Kay Barnes knows what side of history she wants to be on. She’s known since the 1960s.
Barnes, a board member for the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, has accomplished a list of “firsts” – such as being one of the first two women on the Jackson County Legislature in 1974, and serving from 1999 to 2007 as the first female mayor of Kansas City, Mo. She’s been credited with playing a major role in the revitalization of downtown Kansas City and the addition of the Sprint Center. She’s founded her own human resources business.
And she was an LGBT advocate long before public displays of support by allies were the norm.
“Really, it goes back for me to the late ’60s, when I was doing some work with the United Methodist denomination,” Barnes said. “There were some people at that time who were just beginning to be more public about gays and lesbians in the community, and I certainly had great respect for them for being pioneers in that.”
Her open-minded attitude is an easy fit with her welcoming personality. Friendly, well-spoken and gracious, the former mayor even invited us into her home when the weather turned inclement. She smiled easily as we talked about her experiences with Mid-America GLCC.
“The leadership is terrific. … “I’m also impressed by the recognition that it’s OK to have fun doing this,” she said. “That can be woven into the chamber experience for board members, members, the larger community. It’s a celebration of where we all are. There is a spirit of hard work and cooperation, and a sense that we’re all on the same page.”
She also spoke of the importance of advocacy as an ally and putting our voices together to create support for change. She referred to a TED presentation by Jackson Katz, a leading educator in gender violence prevention, in which he discussed the responsibility that comes with witnessing injustice.
“He talks about being fearless and speaking up, and if you are a bystander — not the victim, not the perpetrator — you have a responsibility every single time [to speak up]. … Additionally, I think that the LGBT community in Kansas City has done a particularly good job of being fearless in moving forward, and it has, as a result, garnered the respect and support of the larger community,” she said.
When asked whether she considers herself a trailblazer, she laughed kindly and said, “I think others would have to answer that. But I think all of us are part of a journey that began a long time before we got here, and will continue for a long time afterwards. Our role is to enjoy the journey, move it forward, not only for ourselves but for everybody else.”
Considering the steps she has taken toward equality– passing domestic-partnership benefits legislation as mayor, serving on the local GLAAD advisory board, and even posing for Camp’s 2006 Pride Week cover in a gutsy, fun photo — it seems that she is well-suited for the journey.
In fact, considering Barnes’ long-standing support of the LGBT community, her strides as a Kansas City politician, and her drive to do the right thing, it seems that Kay Barnes is simply a natural leader … which is exactly why the Mid-America GLCC is honored to have her on the board.
Photo: Landon Vonderschmidt
The Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (MAGLCC) advocates, promotes and facilitates the success of the LGBT business community and its allies. Learn more at maglcc.org.