Violet and James are particularly excited for the new things they’ll try out there.

James said quietly: "Snowboarding."

Violet quickly added on: "I'm going along with snowboarding. Like skiing..."

Em waited until her siblings were done speaking before she shared, "I really just want to continue my sports and like, find new friends and people.”

Colorful maps of the world hang in frames on a white wall.
Kassidy Arena
Em created a series of maps when she was in kindergarten, they hang in the hallways of the family's home, which they hope to sell soon.

And even though she has lived in Columbia for 20 years, Sasser said she’s excited about the fresh start too–to be in a place where she can keep it simple.

“I think that the lightness of not having to fight for my kids’ humanity in the place that I live is going to be such a freeing feeling," she said with a smile.

Em wants Missouri adults and lawmakers to understand something about her and other transgender kids.

“Adults are stuck on one path. Like some adults are stuck on one path. Like, I think as a kid, you're more open to like, different paths that you can take. But as an adult, you're like there and you have to continue on. And I think that that's limiting the resources," Em said.

Although Em's mom Katherine Sasser didn't necessarily want to leave Missouri and step down from a role where she provided LGBTQ+ representation, she thinks many more people will be in similar positions as her family and will eventually leave the state. Her children earn high test scores, she and her family contribute to the economy and invest in the education system—she said, "A family who is contributing to its community in lots of different ways. And you're telling us that we're not welcome."

Before she slid under the table, done with the interview, Em asked one more thing: “To all the adults who are acting unkindly, why are you acting unkindly? And is it for the right reason?”

For the audio transcript, click here.

Kassidy Arena was the Engagement Producer for KBIA from 2022-2023. In her role, she reported and produced stories highlighting underrepresented communities, focused on community outreach and promoting media literacy. She was born in Berkeley, California, raised in Omaha, Nebraska and graduated with a degree in Journalism at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
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