Solo-Sex Marriage


Wide open spaces.

Life on the range opens us up to possibilities as vast as the flat land before our eyes. Those prospects can take us beyond tradition and to a deeper place. Sometimes, we find ourselves outside of our safety zones and in uncharted territory. When we do, when we must become our own trailblazer.

That’s what I have learned as a gay man living in Kansas who has always been single. Yes, in my almost 30 years of life, I have never had one real relationship. I’ve had to invent the rules as life happens. I live alone, creating myself as each day unfolds. Most people find it perplexing that an educated, dynamic, and well-regarded person would be met with such circumstance. Indeed, my chronic solo condition used to cause me great pain.

Then I got to thinking about exactly where it is I choose to live…

Wichita is a great place to raise a family. The city offers a very affordable, high standard of living. There are lots of big houses on large lots to rent or buy at relatively low prices. We have quality schools to educate kids. We have strong neighborhoods to give families support. We have vast amounts of churches to enhance spiritual and community growth. Generally, a slower pace and calmer way of living makes it a relaxed spot to settle into married life.

Not everyone chooses that lifestyle, though; and that’s not just because of sexual orientation!

A growing number of folks are eschewing traditional family life altogether. More and more, people are choosing to either defer marriage until later in life or forgo the concept entirely. Those who are single and remain in The ICT are finding themselves on the “family-friendly fringe.” We who are single and gay…well, let’s just say it isn’t same-sex nuptials we’re concerned with. For us, it’s a daily struggle to find contentment living in a solo-sex marriage.

LGBT individuals generally don’t feel the same familial and societal pressures to partner and reproduce that our heterosexual friends do. This leaves us plenty of space to build our own lives and forge meaningful friendships. That doesn’t mean we’re devoid of devotion, though. To live alone for the long haul is just as much a commitment to one’s self as a marriage is a solemn promise to another person.

There’s a lot of inherent joy that comes with simultaneously being gay and single. There’s a matchless air of freedom inherent with knowing you never have to legally be bound to someone else. You can eat anywhere you want to for dinner. You can go out to any club you like. You can take up whatever hobby interests you. You can travel anywhere in the world. No one else’s feelings have to be considered as you explore the depths of who you are.

Yet a solo-sex marriage is actually quite the polyamorous affair. When your focus isn’t just on one person, you have the ability to invest in lots of people. For me, that’s meant building some very meaningful friendships, the depths of which transcend the layers of many legal marriages. I know more about my best friend Mary than most husbands do their wives. I’ve connected with my friend Trishna on a deeper emotional level than a lot of boyfriends will ever connect with their girlfriend. I’ve had more fun dancing at loft parties with my friend Lynette than I probably would have had grinding on any guy I’ve ever been interested in dating. In all of my relationships, I’ve invested part of myself in another person and gotten a piece of me reflected in their eyes.

In cities like Wichita, though, unconventional joys can only last so long before tradition takes root. Most of my really good friends have moved away because, while Wichita is a great place to raise a family, it’s not a good place to be single. That’s especially true if you are looking for a mate. Sperling’s Best Places rated us the #2 worst city for dating in 2011. In 2004, another study had us at #3; we increased, but this is not a list on which you want your rank to rise! People who are raised in Wichita are all too aware of the realities behind the numbers. They often move on to greener pastures, off the range.

Though there are many joys that come with being partner-free, no person wants to be devoid of connections altogether. Most of us want a life full of friends. Many of us want to experience love at least once. I’ve gotten to know myself quite well as I’ve lived in my solo-sex marriage on the range for the entirety of my twenties. When I’m not connected with friends and not sharing my daily life with other people, though, I feel as though the sum of me is lost. I develop by allowing parts of others to fertilize shares of myself. Left alone too long, I can feel a withering away of my best parts. I know the years by recounting the people who shared them with me. It’s good to be alone so that you can truly know yourself; but you must also live among so that you can share that self-cultivation.

I’ve come to the unfortunate conclusion that, while the prairie lands of Kansas hold vast potential for shaping an unassailable sense of self, lasting connections with others will have to be explored off the range. Wichita has been a great place for me to find myself, but as I embrace the person I’ve uncovered I know I’ll have to go elsewhere to fully share him. I’m not alone in this line of reasoning. This is the heart of the city’s “Brain Drain” problem that sewers away young talent. It’s also the central point of the simultaneous “gay-away” that chases off our LGBT occupants.

Having to choose between one’s self and one’s home is unfortunate. The beauty of Kansas, though, isn’t just the enormity of its land; it’s the profoundness of the people the land shapes.  The real home on the range is the home one finds within. Maybe this land was settled so that people could come here to know themselves first, then then blaze trails elsewhere with others by their side later. If so, everyone should have a Kansas sojourn.




photo courtesy of

Nutopia is a state of mind. When John Lennon and Yoko Ono announced the birth of their conceptual country in 1973, they were essentially envisioning a world where brands and boundaries bounded no one. Their April Fool’s stunt didn’t gain this peacenik nation sovereignty. It did, however, galvanize a mantra for solidarity; who you are and where you come from should have no credence on where you can go.

Thirty-eight years later this simple idea remains compellingly relevant. Isn’t it hypocritical, though, for a column with a moniker based largely on identity politics to champion the idea of a label-free world?  Sometimes associations have to be deconstructed before they can be set free.

The same month that Nutopia was conceived, homosexuality remained classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association. Often times, “coming out” to family meant you would be “going in” to a mental institution. Consensual intercourse between adults of the same-sex was a statutory crime in most states.  Gay bars, many of which existed elusively and informally, were frequently raided by the police. The names of those arrested were often published in the paper the next day—a deterrent for “deviant behavior”.  Gay circumstance circa-1973 was anything but happy!

In an age where gay marriage is available two states away in Iowa, it may seem like I’m describing a different world. There’s a reason for that. Nearly four decades of dialogue about homosexuality has given rise to unprecedented freedoms and boundless possibilities for the future. That only happened, though, because people were willing to associate themselves with the labels of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender. If you aren’t willing to tell someone what a word means to you, they’ll fill in the meaning with their own understandings. Often, those assumptions will get codified into laws that govern how much freedom you can enjoy!

It seems that many LGBTs in Wichita want to live in their own sovereign nation—one where only a select few know who they truly are. I know plenty of prominent people in The ICT whose closeted existence is rationalized on their abhorrence of group association. What is the consequence of such sentiment? Statutorily, this city’s laws regarding gays haven’t changed much since 1973. The social scene has only recently began to progress. Smaller cities than ours have thriving communities full of out, gay individuals whose talents and dollars contribute to the overall vitality of businesses and neighborhoods. The subtle message this silence sends is that if you want to be yourself, you best go somewhere else.

I say let’s dig in our heels and establish our own country, “Homotopia”! Anyone who dares speak their own truth gains instant citizenship. Closets bound you tighter than any association ever could. If we want to live in a boundary-free world, we need to start by tearing down our own walls.

Everywhere to Go

ImageThere’s no one to hear; You might as well scream; They never woke up; From the American dream
And they don’t understand; What they don’t see; And they look through you ;And they look past me
Oh, you and I dancing slow; And we got nowhere to go

Those are the words that Kansas native Melissa Etheridge used to describe what it meant to be a homo on the range circa 1995. The straights probably don’t realize that the hit love song, Nowhere to Go, is actually a forlorn ballad detailing the dichotomy of queer love in the Midwest. We could find shelter in the arms of our lovers, but in the decades preceding this song, being embraced by the masses was eluded.  Generations of our “forequeers” literally had no where they could go and completely be themselves. They kept their love a secret and they muted their identities. Clandestine encounters in old abandoned box cars were about as public as it got in many places.

Fifteen years later, I’m happy to say that homos are a bit more free-range! As people like Etheridge started coming out in the mid-nineties, Americans gradually did wake up from their limited idea of the American dream. A whole generation is now living with the understanding of something they saw during their development—same sex love. Grassroots activism, political victories, and legal battles helped pave the way for a more inclusive America. But it was the personal courage of each individual who came out and demanded to be heard that really caused change to happen. Suddenly, we in the LGBT community have lots of places we can go!

And that’s part of why I ultimately pulled the plug on my city council campaign.  When I came out in 1998, we lived in a mush harsher world. I was keenly aware that my level of personal joy would be depleted on account of the legal status and social standing afforded to gays and lesbians. Political involvement felt like a necessity for personal survival. For ten years, I was on the front lines as an activist. It was non-stop, high stress work that left little time for a personal life. Gay was a political identity for me; I have yet to actually experience same-sex love.

Life is short, and sexual politics aside, you should enjoy every minute of it. Often times we get involved in activities that bring us a sense of purpose and great joy for a season. Ultimately, though, a full life will involve changes in passions, places, and people. When something you are doing ceases to bring you joy, you owe it to yourself and those around you to stop. Politics became an immense burden for me some time ago, but out of a sense of obligation, I persevered. It would have been remarkable to be the first openly gay man elected to major public office in the state of Kansas. More awesome, though, is the fact that in 2010, I have the ability to choose my own happiness.

It’s important to be involved in politics—if you have any inkling to get involved in activism, I urge you to act on that. Giant steps backward can and will be taken if we are not vigilant. But the moment your passion subsides, step aside for the next individual. I won’t be the first openly gay person to sit on the Wichita City Council, but now the door is open for someone else to take that seat. Maybe that someone is you.

Fifteen years after Etheridge romanticized there being nowhere to go, we have a boundless prairie of opportunities. Queer Kansas can go anywhere. Wherever you go, though, always follow your heart. Being true to you is pretty damn revolutionary!

Kansas Queer Politics: Wichita’s Legendary Moment


Wichita's civil rights ordinance has never been restored.

Avid readers of this column know that today, you can be fired from your job for being a homo on the range. Many are not aware of a legendary window of time where such was not the case, though. Once upon a time in a land not at all far away, it was illegal to discriminate on the bases of “sexual preference” in housing, employment, and public accommodations in Wichita—for a whopping seven month!

The ICT had a very progressive, forward thinking city commission (now referred to as the city council) in the late 1970’s. In the fall of 1977, Wichita became one of the first cities in the country to enact a non-discrimination ordinance that covered gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. The passage of the law was no accident. Wichita had an engaged and politically savvy LGBT faction that was an active, visible part of the community at-large. They knew how to organize and make things happen. They supported candidates in elections, and they educated lawmakers in office. At the same time Harvey Milk was campaigning to become one of the nation’s first openly gay elected officials by the bay, gay Wichitans were staging a little revolution of their own on the prairie.

When the ordinance was originally passed, many began talking openly about Wichita becoming the San Francisco of the Midwest. That didn’t sit well with everyone, though. Several churches were quick to organize a repeal effort, and within just a few months of the law passing, it was headed to the ballot box. Anita Bryant, apparently tired of sipping orange juice, came to Wichita to crusade for the repeal. The campaign was short, but nasty and personal. On April 9, 1978, all incumbents who voted for the law were defeated, and the ordinance was overturned by a margin of 83%-17%. Of the 57,251 people who showed up to vote, only 10,005 voted to allow gay people to have the same rights as everyone else.

San Francisco, we did not become!  Many people publically identified with backing the law were blacklisted. Several were fired from their jobs or evicted from their apartments. A good number of gay people moved away. Most who stayed either went back into the closet or marginalized themselves. As gays become more visible and involved in other communities across the country, the rainbow faded in Wichita.

Thirty-two years later, the laws haven’t changed, but Wichita has progressed. There have never been more gay people active and visible in all parts of this community as there are today. They’re not just crusading for gay rights, either—they’re opening businesses, revitalizing neighborhoods, and enriching their places of worship. Yet, the sting of Wichita’s “legendary” anti-gay past is still felt. Those who are out, though, are paving the way to a day when a law outlawing discrimination of the basis of sexual orientation (and now gender identity) lasts for more than seven months!

Gay Civil Rights. Black Civil Rights.

ImageGay civil rights, black civil rights. Same issue, same struggle, right? Not so according to one very introspective ICT African American lesbian. Though she had to conceal her real name and identity, “Gail” offers a stripped down glimpse into what it means to be gay and black in Wichita. She was kind enough to share her “naked” thoughts with all of us.

“Drawing parallels between the experiences of African Americans and those of gay Americans is a common misnomer made by white people,” Gail said. “We need to dig deeper to understand the differences in culture that result in different racial communities treating their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters differently.”

Gay people have never been systematically rounded up, loaded onto horrific boats, and sold into slavery. They haven’t suffered the same systemic economic and social inequalities throughout history. Gay people can also walk into a room without everyone knowing their sexual orientation.” When you’re black, you can never conceal your race. Gays can choose to hide, but when you’re black, there’s no hiding from prejudice,” Gail points out.

It’s no secret that the blacks and the gays don’t always peacefully coexist. Nationally, African Americans are far more resistant to accepting homosexuality than Caucasians. When Proposition 8 passed in California, 90% of black people voted for Obama, while at the same time 70% of them elected to outlaw gay weddings. Religion is a big factor in the divide. African Americans are a religious and church-centered bunch. Many sociologists contend that it’s socioeconomics, not race, though, that plays a central role in black homophobia. Gail concurs. “It’s about education. The more educated a person is, the more accepting they tend to be. The education rates are lower among blacks and that’s part of the problem. If we want to address homophobia, we need to also address access to education. We need to get serious about ending poverty,” she said.

“Gay people also need to stop being afraid to come and talk to us. Part of why Prop 8 passed was due to the fact that the white gay leaders were too scared to outreach to black communities. They viewed us as the enemy, and so we voted that way,” Gail said.

Gail believes, though, that an opportunity exists locally to move the dialogue forward…but she admits that some things have to change first.

She paints a picture of a Wichita black gay community marginalized and hidden. She believes that proportionally there are just as many black people in town who are gay as there are white people. The different is in how they deal with it. “There’s a lot of hiding, and a lot of fooling,” she said. “Some people hide it from their family, but are out to certain friends. They date, but keep it quiet. Then there’s that infamous “down low”—what I call the fooling! A lot of people just find the social pressures to hard so they fool everyone by pretending to be straight. Just last week I saw a man at church with his wife and kids…and the week before I saw him out at one of the bars kissing a dude!”

She characterizes Wichita African Americans in general to be a very tight-knit community. “Everyone knows everyone,” she said. “Most of us who are here grew up together. Our moms still talk to each other. Our kids play together. The closeness is good in the sense that it creates lifelong bonds and friendships. It has a dark side, though, in that it can lend itself to gossip. And let me tell you, when it comes to other people’s kids, black people love to gossip!”

It’s this close-knit spirit that Gail sees as the biggest opportunity for progress. She believes that local gay rights groups need to do a better job building relationships with black leaders. She says they shouldn’t be afraid to get into the churches and meet with the ministers, too. “Really, if more people were just honest and spoke from the heart, this issue would be go away. I know so many parents who have gay kids and they just hide it from their friends. When it comes to black gays, the parents are in the closet just as much as their kids,” she said.

Gail struck me as someone who could, herself, be a powerful communicator within the black community for the LGBT cause. She’s an active member of her church, a mom raising kids with her partner, and a dynamic professional. She’s out to her family and her congregation. She says most have accepted her. I was surprised when she requested that I conceal her identify. “This is Kansas, and where I work, we don’t have a non-discrimination policy. Until we do, I’ll have to be a bit on the down low myself, sadly,” she said.

Gay civil rights and black civil rights aren’t the same fight, but it seems they have bigotry as a common enemy.

40 Years Later


My first visit to the Stonewall Inn. Every gay person with a political conscious will take a picture in front of this spot at some point in their life if they make it to NYC.

Tonight, there’s a party in Greenwich Village. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and the birth of the modern US gay rights movement. People are dancing in the streets of this iconic Ney York City hamlet where so much modern history was invented. This  in stark contrast to the dearth of mirth that characterized that balmy night four decades ago when gay people fought back virulently and in mass for the first time in history against organized oppression and intimidation. Since then, closet doors have swung open, political power has been amassed, legal battles have been fought, and generation shifts are leading toward what will one day be near universal acceptance for LGBT individuals. Yes, the times have changed!

I wanted to be there for the occasion. I’ve been planning to be there for well over a year. Plans change, though. Tonight, I’m in Wichita- by choice.  For me, there’s no time to celebrate the revolution that began half a coast away; we have our own story to play out, here on Kansas soil.

When drag queens, street kids, and other random homos hurled bricks and other objects at the police who were attacking and intimidating them on that fateful night, they were really launching a full-on assault at the closet.  For too long, homosexuality had been a taboo, tasteless topic. Society was too uncomfortable to reckon discomforts and value conflicts with a reality that couldn’t be denied. People who were gay lied—to themselves and everyone else around them. They blended in, often marrying and having children, all the while doing anything to appear “normal”. The secret alternate life many constructed parallel to this existence was far from anything that should ever be labeled normal, though. It wasn’t uncommon for gay people to have secret, underground rendezvous with others who were like them. They were forced to socialize in seedy bars that were often fronts for mafia-related operations. They had undercover lovers and secret worlds. They were one person with two compartmentalized lives. It was a broken system of existence. It had to end. It is said of the Stonewall Riots that it was the “hairpin drop heard round the world.” That hairpin picked the lock of the closet, and a world of new possibility was opened up for later generations.

My life is the manifestation of what people were fighting for that night. By the time I was coming of age in the 1990s, I was able to recognize early on in my development that I was attracted to men. I lived in a world where homosexuality was a definitive identify. MTV’s “Real World” was giving America a glimpse into the humanity of gay individuals. Clinton had tried to let gays serve openly in the military. Courts were debating the subject of gay marriage. Ellen Degeneres was out on television. Gay was a public issue, and when I admitted my same-sex attraction to myself at the age of 14, I accepted that I would forever be part of a controversy larger than me.  As I grew older, though, I began to see shifts. Closet doors opened for me and my peers by generations past were allowing new possibilities for life in the present. I’ve been able to make hundreds of friends, build a community, launch a successful political, and be a relevant force in helping build and revitalize a city, all as an openly gay person. I did this in Kansas, far from where the revolution began.

Greenwich Village gave birth to a movement. Harvey Milk and the city of San Francisco helped raise it. AIDS threaded to kill it. Individuals all over the country coming out of their own closets saved its life. Legal rights were won in cities and states across the US. Whereas forty years ago it wasn’t legal to be served an alcoholic beverage in New York City if you were gay, it’s now legal in six states for gays to marry. We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.

The Gay rights uprisings may have started on the coasts, but the importance of the struggle for acceptance is shifting to the center of the country. The last battle s will be played out in America’s heartland. If we do this right, we can finish what was started decades ago. We have an opportunity as Kansans to show the rest of the world how we can peacefully and respectably co-exist. It’s true that we are a conservative state, but more important is the fact that we are a conscious people.

The key is getting out there! We need to be out of the closet—and sadly, there are too many doors still tightly shut here on the range.   When people know who we are, it’s harder for them to hate us. When people see how normal our lives are, they’re less uncomfortable around us. Since the days of Stonewall and the uprising of a “gay community”, we’ve had tendency to cluster ourselves with those who are like us. We do this at our own detriment. When we’re working and socializing side by side with people who are different, we’re tearing down barriers on both sides. We can move beyond the rhetoric of the “culture wars” by understanding and accepting the differences within each other. We can learn to accept that some people won’t always agree with us and we won’t always agree with them. If we know each other, though, and we respect each other, we can probably all agree that we should have the freedom to live our lives the way we feel is best.

That’s the mission I’m going to be working to carry out. That’s why I’m happy to be in Wichita, KS and not New York City on the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. True, I’d love to be partying in the streets right now, but when you’re able to be yourself anywhere you go, life’s always a party! What I’ve been able to do with my life, and what I will continue doing, is exactly what that night was all about. Each of us—in our own places and in our own ways—must throw our own proverbial bricks at those closet doors and pick the lock with our own hairpins to let the glory that is within each of us shine in this world unashamed.

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.

Gay-Away: A Midwestern Movement


Photo by David Quick

The Midwestern Gay Movement.

I’m not talking about an organized group of queers raising awareness, organizing rallies, or staging events.  While we do have political groups in the region that do good work for the gay community, sadly I’m referring to a different type of motion. Gay people from states like Kansas have a tendency to get the hell out of here as fast as they can. This mass exodus can often feel like the most significant movement that has taken place within the local LGBT community in recent years.

Kansas has a long-identified “brain drain” problem.  Young, talented people often choose to flee our cities for greater opportunities in larger, more urban areas on the coasts because they feel they can’t have the quality of life they desire in their home state. We have a parallel problem in the LGBT community. Call it a “gay-away”!

From the minute young queers come out of the closet, most are itching to get away. They feel that Kansas isn’t a safe place where they can be themselves. They don’t believe that their love—and by extension who they are as people—will ever be accepted in towns with reputations for being a bit on the backward side.  They don’t see a widespread, visible gay community they can safely fit into. They come to a simple conclusion—they’re not welcome in the middle of the country. So, when they graduate high school (if they couldn’t get away then, definitely when they’re out of college), they pack up their talent, take with them their dollars, and make a home somewhere that ISN’T over the rainbow.

Within this reality, there are plenty of losers. The gay community gets smaller every time this occurs, diluting our political power and social influence. Gay individuals leave behind treasured memories and all of the people and places that made “the range” feel like home. Those they leave are left with empty voids .The cities and states themselves are perhaps the biggest losers, though. Every person who moves away from Kansas takes with them their potential involvement in the community, their probable contributions to local industries, and their definitive impact to the local economy. When it comes to having a strong state with bustling industries and a vibrant economy, does the sexual orientation of those participating really matter?

The answer is obvious to me, but it’s up to us as a collective to really address that underlying issue. The LGBT community can mitigate this “gay-away” by refusing to feel that they have to leave their home to be themselves. The community at-large can be proactive in welcoming and embracing people from all walks of life. We don’t have to agree on every issue to be one, unified community. We can all be ourselves without threatening other people’s values. Let’s face it, life on either coast in the major cities is fast paced and pretty expensive! Here on the range, it’s much more affordable and relaxing. Sometimes the boldest thing you can do in life is to simply stand your ground. Each gay person who elects to stay in Kansas does just that.

It’s time for a new gay “movement” in Kansas. Instead of moving away, let’s move this entire state forward together!



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


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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