A new book on Kansas LGBT pride

Kansas Day is almost here, and I’ve got an inspiring way to celebrate! A new book pays tribute to the Kansans who are advocating for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights.

In “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas,” author C.J. Janovy shares the recent compelling stories of the leaders committed to making Kansas a safer place with legal protections from bigotry. Everyone who supports social justice will learn powerful models for continued advocacy.

Janovy is a veteran journalist, including ten years working for “The Pitch,” and is now the arts reporter at KCUR; this is her first book. I asked her why she decided to focus on Kansas rather than the whole region.

She responded:

Focusing on Kansas rather than the

whole region was…where I knew there

was a specific story… In 2013, when

the US Supreme Court came out with its

Windsor and Perry decisions, creating

such an uneven legal landscape around

the country [Kansas and many other

states still banned gay marriage],

Kansas was an especially interesting

place to think about LGBT

equality/advocacy/politics because of

Westboro, which is known

internationally as a place in Kansas

(except when other writers mistakenly

refer to it as in Florida, which I’ve

seen). Finally, Kansas has a

reputation. I knew an exploration of

LGBT activism in Kansas would refute

some of the stereotype, which made it

fun and fertile territory to write in

and about.

Living in the middle of the country often means being neglected by national journalists who emphasize faraway metropolises of more familiar activism in places like New York and California. Lawrencians have a reputation for making our town a liberal bubble inside a politically conservative state; we enacted protections from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations before most Kansas cities.

The examples in “No Place Like Home” champion Kansas pride and personalities from rural locales like Trego County and the tiny town of Meade to Manhattan, Salina, Hutchinson, Topeka, Lawrence, Wichita and everywhere citizens are taking personal risks to ensure this middle ground is welcoming to a wider rainbow-range of people.

Janovy vividly describes a 2014 gay pride rally in Wichita. This empowering moment punctuated ten days of pride events. The electrifying energy of the event she describes is depicted in this photo, provided by the author. At the podium is transgender heroine Stephanie Mott.

Photo via C.J. Janovy

Janovy writes:

Nine years after the marriage

amendment defeat, on a warm, sunny

Sunday, a dozen teenagers wearing

T-shirts and cutoffs stood in a

formation rising up the stone steps of

Wichita’s old Sedgwick County

Courthouse, a relic of prairie

Renaissance architecture circa 1888…

On the sidewalk in front of them, and

spread out under shady trees, several

hundred people had gathered for the

annual gay pride rally.

She continues:

Everyone knew Mott, but no one in the

crowd had ever seen the person to whom

she passed the microphone. “Hi, my

name is Sandra Stenzel. I drove four

hours today from western Kansas to be

here.” Over the last few months,

Stenzel had begun a creaky reemergence

from her post-marriage-amendment

decade of depression and isolation in

Trego County, and people clapped when

she told them how far she had driven

to be with them. “Because it’s

important that we have community,” she

said, holding the microphone but not

speechifying, just talking, as if

these people were sitting at the

kitchen table of her farmhouse on

Downer Creek. “Don’t forget the people

you left behind,” she told them.

“There are so many of us here today

who grew up in a small town, grew up

in a rural area, and we blew that pop

stand and never looked back.”

This earned cheers from people who had

done exactly that. “But there’s work

for us to do in the rural areas. If

nothing else, it’s just to reach back

because there’s some kid like you out

there. There’s some single farm woman

out there who needs company. And

there’s someone who’s willing to drive

four hours just to be with other gay

people. Just to not be alone.” Stenzel

reminded everyone that they were part

of a long tradition and that the

struggle didn’t begin with the

marriage amendment. “The biggest

problem we had keeping it off the

ballot was we couldn’t find other gay

people to work against it. We didn’t

know how to reach each other. I look

out here today, ten years

later”–finally she yelled: “You are


Every page of “No Place Like Home” is filled with heartfelt courage and personal stories; there is no place like LGBT Kansas. Kansans everywhere are working to ensure that our state is friendly for us all — they’re digging in their heels just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz to declare “there’s no place like home.”

Meet Janovy and several of the heroines and heroes featured in her book at the library on Monday, January 29 — an apropos celebration for Kansas Day.

More information on the event can be found here.

— Shirley Braunlich is a readers’ services assistant at the Lawrence Public Library.