Growing up in Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska, I don’t remember any holiday celebrating statehood (or maybe I was just daydreaming during those grade-school history lessons). But as soon as the book launch for No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas was scheduled for January 29, I discovered that Kansans are serious about Kansas Day.
Perhaps it was the idea of a de facto LGBTQ Kansas Day that made folks associated with the book say “Kansas Day! How appropriate!” when they heard the date of the event at the Lawrence Public Library.
Also appropriate for Kansas: The stars aligned to make it a beautiful night.
Every seat in the auditorium was filled, many of them by people in the book. Hometown gal Diane Silver wanted to be there but couldn’t, so I read the great poem “Day 8” from her book Your Daily Shot of Hope: Meditations for an Age of Despair. Julia Woodrick from Lawrence was there, as were Kevin Stilley, Darci Pottroff and Joleen Spain from Manhattan; Gary Martens and Larry Bunker from Salina; Equality Kansas‘ Tom Witt from Wichita (more accurately, he’d come from Topeka, which is his begrudging home away from home during every legislative session). LuAnn Kahl drove three hours from Malvern, Iowa. Sandra Stenzel and her friend Brad traveled five hours from Trego County, and Stephanie Mott of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project also came over from Topeka.
It was Stenzel and Mott telling a bit of their stories who made the evening so inspirational. I’ve posted a recording of the whole event on SoundCloud; Sandra and Stephanie, both great speakers, start at about 30 minutes in:
Audience members asked cool questions during the Q&A. I was especially grateful for the final question, from a man who pointed out that the LGBTQ movement had made enormous progress in what seemed to be a very short time — more quickly, he pointed out, than the Black Lives Matter movement. His suggestion, as I understood it, was that the LGBTQ movement had benefitted from white privilege.
I knew Mott was the best person to answer.
“As I started living authentically and people began to see me as a woman, they also started treating me differently,” she said.
“And the privileges I had been enjoying unknowingly as a man began disappearing: my voice, people believing me when I said something, all these little things.”
Experiencing this “removal of privilege as society began to see me as a woman” taught her something, Mott said.
“If I’m not working to eliminate any privilege that I have, then I’m participating in the privilege that I have. If I’m not fighting for black transgender women, who are the most likely to be murdered, then I’m not fighting for transgender women, and I’m not fighting for transgender people. If I’m not fighting for reproductive healthcare, if I’m not fighting against able-ism, if I’m not fighting against classism or any kind of ‘-ism,’ including Christianism” — part of Mott’s story is her salvation from homelessness and alcoholism through Christianity — “if I’m not fighting against (all of) that then I’m participating in it.”Mott agreed that the LGBT community had made progress more quickly compared to the days when slavery was brought to this country.
“And racism is still happening,” she said. “I think we’ll see the end of legalized discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender idenetity in my lifetime. But you won’t see the end of racism. We won’t be able to stop people like (Kris) Kobach, people like (Sam) Brownback, people like Trump unless we all come together and recognize that we have to do that” — end racism — “in order to have a world where everybody can be who they are.”
That, I decided, would be the last word. It was the perfect message to send home with everyone.
C.J. Janovy is the author of No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas. Follow her on Twitter, @cjjanovy.