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.
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
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.
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.
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.