Peace and Justice awards honor couple, ACLU

Kim Kreicker admits that when she and her partner, Arla Jones, moved to Lawrence from New York City13 years ago that she was nervous.

Kreicker and Jones had lived an openly gay lifestyle in New York, and they weren’t about to hide their relationship upon moving to conservative Kansas.

“Quite honestly, I was a little bit frightened in coming to Kansas, and worried about what would happen,” Kreicker said.

What happened is the couple became vocal advocates for gay and lesbian rights in the area. Kreicker and Jones will be honored for their work by the Lawrence Coalition for Peace and Justice at 7 p.m. Thursday at Unity Church, Ninth Street and Madeline Lane.

The recognition is part of the coalition’s annual awards ceremony. The Douglas County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also will be honored at the event for its work in educating the community about civil liberty issues.

Jones, the librarian at Lawrence High School, remembers that when they were moving to Kansas, Fred Phelps of Topeka was gaining national publicity for his anti-homosexual stance.

“We had lots of friends say, ‘Oh, my God, you’re moving to Kansas,'” Jones said. “But then we had one friend who said we’d probably do more good there than we would in New York. I think he was right. In a lot of ways, what was going on in New York is just now happening here.”

In particular, Jones and Kreicker – who teaches at Emporia State University – have been active in asking the city to create a domestic partnership registry, and lobbied against the state’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

The couple also have played a leadership role in forming the Lawrence High School Gay-Straight Alliance, a social outlet for gay and straight students.

The Douglas County Chapter of the ACLU is being honored for its resurgence following the chapter’s dormancy for a period prior to 2002, said Allan Hanson, chairman of the coalition’s nominations committee.

Phil Minken, president of the local ACLU chapter, said the organization had tried to be active in spurring discussions on issues ranging from freedom of speech to personal privacy. But Minken said the group has remained particularly busy talking about the federal Patriot Act adopted following the Sept. 11 attacks.

“We had a past president of the chapter say that the best recruiting tool we ever had was (former U.S. Attorney General) John Ashcroft,” Minken said of the attorney general who was in office during the time the Patriot Act was enacted. “Once they passed the Patriot Act, our membership really went up. People became concerned about restrictions on civil liberties.”

Minken said the local chapter’s membership is about 600 people, up from around 350 people prior to 2001.

The coalition’s award ceremony, which will feature art and music presentations, is open to the public, Hanson said.