I’ve lived in Kansas for 12 years now, and I forget what it’s like to be a new arrival. This month I interviewed Johnda Boyce, a relatively recent transplant to Kansas City, for a fresh perspective. Johnda works for Legal Aid and has quickly become involved with the LGBT community by joining KC LEGAL and LIKEME Lighthouse. She has diverse interests that include singing, reading, and public service. Welcome to Kansas City, Johnda!
You’ve recently relocated from Springfield, Missouri, to Kansas City. What prompted the move?
I had had my eye on Kansas City for a couple of years. Springfield has a vibrant and active LGBT community, but I’ve been living in much bigger cities for most of my adult life. When I heard of a job at Legal Aid of Western Missouri (in downtown KCMO), I decided that the time was right to give it a try. I was unencumbered and ready for a challenge!
How are you getting settled?
I am settled in, but I am still honeymooning with Kansas City, too. I get warm, fuzzy feelings when I get to experience something new here. I went to my first “Third Thursdays at the Nelson” recently and fell in love all over again.
What has been the biggest change that you’ve experienced since the move?
My living arrangement has been the biggest change. I owned my own home in Springfield, with a double lot and an attached garage. Now I rent a loft in the Crossroads, and I also rent a parking space that’s about a block away. I enjoy walking to work and to the grocery store and entertainment venues, and using the streetcar. My loft is about half the size of my house, but I was only using about half the house, anyway!
You are currently working with Legal Aid of Western Missouri’s Advocates for Family Health project. Could you please explain what that entails?
People ask what kind of law I practice, and the answer (for all Legal Aiders) is Poverty Law. Legal Aid exists to assist poor people with their civil legal problems and to try lift people out of poverty by helping them maintain health care and housing, deal with the Internal Revenue Service, and much more. My program helps people get or maintain the Medicaid benefits to which they are entitled.
What inspired you to become an attorney?
I have to admit that I resisted going to law school for a number of years. I briefly considered it when I was at Southeast Missouri State University in the early 1990s. I was politically active there, and many people encouraged me to get a law degree. I put it on the back burner for about a decade and half, and when I was at a career juncture (at age 38), I decided that I had better give it a try while I still had the energy and the brain power to take on a challenging degree program. I am so glad that I did. It’s a true honor to use my training and credentials to get things done for some of our most powerless neighbors.
October is LGBT History month, which was Rodney Wilson’s brainchild in 1994. How have you helped to support his vision throughout the years?
Rodney is also a graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, and we became good friends through the LGBT campus group there. He invited me to help him with the first nationwide Coordinating Council for what is now LGBT History Month. The Coordinating Council contacted academic institutions, elected officials (for proclamations), research institutes, and LGBT organizations to promote the concept of celebrating our history in the month of October each year. In the early years, the national council would provide, for a $5 contribution, a packet of curriculum suggestions for secondary schools, colleges and universities, and community groups. The council remained in place for a few years in the mid-1990s, but the celebration was never intended to have an ongoing board or council overseeing curriculum or activities. Rodney and I recently donated our files and tape recordings from those early years to the Missouri History Museum. We both returned from out of state to live in Missouri again in the same year, 2011, and we remain close friends.
How can we express to younger LGBT generations the significance of LGBT history?
I will let Rodney Wilson express it for me (from a 2015 Advocate Commentary piece):
…LGBT history gave me self-confidence as a gay person and strengthened my resolve to live, as best I could, an honest, open, and integrated life. It gave me a deeper sense of place and potential. Could it do the same for others? I wondered.
Rodney used his own experience studying LGBT history and LGBT people in history to bring awareness to classrooms and community groups in the U.S. and abroad. I have to think that this has helped younger generations see themselves as part of a continuum and to see our history as something of which to be quite proud.
I understand that you have been becoming involved in the local LGBT community since your move. Have you joined any specific organizations?
I have joined the Kansas City Women’s Chorus, KC LEGAL (an organization of LGBT attorneys), Showing Up for Racial Justice, and the LIKEME Lighthouse. I also spoke to a representative in Sen. Roy Blunt’s office with a group from Human Rights Campaign, volunteered at the KC Fringe Festival, and I am currently gathering raffle prizes for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project’s Brunch N Bowl event, which is Nov. 12, 2016. This event will benefit the Passages youth group. Anyone want to donate a raffle prize?
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
I enjoy traveling to women’s music festivals, going to local music festivals and concerts, reading, going to live theater and movies, and swimming. I listen to several programs on our local community radio station, KKFI-FM, and I always read the book for the on-air LGBTQ book club, the Sandra Moran Alphabet Soup Radio Book Club.
And, I always like to end with something fun. What song currently best describes you and why?
I will go with k.d. lang’s “Luck in My Eyes,” because every white, middle-aged lesbian in America knows all the lyrics to every single k.d. lang song and because it is a song about marching forward, no matter what kind of garbage life throws at you!