Golden Grains of Contradiction

There’s a vastness to Kansas that foreshadows boundless possibility. Open fields on flat land that eyes can see for miles ahead impress upon us the promise that we can fill that space with anything. There can also be a restraining aspect to that scale. Entrenched ideologies can limit who settles and how land is developed. When it comes to being a homo on the range, we walk through a field of dichotomy.

There are grains of subtle progress, though. By now, you’ve probably heard the new Lady Gaga track, “Born This Way”.  Whether you think it’s a cheap rip off of Madonna’s “Express Yourself” or the hottest tune to drop in a decade, there’s undeniable substance in this song. The loud lyrics are ironically birthing a quiet revolution. It’s impossible to divorce the explicit message it sends: if you are gay, it’s by God’s divine, beautiful intent and you should celebrate that! As teenagers struggle to accept themselves, the power of hearing their existence positively affirmed via a buoyant ballad on the radio cannot be understated.

Nor can the effect this song is having on the hetero-masses be ignored. Recently, I was working out at the YMCA and happened to catch a glimpse of a Zumba class in session. Soccer moms were dancing up a storm to this track, and as the lyrics “no matter gay, straight, or bi, lesbian, transgendered life I’m on the right track, baby I was born to survive” roared, no one recoiled; in fact, they seemed to step it up!  These are the same mothers who drive mini-vans full of kids. Some of those kids will one day realize that they’re gay. Popular culture has more of an effect on the average person’s worldview than most of us care to admit. In this instance, though, that may turn out to be a very good thing for LGBT acceptance.

Expansive fields are filled with hope!

There are also thorns in the pasture, though. On the same day these Zumba moms were sweating with Gaga, the Kansas Legislature was cleaning up outdated state statutes. Part of Governor Sam Brownback’s campaign promises included establishing an “Office of the Repealer” that would work with state lawmakers and citizens to get outdated laws off of the books that drain economic development. Statutorily, being gay is a crime in Kansas, punishable by fines and prison terms. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled the same-sex sodomy law unconstitutional in 2003; however the language in state law was never removed. When a motion was made in the KS State House to include this law in the repeal effort, it was block—by a prominent Kansas Democrat. State Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson, along with The GOP’s Rep. Lance Kinzer of Olathe, took the lead to ensure that being gay remained a crime in The Sunflower State. For all the talk of attracting new businesses to Kansas and keeping our young people from moving away, stuff like this doesn’t exactly help! The message from our political leaders is clear: if you are gay, we would rather you be somewhere else. Some of us will probably oblige, and other states will enjoy our talents and our tax dollars. Brownback should consider renaming this new wing “Office of the Repelor”!

Vast territories are stymied, their full potential never allowed to blossom.

The queer experience in Kansas is anything but a straightforward path.  Meaningful progress is being made every day on an individual level as more people feel comfortable coming out, opening the eyes of their straight peers. Damaging actions not just to LGBT rights, but also to the long-term economic viability of our state, are simultaneously holding back our full, collective potential. We need to rectify this dissonance so that we can all walk with pride across the land The Midwestern gay movement.