The village comes through for Minter family

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Tuesday June 20, 2023
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William, left, Hayley Mills, and Sweetie relaxed in their special cat porch that survived a March tornado that severely damaged the home of Shannon and Robin Minter. Photo: Shannon Minter
William, left, Hayley Mills, and Sweetie relaxed in their special cat porch that survived a March tornado that severely damaged the home of Shannon and Robin Minter. Photo: Shannon Minter

Sometimes, it really does take a village.

It's been just over three months since a tornado wreaked havoc on Shannon and Robin Minter's lives, but the couple is making steady progress rebuilding their home in East Texas as they care for their menagerie of pets.

Shannon Minter is the longtime legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Photo: Courtesy NCLR  

On March 2, Shannon Minter, a trans man who is the longtime legal director for San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights, posted on Twitter that the twister had struck the home he and Robin have lived in for years. Formerly his grandparents' home, it was built around 1937, he said.

Of immediate concern to Minter was the status of the four dogs and 10 cats he and Robin care for. (Robin MInter was out of town at the time.) Most of the animals have been rescued near their rural property over the years; thankfully, they were all fine. Shannon Minter, whose legal career has involved some of the country's major LGBTQ rights cases, including same-sex marriage and trans rights, has been with NCLR for over two decades.

But it's Shannon Minter's Twitter feed that has captivated many; it has roughly 12,800 followers. While there are posts about the latest victory or setback in LGBTQ legal fights, there are also hundreds of photos of the animals. Many find looking at the pet posts to be a brief reprieve from the stress of everyday life, especially given the polarization of the country and conservative leaders' assault on LGBTQ rights, particularly those of transgender people. Minter's followers not only get to look at cute photos of dogs and cats, they also get a crash course in LGBTQ equality when he posts about various legal cases in which he is involved.

After the tornado struck, friends rallied around Shannon and Robin Minter, starting a GoFundMe campaign to help raise funds. Combined with an already existing crowdfunding effort to assist with the costs of caring for the many animals, about $80,000 has been raised, said a friend known on Twitter as Cee Eyes ("Dr. Strange PhD Cat Lackey"), who set up the tornado relief fund. The $75,000 goal of the tornado relief fundraiser was reached June 19 but the account will remain open for a little while longer, Cee Eyes said.

Now, nearly four months after the devastating tornado, Shannon Minter told the Bay Area Reporter that the renovation work on the house is going well, and it's hoped that it will soon be completed.

"The crowdfunding has paid for most of the repairs," he said during a recent phone interview. "If it wasn't for that, I don't think we'd be able to save the house."

Backyard fencing repair work is underway at the Texas home of Shannon and Robin Minter. Photo: Shannon Minter  

In the aftermath of the twister, Shannon Minter had thought he and Robin would get a trailer to park on the property while the reconstruction took place. That ended up not happening. Robin Minter spent some time at a hotel while Shannon Minter stayed at the damaged home with most of the cats. One cat, Beulah, and the four dogs — Onyx, Gaia, Albert, and Sister — remain at a friend's place nearby. Shannon Minter said that the dogs likely would return home after the backyard fencing is repaired; work on that has already started.

As for the home itself, Shannon Minter said the roof is back on — "that was the biggest thing" — and the walls have been repaired. A bathroom that was destroyed is back together, he said. Some painting remains to be done, and there is more cleanup outside. One of the interesting things he and Robin discovered — if there could be a silver lining to the whole catastrophe — was that old wallpaper was revealed behind plaster that had fallen off.

"We saved a little bit of it," Shannon Minter said. "Robin made a canvas print of it."

The couple also discovered some old board — called shiplap — "that was trendy then," he said. "We're leaving that up exposed."

In an email, Robin Minter said that most of the couple's belongings remain in storage for now.

In addition to the roof, the house now has electricity and water, Robin Minter wrote.

She, too, was grateful for all the help she and Shannon have received.

"The community support has been critical to our being able to get things done," she wrote. "We are using that money mostly to pay laborers and contractors. They have been able to help us with the tedious, painstaking process of clearing the felled trees, outbuildings, and literally putting a roof back over our heads.

"The damage inside our beloved home is pretty extensive. We have used the funding to remove storm damaged sheetrock, repair cracks, stabilize the back stairs, and paint," she explained. "It's mind-blowing to me that we have the good fortune of a supportive community. I am humbled beyond belief."

Cats are adjusting
The cats that have stayed in the house have mostly adjusted. As the B.A.R. previously reported, a cat porch that Shannon Minter had constructed at one end of the house was not hit by the tornado, so the "porch kitties" (Loretta, Sweetie, Hayley Mills, and William) have remained in that area.

Two of the other cats, mother and daughter Meow Meow and Pip Squeak, always had their own room away from the clan and continue to stay there. Piper, Squeaky, and Furby remain in the parts of the house with Minter and his wife.

As if there was not enough for Shannon and Robin Minter to deal with, there was a bad storm that hit the area near their home on June 15. It was not a tornado, but what Shannon Minter described as a straight-line wind storm that caused significant damage in a nearby town, with tens of thousands losing power, he wrote on Twitter. He wrote that their house was OK.

But Shannon Minter and neighbors found an abandoned kitten hiding in the motor compartment of a neighbor's truck after the storm. Grayson, as he has been named, has now joined the clan at the Minter home.

It's that compassion for creatures that Shannon Minter's friends praised when talking about the success of the crowdfunding campaign.

CeeEyes, who said they were on vacation when the tornado hit, set up the GoFundMe on their phone hours after the disaster.

Piper had something to say on June 13 as she sat in a chair in the Minter home. Photo: Shannon Minter  

"His dedication to these little critters is just amazing," CeeEyes told the B.A.R. in a phone interview, adding that Shannon Minter "has put out so much happiness and is generous with his critters and their stories" on Twitter.

"He is reaping what he has sown," CeeEyes added. "When he needed it, people jumped in and helped."

CeeEyes and their partner have some firsthand experience with Shannon Minter. They adopted Bobcat, an abandoned kitten Shannon Minter found, almost two years ago. They, too, have many cats that they have taken in over the years.

"I am so grateful to everyone who contributed, sent thoughts, or shared the fundraiser so it was seen far and wide," CeeEyes said.

Working for trans rights
One of the things that has amazed Shannon Minter's colleagues is that despite the major natural disaster that has affected him and his family, he has continued working on the various legal cases NCLR has in courts around the country.

"Shannon did not skip a beat fighting to protect transgender youth from harmful laws in states like Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, and Utah," Imani Rupert-Gordon, a queer woman who is NCLR's executive director, stated in an email. "Shannon's expertise as our legal director for more than two decades has been unparalleled, as has been his commitment to fiercely fighting for the legal rights of the LGBTQ community and our families, despite any obstacles."

Kate Kendell, Shannon Minter's former boss, was not surprised that he kept working through the tornado's aftermath. Kendell, who led NCLR for 22 years before stepping down at the end of 2018, is now chief of staff at the California Endowment.

"He didn't miss a day of work," Kendell, a lesbian, said in a recent phone interview. "He works far too much. I was his boss and I couldn't stop him from working."

Kendell described Shannon Minter "as being married to the movement."

"Thank God he has Robin, the animals, and the homestead to be his heart," she said.

For his part, Shannon Minter said there "was no time to rest."

"NCLR and other legal groups have litigated more cases at once than ever," he said. "We don't have enough lawyers to challenge all these laws. We've been able to challenge about half of them, collectively."

There have been some initial victories. In Florida, a federal district court earlier this month halted enforcement of a transgender health ban. The Florida state boards of medicine and osteopathic medicine had issued rules banning established medical care for transgender adolescents. Provisions in Senate Bill 254, signed by Republican Governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis in May, codified those rules into state law with added criminal and civil penalties, an NCLR news release noted.

Albert struck a pose during his extended stay at a friend's house while the Minter home is being repaired. Photo: Shannon Minter  

In addition to NCLR, groups representing the plaintiffs in the case are Southern Legal Counsel, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders, and the Human Rights Campaign.

In Kentucky, Shannon Minter said NCLR is challenging a portion of SB 150, which bans gender-affirming care for trans youth.

During what is a frightening time for many trans kids and their families, with laws in states that seek to ban access to care or keep trans girls from playing sports on girls' teams, Shannon Minter said people in blue states like California can send a message.

"We need their voices to be louder than ever," he said. "They can establish fundraising and lifelines of support with kids in red states and help people travel to other states to get health care."

In fact, California is one of those states. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill by gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that establishes the Golden State as a refuge for parents and their trans children.

SB 107 makes it California policy to reject any out-of-state court judgments removing trans kids from their parents' custody because they allowed them to receive gender-affirming health care.

The law also bars state health officials from complying with subpoenas seeking health records and any information related to such criminal cases. Public safety officers will also be instructed to make out-of-state criminal arrest warrants for such parents their lowest priority.

As for trans people residing in red states, Shannon Minter said, "Don't despair."

"Don't give up," he added. "We're with you; the whole community is with you. The tide will turn, maybe it already is. The public is starting to realize this has gone too far. We do have truth and facts on our side."

The crowdfunding campaign for Minter tornado relief is still active here.

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