Homo on the Range: Coloring Your Own Culture


Carrie & I at Art Aid, during the Naked City era.

What does it mean to be homo on the range? I’ve been writing this column in various publications for over four years. This literary experiment has been an attempt to unearth the unique state of the modern-day queer experience in the Midwest.  It turns out that Kansas, and really every state it touches, have some surreptitious truths that the whole country could benefit from understanding.

“Homo on the Range” is a state of mind. It’s the audacity to be you, anywhere. It’s the boldness to standout. It’s the courage to keep going. It’s wide-open spaces, full of unlimited possibilities. One does not have to be a “homo” nor live “on the range” to be part of it. More straight people actually read this column than folks who are LGBT, and my blog by the same name gets hits from places as far away as Pakistan.

Being homo on the range is also living in a state of vulnerability. When you are gay in the Midwest, you stand out! There are no LGBT enclaves in states like Kansas, Oklahoma, or Arkansas. Sure, there are friendly towns and businesses, but there is no West Hollywood, Boys Town, or Castro to be found in between the hayfields. You can’t easily blend into an existing culture here. If you are going to be out, you are going to have to create that culture yourself. It’s up to you to color your own community.

The paintbrush was handed to me on a crisp, autumn night in 2008 at an after party during the Tallgrass Film Festival, Wichita’s premier annual independent cinema event. I was sipping martinis with my four best friends, perusing a new cell phone app called Twitter. In the middle of sending my very first tweet, a sharply dressed, wavy-blonde haired woman approached our table. Her name was Carrie, and she was looking for a gay voice to add to her emerging magazine. I’d been trying to make a difference on the equality-front in politics for years, but our conversation that night opened my eyes to the possibility that I could have an impact with my words, too.

A few months later, I penned the very first “Homo on the Range” for Naked City Magazine. Mostly read by straight people, not all of who were natural allies, that column raised a lot of eyebrows. A few advertisers pulled out. Some readers wrote the editor to complain. Mostly though, everyone was all right. It turns out that having an honest dialogue in a tasteful manner about a difficult issue is a Kansas value. My work for the magazine later opened up connections for freelance work. Today, I’ve had close to 300 articles published as a result.  That’s one of many ways I’ve colored my own culture and created my own community here on the range.

Anyone whose unique sparkle drives them to use their distinct abilities to nurture connections and enhance communities is already a “homo on the range”. There are straight people who are far better at this than I am! While I may have conceived this moniker, there are far superior motions being set forward by countless individuals in the gay community that will get us farther than any of my words ever will. I look forward to the day when those collective efforts make the range a home everyone can be proud of!


Range in a Homo Change of Mind

protest 02142008 cdb 19737Homo on the Range is more than a jarringly ironic name for a column about gay life in the Midwest. It’s larger than any one individual LGBT person living in Middle America. At its core, homo on the range is a frame of mind. It’s the notion that a person can be their true, authentic self anywhere.  It’s also the realization that progress can only happen with honest conversation.

Progress is, in fact, happening on the range! In 2005, Kansas’s voters were asked if they wanted to amend the state’s constitution to limit marriage and all of its legal benefits to only heterosexual couples. 70% said yes. According to a new Public Policy Polling survey, the number of Kansans who remain opposed to allowing gay marriage is down to 51%, with only 34% saying there should be no legal recognition of same-sex relationships. A majority support either marriage or civil unions. Given the conservative political dynamics of Kansas and nearby states, marriage equality isn’t coming to the heartland anytime soon. This poll underscores something more important, though: the power of dialogue.

The first time I truly felt “out” wasn’t when I was a pimply 15 year old, awkwardly confessing to my best friend that I’m attracted to boys. It was about 3 years later when I recalled that incident to a classroom full of strangers while speaking on a “gay panel”. In the early 2000’s, myself, along with several friends I met through PFLAG (Parents, Friends, and Families of Lesbians and Gays), would speak to groups of people about being gay. We’d talk to college sociology and human sexuality classes, social workers in training, would-be teachers in diversity programs, medical professionals, employers, and even sometimes members of the clergy. We’d share with them our personal stories—how we discovered that we are gay, how having a different sexual orientation has impacted our lives, and how political debates over our rights have very personal impacts.

I lost my gay-panel virginity at Butler Community College. I felt raw, naked, and exposed. I was sharing intimate, painful stories about peer rejection, suicidal thoughts, and emotional strife to a roomful of about 30 complete strangers. It wasn’t easy. But half way through speaking, I realized it was so worth it. Glares of disgust were turning into gazes of empathy. Heads turning horizontally started to vertically nod. There was a palpable energy shift in the room; people who walked in prejudiced to a certain way of thinking about gay people were reexamining their assumptions. I realized then that these panels were the single most effective way to create change. They humanized the issue and invited in conversation with our Q&As after each talk.

Since then, I’ve spoken on close to 100 other panels. My words aren’t why Kansan’s views are shifting on gay civil rights. But they are part of why. The other part—or rather other thousands of parts—are the many more people who have had similar conversations in even more intimate settings. It’s the collective dialogue that is nearing us to a tipping point. One day, we will live in a state where we not only have the same rights as everyone else, but we will also enjoy the same dignity as our peers.

Don’t let the conservative, Republican political climate scare you into thinking such machinations are impossible, either! Ohio Senator Rob Portman, who almost became Mitt Romney’s running mate, just announced that he now supports gay marriage. The first Senate Republican to change course did so for a simple reason: his son is gay. Kitchen table issues and gay issues are really one in the same when it comes to family. The more dialogue those of us who are gay have with people like Sen. Portman, the better it’s going to get.

So don’t be afraid to come out to your conservative parents or traditionalist peers.  Family values are a big deal here on the range. Over the last decade, more and more families have discovered that they have to value all of their children. Sometimes, that means changing some beliefs. An evolution of values based on bedrocks of love: that is very homo on the range.

Homo on the Range


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!