Social Worker in Missouri on LGBTQ Protections: “We’re Talking About the Right to Exist in the World”
Although she started out as a psychology major in college, Kelly Storck quickly learned that her real passions most closely aligned with the social work field.
“Luckily, I figured that out in undergrad,” she said. “Social work made so much more sense — I wanted to be around people, study them, see how they lived in the world.”
Kelly is now a licensed clinical social worker based in Missouri with over 20 years of experience and operating a practice almost exclusively dedicated to working with clients who identify as transgender or gender expansive. In the first few years of her practice, Kelly started to see increasing numbers of clients needing gender care and decided overtime Kelly made these communities her focus.
“I decided this was the most intentional and deliberate work I would do. I remember thinking I’m going to do a lot of deep research and reading, because this is going to be hard work. But now I’ve found that if you take a step back, i can be so simple. We’re talking about the right to just exist in the world.”
The more that her clients opened up to her about their stories and struggles, the more Kelly began to truly understand the importance of her work.
“Even though parts of it were hard [for my clients], they kept telling me ‘I never knew I could feel this happy.’ People need space to learn about themselves; it is an honor to get to do this work.”
As her practice grew, so did Kelly’s desire to share what she had learned, and Kelly began attending conferences and workshops to present on the scope and the importance of the work in gender care. It is these forums where Kelly has some of the most meaningful interactions outside of sessions with her clients.
“You never know who your audience is. I’m struck very often by what people know and don’t know. I have to keep remembering people desperately need accurate, vetted, legitimate information. I think one of the reasons people respond to me is I don’t often come from a
solely science-based place…I appreciate facts, but I care most about humans and their truths. I want to talk about lived experiences. So much of the human experience gets lost when you try and measure it through research. I’m sometimes struck by questions people ask, and often find they’ve been carrying around misinformation that has great pain.”
It is with children, however, that Kelly has found her greatest passion. This passion prompted her to write The Gender Identity Workbook for Kids, the first-ever book geared toward young children up to age of 13 who are exploring their gender identity.
“I initially wanted to write a book for children and their families, and my hope still is that parents or caregivers are engaged with their child as they use this workbook. This book is made to inform and affirm a child, and give them a pathway to start to practice language to communicate more clearly what they’re feeling so that people with the capacity to support them can do so.”
Storck explained that younger children can very clear about who they are but often lack the language or life experience to accurately describe what’s going on for them.,
“With transgender or gender-diverse children, we tend to first notice gender expressions that surprise us yet sometimes, young children insistently assert their gender with the language and understanding they have at the time: ‘Why do you keep calling me a boy? Can you put me back in your belly and I’ll come out a boy/girl? Why did God make me wrong?’ These kids want to be seen and they want us to know when we don’t have it right. They get it, they totally get it. There’s no conflict to work through. Frankly, they just want to be loved, love each other and play. Unfortunately, if children’s assertions are ignored or refuted, many of these kids feel shameful, misunderstood and lost without the support they need.”
Right now, Kelly’s home state of Missouri is in the middle of a legislative session that could see either positive or negative movement toward full lived equality for LGBTQ people; for the twentieth year in a row, the Missouri Non Discrimination Ordinance has been introduced, but bills that would restrict restroom use for transgender people have also been filed. PROMO, Missouri’s leading LGBTQ equality group, beat back nine similar bills in 2017.
“Last year Missouri had a bill targeting transgender children in schools that made it to committee; luckily it got squashed because we flooded the Capitol. But still, people came and brought their gender diverse children to sit at this table, exposing them to this abhorrent
situation and weeping about the possibility of this terrible bill passing. I was so struck by the panic and fear people had to confront to ensure their kids wouldn’t be hurt by such terrible discrimination.”
Kelly said that it’s not only larger issues of discrimination that affect transgender children and adults, but access to services such as updating documentation and accessing affordable, medically-necessary care.
“It is so expensive to change your personal documentation,” she explained. “It’s quite cost prohibitive — it takes lots of time, including court appearances, that many families simply can’t manage. There’s also terrible discrimination in the healthcare industry. So often, insurance will not cover the costs of transgender healthcare, and for children in transition, it’s extremely precarious because it could prevent them from having access to hormone blockers, which help facilitate their transition which has serious impacts on their health and well-being.”
Although the political climate has become hostile leading up to and following the 2016 presidential election, Kelly finds hope in the reaction of people who have stood up against adversity and intolerance.
“It’s almost created this ‘hyper push’ in the other direction,” she says. “We know that it’s still scary out there, and sadly, there are still beautiful people being taken from us, especially transgender women of color at a rate that is nearly beyond words. But it’s because of them and in their memory that we have to keep fighting. I do what I can to make sure people acknowledging and becoming comfortable with who they are are given a safe space to share their feelings and to grow.”
Ultimately, it is Kelly’s hope that through her book, conversations between children living with a different gender experience will have the information and assurance to guide them on their journeys.
“My central goal with the book is to encourage, support, and affirm. Kids have the capacity to understand exactly who they are early on in life, and getting more resources earlier is better. I don’t have an ‘agenda,’ as some people may wrongfully call it, to create transgender people — I want there to be honest conversations about what gender is and is not, and to help make families wiser and safer.”