Homo on the Range

Image

Homos on the Range: Me with Kansas Equality Coalition Executive Director and very good friend Tom Witt.
(photo by David Quick)

Home, home on the range. Where the bis, trans, fags, and dykes play. Where seldom is heard, an intolerant word. And the cities are proud of their gays.

If you think I’m referring to Massachusetts, home of a visible and established gay community where same-sex couples have been legally tying the knot for half a decade, think again! It’s Kansas that is the object of my opining. Perhaps not the Sunflower State we live in today, but the land I believe we will live in soon.  It’s with this vision that I introduce “Homo on the Range”.  An online anthology about queer life in the Midwest, I’ll explore what it means to be gay in Kansas and examine the complexities of being an out homosexual in a time of great regional social change. For decades, gay rights battles have been staged largely on both coasts, with San Francisco being home to the nation’s first gay neighborhood and New York City being the birth place of gay liberation visa vises the Stonewall Riots. Well, Kansas is just as queer as any other spot on this earth, and the moment has arrived for there to be a gay shift in focus to the center of the country.

I love living in Wichita, and I will always have a special affinity for this city because of the way it embraced me. I moved here from North Carolina when I was 17. Recently outed at my southern high school, I lost all my friends and all sense of belonging. I came to Kansas down, depressed, and defeated. Over time, I began to notice that people here were different, though.   Kansans value hard work, self-determination, optimism, and community. Anyone who is willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard for the common good will quickly earn their respect and friendship.  Everything I’ve done in the community—in my education, in politics, and in the arts—I’ve done as an openly gay man. I worked hard to earn the respect of friends, fellow students, teachers, and colleagues. In turn, they came to respect me. For people who knew me, suddenly homosexuality wasn’t much of an issue.

A case in point came immediately after the 2005 constitutional amendment referendum, when 70% of voters voted to ban same-sex marriages and civil unions.  I was director of the local Democratic Party at the time. During one of our meetings, an old farmer from Haysville cornered me. “You’re one of those homosexuals, aren’t you,” he asked straightforwardly.  Unsure of where he was going with this, I timidly replied in the affirmative. “Well, that’s what I’ve heard. And you know what? I voted for your people. I don’t know much about that gay stuff, but I know you, and you’re a good guy. I figured the rest of ‘em can’t be all that bad,” he matter-of-factly stated.  I understood in that moment just how important being out was.

Obviously, we don’t yet live in a state where intolerance toward gays and lesbians is a thing of the past or where cities embrace their LGBT communities. We can, however, make significant progress. If every person in Kansas who is gay was honest about it and made sure their friends, family, and co-workers had a human face to put on an issue that is all too often politicized, I think the marriage amendment battle would have had a different result.  It’s our responsibility to shape the world we want to live in. If you’re reading this and you’re in the closet, come out! Maybe you can’t tell your parents or perhaps you can’t be out at work (it’s still legal for most employers in Kansas to fire someone for being gay!), but everyone has at least one friend they can be honest with.  In Kansas, I’ve learned that the more comfortable you are with yourself, the more people are comfortable with you. Be true to who you are. Decisions about how we live our lives today will set the stage for how others are able to live their lives for the next decade.

Being a homo on the range really isn’t as tough as one might think. We’ve got great people in this city who want their minds opened and horizons expanded. Don’t deny them that opportunity. If you do, you’re denying us all that poetic community I muse about above.  We can accept the status quo, or we can create our own culture. Let’s make Wichita a city that embraces its queer-side!

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: