Pride. Prejudice. Possibility.

Pride is a very misunderstood concept.  Many of our straight friends don’t understand why we in the LGBT community insist on being treated like everybody else, only to then march in a parade where we single ourselves out solely because of our sexuality. Many of us who are queer forget to take in the magnitude of pride’s significance; it’s much larger than six-pack-sporting twinks and dykes on bikes. It’s bigger than the largest rainbow flag. It’s more potent than any shot of premium-shelf vodka.

Pride isn’t about a party. Pride is about combating prejudice. Pride is about the enormous possibility that exists when each person has the freedom to be their own, unique self. If you are a homo on the range, you have the distinct opportunity to harness the spirit of pride to change the contours of the land in which you live.  There has never been a more pressing time.

As blue states on the coasts move toward marriage equality, states in the Midwest are actively trying to take existing civil rights away. In Kansas, current state law does not protect people from being fired from their job or evicted from their apartment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The cities of Lawrence and Topeka as well as a number of school districts, universities, and individual employers, though, have extended non-discrimination policies to ensure that LGBT employees are protected. There’s a bill being considered by the Kansas Legislature, though, that would invalidate all of these existing protections. Dubbed the “Kansas Preservation of Religious Freedom Act”, the legislation would allow any boss to fire an employee for being gay, empower any landlord to evict a tenant because of their sexuality, and even sanction healthcare providers to deny services to clients whose lifestyle they find morally offensive.  It passed the KS House by a wide margin, and awaits Senate action when the legislature reconvenes in late April. Of course, the proposal has the enthusiastic support of Republican Governor Sam Brownback.

The bill’s primary backer, though, is Democrat Rep. Jan Pauls of Hutchinson. Yes, Democrat! She’s also the same legislator who last year went out of her way to ensure gay sex remained a statutory crime in Kansas, punishable by jail. Get fired. Be homeless. Go to prison. That’s the message 82 out of 125 legislators sent to queer Kansans (that includes all but 7 Republicans and literally 1/3 of the House Democratic caucus, btw)! Even if the bill fails to become law, the conversation has made many aware that they can use their religion to justify discriminatory acts. Certainly we must respect deeply held personal convictions. However, there’s a line to be drawn when someone’s faith is used as a weapon to harm another person. This isn’t about religious freedom; this is a blatant attempt to codify prejudicial sentiment into law.

This is exactly why pride is so important. When each of our cities holds festivals, parades, and events where large numbers of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people conjugate, we demonstrate that we aren’t ashamed to be ourselves. We show politicians that we exist. We prove that we aren’t afraid to be present and counted. A big part of why Kansas legislators are trying to figure out how they can fire us from our jobs instead of figuring out a way for us to be treated equally revolves around visibility. Being out is a social responsibility. Think about what might be possible if everyone in the Midwest who was queer was open about who they are.  I don’t discount the massive amount of personal strife coming out can cause; in the end, though, most family members, friends, and co-workers will work out their own issues and embrace the people they love. When they do, people like Jan Pauls won’t just have to contend with the homos, but also an army of our supporters!

The next time a straight person asks you why we insist on having our own parades, tell them it’s because we don’t want them paying for our unemployment after we’ve been fired for being gay. More important, though, is the fact that equality matters to everyone because it outlines the boundaries by which we all get to mold our own, unique selves. We homos on the range deserve a party—and a few drinks—for having to put up with the kind of blatant hostility I spell out above. What everyone deserves, though, is the chance to live in an authentic world where each person has the freedom to be who they truly are. Combat prejudice by taking pride in possibility!

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The Cities Speak. Are You Listening?

Me and David Quick on a road trip to Lawrence (photo by David Quick)

Every city has a unique sound. All communities have a distinct dialogue. Each area has its own voice. But how often do we listen to the words and absorb their meaning? There is perhaps no great influence on a person than their geography. Where we live dictates who we become. We can and we do defy odds, but we can never deny how the contours of our surroundings influence our every action along the way.

If you are a homo on the range—a queer person shaped by the boundaries of a state like Kansas, perhaps—your life is very different than someone who is LGBT in NYC. That affects more than your ability to see shows on Broadway, too! It directly impacts the terms by which you can negotiate your life. New Yorkers are protected from being fired from their job because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. They can marry the person they choose. They can also more easily find people who are like them. None of that is true in the Midwest. But the true meaning of “homo on the range” has little to do with what we don’t have; it has everything to do with what brims beneath the surface of our flat land. Our lives are just as compelling here as they are anywhere else. In fact, it takes a certain amount of backbone to navigate this terrain successfully.

If you don’t believe that can be done, I have visual proof! Or rather, my friend does.  And this testimony comes with some very enticing doughnuts to go along with a side of allegory. This Friday evening, Wichita artist David Quick will debut a collection of photographs documenting contemporary life in Wichita at The Donut Whole. Paired with him will be his niece, Vanessa Quick, whose photos detail everyday life in New York. It’s a subtle juxtaposition of how people and place collide to formulate indelible imprints.

This is not a gay art show; the images document a myriad of lives, events, and circumstances. However, a simple examination of the photographs does more to illustrate my point than any words I could ever write. These images document subtle ways of how two very different hordes of people are adapting to differences. In her artist statement for the show, Vanessa says, “I think most interesting moments go unnoticed.   They are so commonplace that we forget that they’re even interesting.” Having known her uncle for several years, I can safely say she has adroitly adapted his approach to snapping a camera. To watch David quick take a photo is to witness the freeze-framing of social evolution.

Late last summer, I received news that a very important friend had committed suicide. He was openly gay and lived near and often visited New York City. I habitually feel alone and isolated being gay in the Midwest; I envied his proximity to a city with a thriving LGBT community. Mere association can’t keep everyone on life support, though. Only a life in motion can survive. The morning after I learned of his death, I took a road trip to Lawrence with David Quick. Along the way, I was reminded why I fight to stay alive. We took a pit stop along Highway-70 at one of those gas station/McDonalds hybrids. I’ve always had a flair for funky fashion, and my sunglasses are no exception. David and I were both sporting wild shades that looked as though they were sold at the corner of Haight & Ashbury during the Summer of Love in 1967. We looked queerly rowdy.

Subtle changes, seismic shifts. (photo by David Quick)

An averagely-dressed white-haired grandmother and her young grandson spotted us as odd spectacles. The kid was intrigued by our outrageousness. I asked if he wanted to try on my glasses. The grandmother looked a tad bit afraid of us. I could tell she wanted to run away from people so different from her. But when David shoved his glasses onto her head and I handed the kid mine, she didn’t have much of a choice other than to go along with an impromptu photo-op. She ended up being amused and even complimented our audaciousness. “You sure do it differently,” she said, though with more awe than judgment. We all shared a laugh together. It was a random moment of joy. Tacitly, she accepted us. The range of their lives got a little bit queer. Sometimes, it’s Kansas that keeps you alive.

This is one example of many I’ve seen over the years where subtle interactions have seismic repercussions. They may not be changing laws yet, but they are shifting minds, even if slightly. In the Midwest, we can’t always be as direct as our friends in New York might be, but the most interesting moments in any city often go unnoticed. I’ve seen a good bit of these images, and trust me—Kansas stacks up well with NY. I heart them both, but for very different reasons. We all need to learn to appreciate our surroundings—no matter who we are or where they lie. Transformations are taking place everywhere, even if the people changing are intermingling on different topographies.

In this complex world with constantly evolving mores, it’s comforting to be able to see our progress captured on film. When we see we believe. When we believe we speak. Our cities are speaking. Where are you in the dialogue?

You can meet David Quick and Vanessa Quick this Friday at The Donut Whole (1720 E. Douglas) near downtown Wichita. Their “The Cities Speak” exhibit opens April 27th at a Final Friday reception, 6pm-10pm. Works will be on display through the month of may. Get a doughnut, analyze some art, and go “on the range”!

Flyover Frustration

Image“It’s so frustrating living in Wichita!”

That’s the message a friend tweeted me on a Friday night. I knew exactly what she meant without even having to ask.  A forty-something successful attorney, she was fed up with being culturally sidelined. It’s a perplexing phenomenon gay professionals often feel in smaller cities like The ICT.

“Nothing happens here. Nothing ever happens here. I can watch the same ten girls get drunk at the same gay bar or go to a dance club that plays bad music and pretend to be overjoyed that my hetero friends are getting married,” she bemoaned. “Meanwhile, I’m just stuck. I’m not happy. Just stuck”

I empathized enormously. Her words have resonance. There’s a problem in this city that doesn’t quite have a name. It’s the gut-level unsatisfaction many LGBT people feel. It has nothing to do with our sexual identity or self-acceptance. It has everything to do with where we fit into the fabric of the community. That restlessness is intrinsic with being a queer Kansan. It’s the central challenge to being a homo on the range.

It’s “flyover frustration” and it’s an issue as vast as the land size of Kansas itself. Our state’s regressive political climate does much to drive away talent. However, the real challenge to being gay in a place like Kansas isn’t political. It’s very personal, and it’s downright detaching.

Most would probably assume that it isn’t easy being gay in the Midwest. The reasons for why, though, are perhaps not so obvious. To comprehend the difficulty of being gay in a city like Wichita, you have to dissect the factors behind the colloquial culture as well as understand the dynamics of the LGBT community. That’s a tall, perplexing task!  Yet, it’s central to my friend’s vexation.

Folks unfamiliar with flyover land living are left to learn about life in the heartland from outside sources. They see images in newspapers of hatemongering preachers picketing funerals of anyone who has ever seen or heard of a gay person. They watch coverage on cable news of abortion providers being shot in the head at church. They read blogs about lawmakers (from the Democratic Party, no less!) insisting that sodomy laws be kept on the books. The image that gets painted of Kansas is one that is colored by hatred, violence, and blatant discrimination.

Those aren’t the true colors of our rainbow, though. The hues are more somber grey than they are angry red. Being a homo on the range doesn’t just mean that you are a target for the right wing.  It means you have to get very good at living alone if you want to survive.

Most people like a life full of connections, though. For that reason, it’s common for gay kids who grow up in Wichita to have an escape plan. They flee for the bigger cities because of the promise those bastions hold for enhanced encounters with people who are like them.  LGBTs lean more toward being inventive, creative, and dynamic. We’re a resourceful people. We tend to enter into industries that engage our more imaginative instincts. We survive as a community by thriving as individuals. Art and culture are our lifeblood. Activity is our anthem. Entertainment is out ethos. Progress and innovation propel us forward. When we find ourselves in the midst of manufacturing economies with limited growth potential and living in towns where cultural and economic progress are stalled, we tend to want out.

And often, we do get out.

Sometimes, though, we stay. We stay for our families. We stay because we have a job. We stay because it’s an affordable place to live. We stay because we don’t want to be forced to leave. When we stay, we often find ourselves standing alone. On a Friday night, while our metro friends are taking in edgy plays and dining at fusion restaurants, we’re sidelined, left only to tweet away our frustrations.

Isolation is a feeling familiar to most LGBT people. At some point, all of us have felt deviant, different, and disconnected from those who surround us. That’s not exclusive to the gay experience; most have felt sequestered at some point in life. What is divergent, though, is how this unfolds. It’s not as though being gay in Kansas means you won’t have any friends or never have a lover. Wichita is not the stereotype most assume. Yes, the politics here suck! Yes, the political climate contributes to larger choices. Yet, while political battles are important, private circumstances are paramount for most folks.

One can be denied the lawful right to marry, but have the happiest of same-sex partnerships. My friends Dusty and John have been together for nearly 30 years and have a happy home with a beautiful back porch garden in southeast Wichita. They have no legal rights, but lots of love shared between the two of them. It can be perfectly legal to be fired from a job because of your sexual orientation, but absolutely possible to find a place of employment with progressive-minded colleagues and supervisors who value fairness. My friend Jayson manages a Target store on the east side of town. The fact that he has a boyfriend has never inhibited his ability to quickly move up within the company. Bigots can live among us, but hate crimes tend to be the exception rather than the norm. When my friend Dan Manning had a death threat mailed to him during his run for a state legislative seat in northwest Wichita, the shock and outrage from the community was unparalleled. Kansans aren’t accustomed to political intimidation via bullets–even when the candidate is openly gay!

All of these friends were able to carve out happy, successful lives in Wichita. Yet, most of them would admit that there’s still something missing. Migration is a large part of the problem. Just enough gay people leave the city to drastically alter the quality of selection of potential romantic partners (and even friends); yet, just enough of us choose to stay to continue the presence of a small, seemingly burgeoning gay community.

Sadly, burgeoning has never quite blossomed. Go to any gay club or pride event and you’ll see the same people year after year. Most of us are delightful individuals, but there’s never a cycling in of fresh faces to enhance our charm. There are never quite enough people for us to find a lasting group of friends we belong to, let alone a lover we truly connect with.

New influences keep us from falling into old patterns. A part of you blooms that was never alive before each time you make a new friend. Flyover frustration unfolds each time vibrant individuals get stymied by the lack of growth a community offers them.

It happens far too often in Wichita. It dampens the spirit not only of my frustrated tweeting friend, but the spirits of all of us who choose to stay and try to make a city with so much potential our home.

I’d like to say that the solution is to stay and be the change that we need. If more of us stayed in-mass, this issue would resolve itself naturally. I’ve realized, though, that one person’s decision to stay won’t effect change fast enough for that individual to live the life they deserve. We homos who live on the range have a complicated relationship with our land. We love it for its enormous prospects; we resent it when it robs us of our vast potential.

No dynamic individual should ever be left with a twittering blue bird as their sole friend on a Friday night! Getting to the root of “flyover frustration” is a step toward all of us being able to find our own eventual happiness—on or off the range.

The Gay Gap: A Taboo Tangoed

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Lt. Dan Choi and Dan Manning march in Wichita Pride Parade. Both were discharged under DADT. (photo by David Quick)

The first time I heard the word “gay” was in 1993. Bill Clinton was our new President, and gays in the military was among the first major issues his administration was tackling. I was 10 years old. One Sunday morning, after reading about Clinton’s proposal to allow open service, my dad commented to my mom that gay people were going to destroy the military. Clinton, he said, would be to blame when our country was no longer able to defend itself against foreign invaders after our troops fled their posts to avoid the gays.

Whoever these “gays” were, they sounded pretty bad!

When I asked my parents to explain, I was told that being gay was a taboo. Homosexuality was against God’s intentions. Our nation would fall like the Roman Empire if we embraced it. Visions of fighting, fire, and warfare clouded my mind as I pondered the significance of this new mention in my lexicon. Little did I know that a few short years later, a word introduced to me shrouded in distasteful forbiddance would become a central part of my own burgeoning identity. When it did, those connotations stuck, and an awkward resentment lingered as I came to understand the utter wrong in my parent’s assessment.

Taboos are cultural creations. Society sets the parameters for what is acceptable. Often, those boundaries change. Words once masked in darkness become illuminated over time.

Fast-forward 18 years, and that’s exactly what has happened. In 1993, around 40% of the country favored allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military. Today, that number swells close to 80%. The September 20, 2011 “Repeal Day” of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was more than a mere lifting of a ban. It was the culmination of an evolving country. We are a nation of people becoming more enlightened each day on the issue of sexual orientation.

It’s not just straight people who’ve needed to evolve, though. Those of us who are gay need to remember the people inside the “gay gap”. As acceptance has grown, the folks in between that 40% mark then and the 80% mark now are why laws are changing. They are our friends who disassociated with us when we came out. They are our colleagues who ridiculed us behind our backs. They are our mothers who cried when we revealed our truth. They are our fathers who cringed when they learned their child is gay. They are our uncles who made offensive jokes at Thanksgiving dinner. They are our grandparents who never knew a single homosexual person. They are all the people who clung to the taboo, only to have their notions stretched by the true colors of our realities. They might have caused us grief in the past, but they are paving part of our road forward in the present. We must forgive them and let go of that resentment.

The Sunday night before the ban was lifted, I was on the phone with my dad. When he asked me what my plans were for the upcoming week, I mentioned my intention to attend a Repeal Day party. He very comfortably commented that he had read an article in his local newspaper focusing on an elderly man discharged under the policy who would soon have his benefits reinstated. “That’s a good thing for the country,” he said. His understated tone of acceptance underscores the gap.

Those simple words did wonder to wash away my own resentment. They made me realize that whatever hostility headlines from the past may have elicited, it’s the lives we are living now that truly matter. We can’t begrudge people for past prejudices. We can only be thankful that they embrace the truth of a taboo lifted.

Gays are now serving openly in the military. Our nation stands strong. Our families can be stronger.

Gay Church

Every group of people has shadows that need to be shaken. For gay men, we’re often a bunch notoriously obsessed with our looks. Centuries of social isolation have given rise to plastic airs even our own kind have difficulties keeping up with. Human behavior can only be understood when the complexities of the layers beneath the surface are examined.  Identity is a myriad of personal circumstances. The gay experience is best viewed through a rainbow lens.

There’s an old adage in homo-culture that states “the gym is gay church”. While it’s a tongue-in-cheek statement, it’s also darkly ironic. There’s an expectation in gay male culture that bodies be slim, trim, and spryly sculpted. I know many who spend hours a day working out to obtain an Adonis-like physique. Eating disorders are rather normalized among many same-sex peer groups. When my chunky 15 year-old self came out of the closet in high school, I was quickly informed by a classmate that I couldn’t really be a homosexual. The reason? Well, you have to be hot to be gay! Thankfully, human sexuality is much more nimble than tepid social illusions!

That remark haunted me for years, though, and the allure of Adonis remains a dank cloud over the gay community. To get to the core of this complex, we have to dig beneath its plastic exterior.  It’s easy to make our bodies a sanctuary when we’ve been driven from our own houses of worship. Churches, mosques, and synagogues are where many find comfort, but many times it’s religion that begins the self-loathing process. When you “love the sinner, but hate the sin”, there’s a transfer of negative energy that can have dire consequences.  Hate becomes the operative word, and often we go to war with our bodies as a result of other people’s uncomfortability with our presence. We can’t make people change, but we can change ourselves. Let’s face it; it’s a lot easier to lose weight than it is to work through deep-seeded emotional pain!

Rejection isn’t always synonymous with religion, though. Many times it’s just plain ignorance that drives a wedge between gays and their friends and family. Sure, we’re making progress. With alarming stories of gay kids offing themselves, though, we obviously aren’t close to the end of this journey to acceptance. It’s easy to outcast people who aren’t like us. It’s also easy to forget how truly isolating it can feel at times to be gay. Well-meaning hetero-pals usually aren’t aware how lonely it can feel to only have a highly reduced chance of meeting someone who shares your sexual orientation.  In the Midwest, where urban migration moves many gays away and the closet locks many more inside, that feeling is intensified. When we spend too much of our time building lean muscle mass, we aren’t spending enough of our time bridging gaps in understanding. We let ourselves believe that a svet physique is the only ticket to companionship. We pursue perfection to escape isolation.

It’s a problem when developing your personality takes a back seat to mounting a six-pack. It’s your aura that draws people in, not the size of your waist. That famous gay rainbow is supposed to symbolize the diversity within our community, and we have a menagerie of body types. Body image issues plague people of all sexual orientations. Let’s melt the plastic and get to the point!

 

Alien on the Range

ImageThe Kansas prairie is a boundless amber carpet.  It unfolds to seemingly endless seas of grain and opens itself up to innumerable possibilities. Yet beauty is often sheathed in isolation. Anyone who has spent time in Kansas knows the dichotomy of this land—at times the sprawling nature of our state brings a sense of freedom, while at other times it’s downright alienating.

And if you’re a homo on the range, sometimes you feel like you’re living in outer space!

Just like everyone else, gay people play multiple roles in life. We’re someone’s child, we’re somebody’s colleague, we’re many people’s friend, and many of us are another person’s romantic partner.  Yet, it’s loneliness that truly is the toughest role we ever play. At some point in a gay person’s life, they will inevitable feel alienated from their peers by virtue of the fact that they are different. Connection picks the lock of alienation, and I’m happy to report that there’s an unshackling taking place in The ICT!

Kansas LGBT Community is a new group that has formed to facilitate social interactions between members of our very own local queer population. The crux of the group’s formation is to encourage healthy interaction between LGBT people and their allies in safe environments. The group holds monthly meetings on the 2nd to last Saturday of each month and often mixes up the calendar with random meet ups and happenings.  In August, I attend a LGBT BBQ, and was delighted to see a large mix of people at the event. Many of them were old friends, but more were new faced I’d never seen. These meet ups seem like a great way to meet people you might not otherwise know live in this city. That’s exactly what the group’s organizer, Danielle Phil Sanders, envisioned when she started the Facebook group that lead to the off-line socializing.

One of the biggest draw backs to same-sex socializing in Wichita has always been the fact that most social interactions happen in bars or dance clubs. When the only outlet you have for meeting other people like you is centered on drinking and smoking in a contained area blaring loud music, the quality of your indiscriminate encounters quickly devalues. I’ve know many people who have become jaded by the gay social scene here because of this.

Being an astronaut might be fun, but let’s face it—no really one wants to live in outer space! Get connected to you KS LGBT Community and end the alienation.

Parents, The Kids Are All Right. Are You?

ImageThe advent of parenthood brings with it hopes and dreams for children’s futures. Wanting your child to have the happiest, fullest life possible seems to be a paternal instinct for most.  Anyone or anything that dares to present a roadblock to this becomes a quick target for disdain and removal. Perhaps that’s why so many parents have a hard time when their children come out of the closet.

Even the most progressive of parents sometimes find themselves caught off guard and unsure how to react when they hear the news that their kid is gay. It’s natural to want to protect your offspring from the woes of the world, and everyone knows that gay and lesbians are frequent targets of scorn and ridicule. Because of this, often the sexual orientation of the child, not the child’s would-be agitators, winds up in the protective cross-fires.

Some parents dismiss their adolescent’s announcement by hoping their same-sex desires are merely a phase. Others shut down and prefer not to broach the subject, hoping that a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach will work better for their family than it has for the US military. Sometimes, parents get religious, citing Bible verses and hoping they can “pray away the gay”.  Sadly, it’s not uncommon for some mother or fathers to kick their children out of the house. These negative reactions, wherever they lie on the gamut, are inversions of the very instinct parents are trying to call upon. Sometimes to truly protect the one you love, you have to broaden your scope of understanding.

When I came out to my mom at the age of 16, she didn’t know a whole lot about sexual orientation, and she was rather surprised by my pronouncement. She did the one thing, though, that I tell every parent they need to do when they learn they have a gay kid—she educated herself. Whatever levels of uncomfortability she had with homosexuality, she never took her lack of understanding or knowledge out on me.  She dealt with it on her own by reading up on the topic. Because of this, I was able to be myself and always have someone in my corner as I ambled my way through the confusion of figuring out what it means to be gay. Her actions were the paternal protection I needed to save my life. Scared, depressed, and suicidal, I’m not sure I could have withstood a rejection from my mother.

If you ever have a kid tell you that they’re gay, you need to assume that your actions can have just as dire of consequences. No parent wants to see their child hurt themselves because of a rash rush to judgment. Don’t assume the “problem” will go away by ignoring it or trying to change it. If your kid has mustered up the courage to tell you this, they’ve already spent a great deal of time deliberating their feelings and desires. Love, acceptance, and support are what they need to get them through the barriers in life that lie ahead.

There’s no reason that a gay person can’t have a life full of happiness and fulfillment.  Hopes and dreams shouldn’t die just because your idea of who your kid was “supposed to be” doesn’t measure up with who they actually are. Ignorance is the only road block that stands in the way. And it’s a parent’s job to shoot it down!

ICT Closets

Closets are great places to hang clothes. Closets are not, however, anywhere anyone should live any part of their life.

Remember that U.S. Senator who got busted in the boys room for tapping his foot, looking for a sexual tryst? That was Utah’s Larry Craig, a Republican. Recall that governor who got caught up in a sex scandal with a former aide and was forced to admit to the world, with his wife by his side, that he was “a gay American”? That was New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey, a Democrat. This is what happens when you are beholden to the closet. Closets don’t have geographic or political barriers. Living in them does cause palpable damage, though. It’s time we let that famous Kansas wind blow open the closet doors of ICT.

Sadly, there are many to be opened. While I do not know of any closeted folks in this state working actively against the gay community, I do know plenty of people in positions of power whose silence does nothing to move us forward.  They are elected office holders, government officials, business leaders, attorneys, police officers, high-profile community organizers, and architects of many good things that have happened in this city. They’ve built a comfortable world for themselves by denying their own truth to others.  A select few know their identities. However, the fifteen-year-old girl struggling to come to terms with the fact that she’s gay has no role model to look to. There’s no visible assurance that she can be both honest and successful, at least not in Wichita. Many will say that a person’s sexual orientation is nobody else’s business. When we live in a country where every person has the same legal rights and social respect, I’ll agree with that statement. At the moment, we do not.

Long ago, I decided it was easier for me to be honest about who I am rather than live a lie. Naively, I assumed others—especially those from my generation—would soon follow suit. The social consequences seem insurmountable for many, though. When I worked in politics, I had college interns confess to me their fears about being out. They worried that would cost them a coveted political career. I’ve had waiters overtly flirt with me by night, only to run into them the next day and be blinded by the glimmer of their wedding ring. I’ve watched rainbow sparkles practically pour out of someone’s mouth while he playfully flirts with my male colleague, and then noticed pictures of his adoring wife and daughters lining the walls behind us. Since I started writing this column, a number of people have confessed their secret to me. Those secrets are safe; I don’t believe in outing folks. The shackles of your own shame are far more powerful than any secret I or anyone else could ever hold.

Being openly gay in Wichita really isn’t that bad, though. I’ve had a successful career, plenty of friends, and somehow find myself rubbing elbows with decision makers on a regular basis. I do this all being 100% me. If I can do it, anyone can.

No one should ever have to compartmentalize themselves. The holistic life is the only one worth living. If you’re gay, you owe it to yourself and your community to be honest. Keep your clothes in the closet, where they belong. Live your life out in the open, where you belong.

Pride

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From Wichita Pride.
(photo by David Quick)

Every June, queers around the country gather to celebrate what has become known in the gay community as “Pride”. It’s supposed to be a time for LGBTs in every community to come together to shake away shame and shatter stigmas. However, it’s an event that is often misunderstood and misrepresented.

A lot of straight people just don’t get it. The mere mention of a gay pride parade usually conjures up images of shirtless muscle boys in pink bikinis dancing away to Cher songs while simultaneously grabbing the asses of innocuous hetero-boy passersby.  Fears of greasy, leather-clad lesbians running over women pushing baby strollers also abound. While these hyperbolic stereotypes are slowly fading, even those more in-tune with reality have questions. “Why do gay people need their own parade?” is a question I’m frequently asked. Straight people deserve an answer.

It’s not so much about the parade as it is the principle. Gay people don’t live in a world where their sexual identities are affirmed on a regular basis in the same way that straight people’s sexualities are. Marriage and family are seen by society as a milestone in basic individual human development. Meanwhile, same-sex relationships are often discouraged at best and out-right berated at worst. Most people are assumed to be heterosexual. There’s no “coming out process” involved with admitting that you like a member of the opposite sex.  To have the audacity to say out loud that you dig your own kind, though, takes a certain amount of courage. While we make progress each day, there are still communities where it’s not ok to be gay. Gay bashing incidents are all too common.  There are still people in this city who harbor ignorance or out-right hatred toward homosexuals. It’s legal to get fired from your job in the state of Kansas for being gay. For those individuals brave enough to speak and live their own truth amidst adversity, I say a parade is in order!

Pride really isn’t so much about a parade, though, as it is about a possibility. In Wichita, we’re on the cusp of social change. Our pride celebrations get bigger each year. It’s a testament to the generations before us who envisioned a life outside the closet as possible. I remember marching in the 2002 parade on Main Street and being accompanied by about 40 people. Last year, an estimated 1,200 people took part in the multi-day celebration in Nafsgar Park! This year promises to be even bigger! One exciting event being planned is a screening of the movie Milk at The Orpheum Theatre on June 22nd. I urge you all to come out and watch it. You’ll get a glimpse of what is POSSIBLE for Wichita. In the 1970s, gay San Franciscans united behind the optimistic Harvey Milk because they believed that their community could become relevant and contribute to the city’s development in a positive way. I believe the timing is ripe for the gay community in Wichita to follow suit. It is not outside the realm of possibility that we could elect one of our own to local public office within the next five years.  Doing so would send a much stronger message about what people with obstacles set before them can achieve than any parade ever could.

In the mean time, though, let’s not be shy to celebrate who we are! Let’s not forget, though, that sometimes we have to help our straight friends understand why this is important. We break down barriers by being honest with ourselves about who we are, and by not being ashamed to speak that truth to others. In doing this, we lay tracks for limitless possibilities.

Get Out of the Club Scene & Into the Mainstream

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Mixed company in Old Town
(photo by David Quick)

Go to a Wichita gay bar on any given night and you’re likely to find some sad homosexuals mixed in with the karaoke fun and libatious celebrations. Go to a Wichita gay club and you’re going to see some forlorn fags and disgruntled dykes glued to the side walls amidst flashy friends sipping cosmos and dancing queens debaucherously shaking up the latest Top 40 techno-remix. For many, a “Wichita gay scene” centered on the club/bar life is an accepted avenue of socialization. After all, these venues do the community a great service by providing a safe and accepting place for people to be themselves and meet others who are like them. Their importance cannot be overstated. I think it’s time, though, for the LGBT community in Wichita to think beyond the bars.

I’ll confess that I’m biased. I’ve never really fit the high-fashion, super skinny mold that’s necessary to be a gay scene sensation. I spend most of my days in Delano or Riverside coffee shops and most of my nights at Old Town music venues or Commerce Street art shows. I prefer conversation about literature, philosophy, and politics over grinding my ass on the dance floor while competing for a randomly cute stranger’s attention.  I want real human connection, not sleazy one-night stands. I sense that I’m not alone.

Every time I bring up the topic of the local gay scene to other homos, there are usually plenty of moans and eye rolls. No one seems to be satisfied with the current state of socialization. Poetic waxes about the rich gay scenes of San Francisco and New York are standard. Hopes of one day leaving our fair, flat state for “gayer pastures” to the east and west are the norm. Most can’t seriously pack up and leave, though. All, however, can do something to reverse the doldrums and breathe new life into Wichita’s queer community. We need to get out of the “gay scene” and grace the “mainstream” with our queer presence!

Gay businesses aren’t the only places in this city with safe and accepting atmospheres. There are plenty of clubs and venues in Wichita that are full of accepting, cool straight people who just love the homos! They would love it even more if we became further engrained in their daily lives. There’s more to do than dance to tired Top 40 tunes in these joints, too!

Venture west of the Arkansas River on Douglas Ave into Delano and you’ll find The Vagabond. It’s the perfect spot to grab a martini with friends or share pita and hummus on a date while XM radio blares cutting edge indie jams.  Wander north and you’ll find The Riverside Perk. Under new ownership, this is a welcoming place for LGBT people of all ages to socialize without shame while enjoying a cup of coffee or mouth-watering bierock. Go into Old Town and there are plenty of places to see live, original music. The Blue Lounge, Kelly’s Irish Pub, Caffe Moderen, Mead’s Corner, The Anchor, and Lucky’s are some of the spots that showcase the best in local and regional talent. As a gay man, I’ve never felt uncomfortable in any of these joints. In fact, I feel more at home in these places than in any Wichita gay bar. Head east into the Douglas Design District and you’ll find places like The Donut Whole, Watermark Books, and Caffe Posto, that aren’t gay businesses, but are places with good food, great literature, and awesome art any queer can appreciate.

Speaking of art, Wichita has a rich scene that we need to get more in tune with! The Blank Page gallery in Delano is a hot spot for visual art, poetry, writing, and live shows. Their Wednesday open mic nights bring out the avant-garde, and it’s not uncommon to see newly-out high school kids in the audience relieved to have a safe space they can expresses themselves. Tangent Lab on Rock Island Road is another spot where cutting-edge art happens. Commerce Street’s Fisch Haus, The Jones Gallery, and The Go Away Garage are also portals into fresh visual expressions. These places are only the beginning—they are so many other places full of culture where we can feel comfortable being ourselves, and where we don’t have to feel the pressures of fitting in at a club or bar.

The gay community is really a collection of individuals. Clubs and bars—gay or straight—by their very nature don’t usually cater to individual development. They provide a space where lots of people can gather to let loose and have fun. That’s their function. The individual, though, needs more stimulation to thrive. When clubs and bars are the only avenues for socialization for a community, that’s a big problem! Those who feel disenfranchised by the limited gay culture in this city do have an outlet. We shouldn’t be afraid to claim our place there. This city is full of people ready to accept us and learn from us. We just have to give them the chance.

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