Kimberly A. Lightford and Heather Steans are women of power and influence in the Illinois Senate.
Lightford, the first African American woman to serve as Senate Majority Leader, represents the 4th District, based in the western suburbs. She’s a leading candidate to become Illinois’ next Senate President.
Steans, from the 7th District on Chicago’s North Side, was a force behind passing the landmark legislation that legalized cannabis in Illinois.
Yet, what bonds them, intimately and fiercely, are their sons. Once sons, now daughters. Both women have transgender children who are transitioning to female.
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They shared their life-changing story in a recent interview at a River North restaurant.
They ran into each other after a busy session in Springfield.
“How is Isaiah?” Steans asked.
Lightford replied: “Isaiah is no longer!”
“Really?” Steans replied.
Lightford: “Isaiah is transgender, and he’s transitioning.”
Steans: “Is he she or they, or is he they or she?” Steans asked.
They laughed. It’s been a journey.
Isaiah is now 18. At 18 months, Lightford knew her boy was “feminine.”
By the time he was 3, “the hand, and the movement, you know. He was just gorgeous,” Lightford explained. “The lashes were just out to here, hair pretty, just a pretty baby.”
Isaiah suffered for it. He was bullied at school. He had no friends. His grades were sliding. He became suicidal.
He came out as gay at 14. She already knew, she told him.
Then, last March, Isaiah, now a college freshman, came home for spring break.
“I called him ‘Isaiah,’ like I do every morning,” Lightford recalls. “And he just came in, busted on my door, and it was like, ‘Don’t call me that!’ ”
“And it startled me. And I said, ‘Well, what should I call you?’ ”
“Isaiah is no longer,” he replied.
She is Zariah.
Steans said her son Ryan “first started questioning her gender identity when she was a junior in college.”
“So, for her it was a little bit more of a process … she only really started transitioning more physically in the last year.”
Ryan, 26, has a steady girlfriend and lives in the East Village in New York City.
Zariah and Ryan are courageously navigating the road to womanhood. Their mothers are with them every step of the way.
Lightford regularly talks and texts with Steans, swapping stories, seeking advice, tips and support.
Should I have a naming ceremony? What’s the skinny on hormone therapy? How do I mother a daughter who was once a son?
Shopping is a challenge.
“It’s hard, because she’s tall,” Lightford said of Zariah.
“And Ryan’s got broad shoulders,” Steans said.
“The clothes, really, aren’t like fitting the way they should,” Lightford said. “She is a size 12 shoe.”
“Get ‘em online,” Steans advised. “They’re never in stock at the store.”
They commiserate over their occasional “slips” to “he” instead of “she.”
And the tears.
For a while, “I grieved Isaiah,” Lightford said. “I lost a son. I did. I lost my son.”
But “I gained a daughter who’s happy.”
For Steans, “the biggest thing is, (Ryan) is so much happier. Just so much happier.”
The senators have embraced their LGBTQ constituents and advocated for their rights. Lightford spearheaded a bill which increased the number of counseling or psychotherapy visits minor children can receive without getting prior consent from a guardian. Vulnerable LGBTQ youth may not always be able to get such permission from unsupportive or abusive parents.
Last year, Steans sponsored a law that requires Illinois’ public schools to teach students about the history and contributions of LGBTQ people in Illinois and nationwide.
Their children inspire them, the senators said.
They know that some are mystified by, even hostile to transgender people.
When some hear about Zariah, they offer misplaced sympathy, Lightford said.
They say, “ ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, are you OK?’ “
She replies, “Don’t feel sorry for me, and don’t say you’ll pray for me. I don’t need you to pray for me because my baby is transgender. I need you to either learn all about it , or just go on.”
Their children will lead the way.
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Laura Washington is a columnist for the Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC-7. Follow her on Twitter @MediaDervish
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via Chicago Sun-Times
January 4, 2020 at 10:51AM