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!


Uganda Be Kidding Me

Half a world away, a very serious human rights matter has risen with tracks that follow back to our own yellow brick road.

Sure, Kansas queers have a couple of things we could complain about. It’s perfectly legal to be fired from a job for being gay in this state. A constitutional amendment exists to deny same-sex couples basic legal rights. However, there’s something gay Kansans do have here that our friends in the east African nation of Uganda may soon covet- the right to be alive.

It’s actually illegal to be gay in a number of places abroad. Punishment ranges from large fines to public beatings to prison sentences in many places. A bill has been introduced in Uganda’s parliament that would go beyond that by mandating the death penalty for what the bill’s author coins “aggravated homosexuality.”

Uganda be kidding, right?

Sadly, no, and it isn’t just gay people who need fear retribution.   Anyone who knows a gay person and doesn’t report their knowledge to the police will be thrown in jail. Anyone who advocates or speaks out on behalf of gay rights will also get locked up.  If you lived in Uganda, every person reading this magazine would be in big trouble—unless you turned me into the police to be executed!

As we Americans argue over if gay couples should be allowed to marry, elsewhere, there’s an argument taking place over whether gay people can just BE. I, of course, write this column with my western perspective.  In Uganda, family is a keen value; anything that threatens its traditional structure is a problem that must be stopped. Homosexuality is seen as being the death-keel to traditional family values, so thus, the death penalty is seen by some as a suitable solution. I know that different societies have different values and cultural beliefs. There’s a fine line between tolerance and tyranny, though.

There’s also apparently a not-so-fine line between Kansas and Uganda politicians.

The author of this bill, Uganda Member of Parliament David Bahati, is a key associate of the American “secret society” known as The Family. It is well documented that our own Senator Sam Brownback is among this ultra-conservative clan. Jeff Sharlet, author of a book documenting The Family’s ties, says the group has funneled millions of dollars into the Ugandan anti-gay campaign, and considers Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni as the “key man” for protecting family values in Uganda.  Sharlet also says Museveni can go to Brownback if he wants money for arms or any other project—such as getting this bill passed.

This is quite troubling given the fact that Brownback is the apparent frontrunner to become Kansas’ next governor this fall. In the past, he has used his influential status to aid other global humanitarian issues, such as working to end international sex trafficking. On this issue, though, he has yet to comment or detail his involvement with Uganda officials as it relates. It’s a deafening silence; it’s not a quashing quiet, though.

We have the right to do something in Kansas that our gay brothers and sisters in Uganda don’t have right now. We can ask questions and demand answers. No one’s going to execute us in Wichita for demanding to know the depth of our Senator’s involvement. No one will go jail for asking him to use his apparent connections to speak against and stop this atrocity.  In fact, you can call his office right now and let his staff know you want to see some action– (316) 264-8066. It’s an issue that may seem a world away, but apparently it’s been blown straight to Oz!

(You can also e-mail Brownback’s office by filling out a comment form at