Lewis Diuguid

Friend’s uncompromising change causes others to adjust

Carmen Xavier, formerly Fred J. Sanchez, plans to run for a seat on the Smithville school board in 2017.
Carmen Xavier, formerly Fred J. Sanchez, plans to run for a seat on the Smithville school board in 2017. The Kansas City Star

Carmen Xavier came to visit me at The Star, and then I went to interview her at her Smithville home.

The 68-year-old who served in the Air Force from 1968 to 1974 and retired in 2014 after 35 years as a certified nurse anesthetist plans to run in April 2017 for the Smithville school board, and she wanted me to announce her coming out. It seemed only natural.

We’ve been friends and respected each other since 1981. Only before last month when she came to visit me at The Star, I knew Xavier as Fred J. Sanchez, a former Jackson County legislator and former Park Hill school board member.

Xavier’s coming out will possibly make her the first openly transgender candidate in Missouri. Just as the civil rights movement got people to embrace the humanity of people of color, Xavier believes now is the time for greater acceptance of lesbians, gay, bisexuals and transgender people like her.

“The best person for the job is me, and I happen to be a transgender person,” she said. Xavier expects to be involved in the transgender bathroom issue. Some states have passed laws requiring people to use the bathroom that matches the sex on their birth certificate.

The Obama administration this year directed public schools nationwide to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms that match their gender identity. Several states, including Kansas, have filed suit to challenge the enforcement of the federal civil rights law being used to protect transgender students.

Xavier is no newcomer in minorities’ struggles. The Southwest Trafficway pedestrian overpass north of 31st Street is there because of protests Xavier helped lead for the Hispanic community after her father, Theodore Sanchez, was killed by a car when crossing the busy street on Feb. 17, 1978, to meet his wife, Josephine.

Xavier’s political life continued until Fred Sanchez’s 2012 resignation from the Park Hill school board for taking a concealed gun to a board meeting in violation of district policy. What’s odd is state gun laws have been liberalized so much that many wouldn’t care now.

To symbolize the metamorphosis Xavier has undergone, she has 37 butterfly tattoos on her body. “Now I am experiencing what I am,” she said.

She’s read Kristin Beck’s “Warrior Princess: A U.S. Navy SEAL’s Journey to Coming Out.” The book asks: Are you willing to lose everything?

That includes death from hate crimes or disturbingly high rates of suicide. Xavier said she has lost plenty — her marriage of 29 years, cars, property, friends and colleagues. She said her transition caused others to transition, too. “All of a sudden, no more phone calls,” she said.

“I have no choice,” Xavier said. “I didn’t choose to be this way. I wanted to die in the correct form and be who and what I was.”

One of her daughters, Morganne Sanchez, 25, has stayed close to her parent, and her love for Xavier has grown. She said Xavier is happier now.

Physically, Xavier’s transition hasn’t been easy. She has undergone breast augmentation, facial surgery, softening the male lines, though maintaining her Hispanic features. She has grown out her hair and colored it auburn, takes hormones and dresses as a woman.

She had on San Francisco 49ers No. 7 jersey of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who continues to draw a storm of hatred for refusing this year to stand when the national anthem plays ahead of games. It’s Kaepernick’s very visible protest over the discrimination and other wrongdoings that blacks and other minorities face.

It didn’t surprise me that Xavier was a Kaepernick supporter. She has always had the fortitude to stand up for the rights of others.

Her candidacy in Smithville will determine whether the community has the strength and conviction to vote for her as the best advocate for the education of all young people.