Someone needed to write about LGBT Kansas

People have asked how I got the idea to write No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. The moment of inspiration came on a sweltering, airless afternoon in Ilus W. Davis Park in downtown Kansas City on June 26, 2013.

In Washington, D.C., that morning, hundreds of people had erupted in cheers outside the Supreme Court Building when Justice Anthony Kennedy announced historic rulings in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. The crowd’s jubilation was so loud it floated through marble: “A muffled cheer pierced the quiet in the Supreme Court chamber,” Dana Milbank wrote in the Washington Post. That euphoria rippled three thousand miles to the west, where it was 7 a.m. and people had been waiting in front of San Francisco’s city hall, hallowed ground for the gay rights movement. Later, on Castro Street, music and dancing would go on all night.

Here in Kansas City it was different. A couple hundred of us celebrated a decision that didn’t apply to us.

Cliff Judy, a reporter for KMBC-TV Channel 9, captured the paradox in his report (I’m the lesbian in the khaki shorts and T-shirt):

 

The Supreme Court rulings changed nothing for any of us in the 29 states that had passed constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. As editor of Kansas City’s alt-weekly, The Pitch, in the days when Missouri and Kansas passed those amendments, I’d watched as all breed of politician – Democrat as well as Republican – jumped on the anti-same-sex marriage bandwagon. Watching my gay brothers and sisters get bludgeoned with the issue, I’d despaired of how it was being used against us and had even gone on record saying gay marriage was the dumbest idea I’d ever heard: Couldn’t we do better than aspiring to participate in an institution that fails half the time?

In the years that followed, I watched my lesbian and gay brothers and sisters changed hearts and minds with their compelling “love is love” argument. And by 2013, even though Windsor and Perry didn’t apply to us, I wanted to be with my LGBT family that day.

As I listened to the rally’s speakers, I wondered what had become of the activists who fought the craven politicians and hypocritical ministers who’d pushed for the marriage amendment a decade earlier?

And there was no better place than Kansas – home of the Westboro Baptist Church and the “What’s the Matter With…” reputation – to tell a unique and unreported story about that weird moment in the country’s legal history, when Supreme Court rulings applied to some but not all of us.

The idea gained traction the next day, when CNN interviewed a Tea Party congressman from Kansas – in other words, straight out of Central Casting – who promised Wolf Blitzer he was going to get gay marriage banned in the United States Constitution:

Meanwhile, something else had been happening. As the marriage-equality movement made its way up to the Supreme Court and attitudes about LGBT people changed, some observers began to think the fight was over. In 2012, the writer Linda Hirshman published Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution. In her epilogue, while championing New York’s legalization of gay marriage, Hirshman jokes: “Of course, New York is not Kansas, but the New York vote may be the turning point for this last, hardest-fought issue.”

Um, what about Kansas?

After that rally in downtown Kansas City on June 26, 2013, none of us could have anticipated how quickly marriage equality would be legal everywhere. As I set out to find the activists who’d fought the marriage amendment in Kansas a decade earlier, I imagined we were in for a long slog – I figured at least five years, which would be plenty of time to report and write a book.

As it turned out, I had to scramble to keep up with the story. And marriage wasn’t even half of it. The rest of it’s here.

C.J. Janovy is the author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Follow her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.

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