We’re tough. I like that about us queer folks. We have tenacious hearts.
Take for instance, “Paul.” Paul lives over in Waldo with his partner. He started the first-ever LGBT group at Kansas State University back in 1968, a year before Stonewall (yep, Manhattan, Kan., had a gay rights group before Manhattan, N.Y., had a safe gay bar). When his phone number wound up on a group flier, he immediately began receiving phone calls from other students, who said, “You mean I’m not the only one?” And when he went before a governing board to request official university recognition, he reminded the unanimously opposed board members that “God is watching us. And if you fuck this up, He’s gonna getcha.” It didn’t hurt that there was a massive prairie thunderstorm outside. Paul walked out with enough votes for recognition.
Since May, the OUTSpoken KC team has been recording the oral histories of local LGBT people, like Paul, and archiving them at the Gay & Lesbian Archives of Mid-America (GLAMA) over at UMKC. We have some pretty spectacular LGBT people in Kansas City.
But even the Kansas Citians we talked to who weren’t involved in “historic” events had gripping stories, particularly about love. Such as a Northland couple that survived a frighteningly homophobic custody battle. The partners who met because they were being stalked by the same person. A guy who shouted on a Belton street that his companion was, in fact, his lover. A lesbian couple of color that navigated the racial politics of Kansas City’s separatist WomanTown in the ’80s.
From the historically influential to the everyday, the stories of queer people in Kansas City are largely hidden. If you’re an LGBT kid in an area school, good luck hearing anything about local queer history. To be an LGBT person has almost always meant being a historical orphan, having no clue who came before you, how many other people have traveled similar paths, even in your own neighborhood. “You mean I’m not the only one?”
In reply, the OUTSpoken KC team invites you to attend OUTSpoken KC: Love and Marriage, a dramatic reading of true stories from Kansas City’s LGBT community, performed by local actors Shawna Downing and Jordan Foote. OUTSpoken KC: Love and Marriage will be performed for one night only – at 7 p.m. Oct. 7 at Unity Temple on the Plaza. Admission is free, and a sign language interpreter will be provided for the deaf and hard of hearing.
October is LGBT History Month. And LGBT history did not occur only in San Francisco and New York. It happened here. People you drive beside on Metcalf were a part of it. So were people you brush past at the Nelson, or people you make eyes with at Sidekicks.
So if you want to hear some of our untold queer heritage, mark your calendars: Oct. 7, 7 p.m., Unity Temple on the Plaza. Let’s reflect upon who we are, and how long we’ve been who we are, together, denizens of wildly diverse Kansas City.