On Queer Love

By Mia Jiménez (they/them/theirs)

Mia is a Sarah Lawrence College undergraduate student and will graduate in May 2020 with a focus in writing and literature. 

I was a gawky-bodied sixth grader when my friend told me I should have a crush on a boy named Quinton. I saw him in the hallway with his big freckled smile and a mop of brown curls on his head. He seemed normal to me. I continued my crushes on mean boys named Will or Justin. In eighth grade, I had a handful of classes with Quinton, and this is when I actually began talking to him. He was super sweet, he was funny, and was one of those popular kids who was kind to everyone without needing a reason to be. I remember sitting next to him in a bunch of classes and the comfort in so easily finding a friend in him. I was so used to boys needing some reason to even give you attention at all. By that time, they were already asking me for nudes, or wanted to keep me up at night on Aim trying to guess who they had a crush on. (Instant messenger, anyone?) All of a sudden, there was this nice, really cute boy, who would joke with me about how ridiculous a group of girls were acting or help me on the math homework during study hall or pretend to look over my shoulder when I was doodling. When I think about these things now it’s so clear to me that my liking/longing was in having a male friend who was just sincerely a nice person.

Quinton made fun of how obsessed I was with Justin Bieber and drew mustaches on the pictures I’d tape all over my folder. I was really into writing long notes to my friends and once – after I probably annoyed him very much into doing so – he wrote me a full page-long note! (Literally, a sweetheart!!!) Now when I think about it, I had friends at the time who really did the exact same, but they were girls. I held girls to the standard of being nice while I didn’t expect the same from male counterparts. A girl could have kissed me on the cheek and I would’ve thought it was them being nice. But if a boy so much as said hi to me in the hallway, I would daydream about them. Would they be okay with the fact that my family wasn’t a family reunion-having/lake house-owning kind of family? Did their last name make my first name sound better? (A racial/socioeconomic lens for a whole other essay.) So of course young me, raised on Taylor Swift and suburbia, thought this meant I was head over heels for this guy.

The crush on him was the crush I had on the pretty girls who played traveling soccer and had perfectly curled hair – I so badly wanted to be friends with them. I wanted them to want me around! I saw it as approval. If they wanted to be around me or laugh at my jokes, it meant that I was good or interesting or worth someone’s time. 

Fast forward a bit, and teenage me made my feelings known on many embarrassing and obvious occasions through the years (YEARS, oh my god) which he always handled so kindly, and knowing how sensitive I was, I retroactively thank him for letting me down easy. There’s a reason why I’m digging through my middle school closet: I’m in my third year of college and in the past year especially, I’ve learned so much about the complexities of my queer identity, and how my crush on Quinton, specifically, informed my understanding of my own identity. 

I identify as queer; I’m a genderqueer person who has crushes on everyone, but I can pretty much visualize myself in a serious relationship with anyone but a cis-man. 

In the past year, I met a girl who changed everything I thought I knew about love. As soon as I saw her, I knew this crush was different. I still can’t really explain how I felt it from the beginning. I just knew that I didn’t want to mess this up, whatever “this” was. The more our relationship grew from texting, flirting, and eventually hooking up, to actually telling each other things that were under the surface, I got really scared and retreated into myself more than a few times. I have a few people in my life who I refer to as ex-es, but none in retrospect were given what they needed to be secure relationships. They were on-again, off-again flings that made me feel awful about asking for love. Whether it was time or distance or being open, I realized that being with Sarina was the first time I was experiencing a relationship that I could share and was allowed to feel safe in. I was (am) an equal.

It would dawn on me when I was flying to her city instead of my own with not even the slightest fear that she’d flake on me. When we were going out and her friends had already heard about me, I wasn’t surprised. I was more concerned with wanting to be liked by them. This wasn’t even nearly something I’d dealt with before, and here I was, anxiety meds in my overnight bag, putting more faith in someone than I ever had before and not only coming out unscathed, but really happy. Besides the obvious difference of feeling a whole new feeling in my tummy when we kissed, there were so many other reasons I realized that this safe feeling of love was something I was searching for all before. She makes fun of the way I peel a grapefruit, and I make fun of her for wearing one pair of pants. She also buys my favorite snacks when I’m staying at her place for the weekend, and I pack her favorite baseball hat when she forgot to throw it in her suitcase. Love is many things, and the one I fall for every time is simply paying attention. 

I didn’t know it was possible to be with someone and not have an anxiety attack before every time you were going to see them. To be able to voice my fears, to talk and not worry about being boring, to ask her to wake me up with a FaceTime call and never feel like I was asking for too much, to tell her about the time I cried while walking alone at night and not making it a big deal. Through queer love, I am no longer hunting for the permission to be myself.  

I guess this is all to say that I probably went through more heartache than necessary in trying to call things “love” for people who made it seem so difficult to reciprocate. The security and warmth I feel from Sarina echoes back to a crush I had when I was thirteen, and a sweet boy who was probably the only crush I had on a boy that made me feel this specific way. A lover isn’t just cute. They take you with your rambles and confusions and weird obsessions, they tease but listen, and like my imaginary friend Carly Rae Jepsen says, they “make time for you.” 

My Racing Stripes Are Rainbows

By Emma Coakley

Emma graduated from the University of Louisville in 2016 with degrees in Anthropology, Political Science, and Sustainable Agriculture. Emma is now working at Scheller’s Fitness & Cycling in Louisville, Kentucky.

I will never forget the first time someone called me a lesbian to bully me in middle school. A few boys would ask me why I never had a boyfriend and would scoff at me, my unshaven legs, unibrow, plaid shorts, and loudly exclaim, “Emma is a lesbian. Have you even kissed a boy?” Truth be told, I had not, but I was determined to never be the “lesbian” they thought I was. It became a dirty word. Throughout middle and high school I tried my hardest to like only boys. I put myself through abusive relationships with boys to show my middle school bullies I was not the masculine “dyke” I now take pride in sometimes presenting as. Ignoring the feelings I had for more than one woman I knew in both high school and college, I put myself through hell so I could perpetuate the perfect student-athlete-straight-A’s-straight-girl lifestyle. I did not want to be at the table where the queer kids sat in high school. People were ruthless to them. I convinced myself that was not me. I stuck in my identity as ‘athlete’ and their jabs wore off over time.

I have always been and will always be an athlete. Competition is in my bones and fire is in my heart. You cannot let stray thoughts about gender identity and who you are attracted to get in the way of athletic goals. In today’s society, getting lost in figuring yourself out can suck you away from the sport(s) you love. So I pretended. I pretended some more, I pretended through a successful high school swimming career and partially through a collegiate swimming career. I know I am not the only one who was pretending, but it was not quite acceptable to like girls in such an intimate setting as sports in a state like Kentucky. I was lucky to have a few teammates let me know that not being straight was okay. I finally outed myself to many people I knew my last year in college after nearly a decade of knowing and cowering from the truth.

Fast-forward a few years into adulthood. I now compete as a triathlete and cyclist. It is an exciting new challenge. This year I had the opportunity to represent Team USA at the International Triathlon Union (ITU) World Triathlon Championships in Pontevedra, Spain. At the start of the year, the ITU decided to add in its bylaws that flags depicting “sexual orientation” were not allowed at any ITU race. I was happy to see many athletes criticizing this ban, but severely underprepared for the amount of fellow triathletes agreeing with the ban. In my queer eyes, the ITU wanted to rid the competition of rainbow flags. Our identities were being erased as queer athletes. If we had a rainbow flag at a race, we would risk disqualification. In my bags packed for Spain, I made sure to include a Philly pride flag. If my community was at risk of being erased at an international level, I would make sure that we would still be seen.

Fortunately the ITU reversed their decision on a ban of flags depicting orientation at ITU events mere days after first releasing it. However, their decision and reversal still set a dangerous precedent. I do not want to speak on behalf of all athletes identifying as LGBTQ+, but attempting to ban rainbow flags feels like an absolute attack on us. We do not feel welcome or celebrated. Because of this, I brought my flag anyway. I planned to run across the finish line of my first Cross Triathlon World Championships shrouded in rainbows. Representation is ridiculously important for marginalized communities. If I did not have teammates in college and coworkers to look up to and feel safe with, I could still be unhappy and ashamed to be queer. There would be countless cases of people ashamed and closeted because they saw no representation, no people like themselves. Maybe some way, somehow a triathlete somewhere would see a rainbow flag running across an ITU finish line and realize that loving who they love is okay.

In 2019, there are A LOT of “out” athletes that are paving the way for the rest of us amateurs. Of these athletes, most are white and most are cis-gender. Our society still upholds whiteness and cis-genderness as the epitome of the American athlete. We have such a long, uphill battle ahead of us in not only leveling the playing field but getting the fear-based hate out of people’s hearts. It is more integral than ever to make safe spaces for queer athletes, trans athletes, and LGBTQ+ athletes of color. They must know they are loved and accepted. They must know that so many people look up to them. They must know so many people see them. Our voices must be elevated, and those of us with greater privilege must elevate those voices with less. As Pride month winds down and the glitter stops falling, we must still continue to rise up against hate and educate as best as we can. We do not stop being queer at the end of June. We are queer all year round. This is such a pivotal point in history that it is imperative we choose the right side. Love is the right side. Love is love, after all.

Dismantling Internalized Homophobia

By Logan Adams

Logan graduated from Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Kentucky, in 2018 with a degree in Human Services and Counseling. Logan is currently serving at a local non-profit in Louisville, KY.  

“Hey, do you want to march in the Louisville Pride parade with me?” After reading this text a few weeks ago, panic and shame ensued. My friend who works at a local coffee shop was marching the parade and stated she was allowed to bring a friend. This thought of openly and proudly proclaiming my LGBTQ+ identity made my internalized homophobia spike to an all time high.

Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was instilled in me that any identity outside of straight and cisgendered was something to feel shame for due to it ultimately not lining up with my family’s deep-seated belief in God. This ideology consistently permeated all spheres of my life as my family attended a very devout Southern Baptist church and I was enrolled in a private Christian school. Around my high school years, I began to notice my pastor stating all sins were equal, but I noticed him spending more time exhorting those who were homosexual and engaging in premarital sex. I knew that I was homosexual around the age of 14, but I knew that I could not say anything due to fear of being kicked out of my house, retaliation from my private high school (as they had previously kicked out students who openly identified LGBTQ+), and social isolation. Since I was not able to confide in anyone and having poor coping mechanisms, I began to internalize the feelings of shame and hatred for my truest self. I played out many scenarios in my head of how “perfect” my life would be if I could openly state that I was homosexual, date other men, and enjoy learning and participating in my culture. I longed for those scenarios to materialize so that my I could let all facets of myself flow freely and without fear of judgment.

Looking back now, I remember how I yearned for time to pass so that I could openly proclaim something I knew to be true. Even though I longed for a feeling of authenticity, I knew that I could not continue living in a state of taking for who I am. The shame I internalized through being so deeply entrenched in the cycle of attending church and negativity regarding the LGBTQ+ community in my social spheres. This shame started to take root in my mental space. This feeling took hold in the form of changing the pitch of my voice when around certain people, not wearing the types of clothes I wanted to due to fear of social judgement, and not speaking up in conversations regarding LGBTQ+ rights. I began to sort through this overwhelming sense of shame through journaling. I journaled about how I felt, why I felt, and how my upbringing ultimately played an incalculable factor in my ignominy. I vividly recall a conversation with a professional mentor where we were talking about our upbringing not defining who we are currently. She stated that the only way one can truly do this is through comparing and contrasting our beliefs versus the beliefs we were raised see as true. She stated, “If you say, ‘I believe this just because I do,’ it’s not a real belief.” After that meeting, I really began to contemplate if what I believed, regarding sexuality, was true for me or just true because that is all I had known. I eventually landed in the mental space that there is no shame needed. No shame automatically attached. No shame inherently given. While there is some amount of societal shame in identifying as LGBTQ+, how much we internalize, perpetuate, and permit it to inhibit us is within ourselves.

I have slowly and painstakingly been attempting to rid myself of the shackles known as internalized homophobia. By no means has this sense of shame been completely vacated from my mind and heart, but it is just not as loud. When one is continually fed information about who they are fundamentally is wrong for nearly 20 years, that sense of shame and self-hatred does not go away overnight. I equate it to playing an instrument. You start off slowly; learning techniques and fundamentals. You start to implement these skills to improve performance. You soon enough to get to a point where you master the simple steps and it’s no longer a thought and your muscle memory comes ones. I suggest you look at it through this lens. To pick up small skills to decrease this sense of shame and work to strengthen them so that inner voice of self-doubt slowly diminishes until it’s a mere whisper. It has not come easy, but it has proved to be more useful than anything else. It has been long nights of quiet contemplation, intense conversations with family, or simply journaling. If you are reading this and finding this is your struggle, too, I implore you to rid yourself of internalized shame through positive self-talk, motivation, and connecting to fellow LGBTQ+ folks.

Happy Pride Month!

Transgender Incarceration and Kamala Harris

By B. Clark

Clark is an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College.

Transgender visibility week serves as an important and influential time for transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex people across the world to come together through social media and community work to create an atmosphere of support and acceptance. It also creates a platform to address the challenges and systematic forms of discrimination that our communities face such as economic (in)security, access to reliable transitional health care, and mental health resources. One issue that has emerged at the intersection of these problems is the targeting of TGNCI communities for mass incarceration, prison violence, and police brutality.

Among the people tweeting support to TGNCI folks during this week was an unlikely supporter, former California State Attorney General and current 2020 presidential candidate, Kamala Harris. Harris began by tweeting a picture of a transgender pride flag with the caption: “This week, we’ve proudly added the transgender flag in front of my office. I want all transgender Americans to know that I see you, I’m with you, and I stand by you in the fight for equality. #TransVisibilityWeek” This was followed two days later with another tweet that stated, “Transgender people deserve to openly live life without fear. This Transgender Day of Visibility, let’s show dignity and respect to trans friends, family, and the community as a whole. #TransDayOfVisibility.”

While at face value these messages of support seem inspiring and a symbolic promise to politically uphold the rights of transgender people, Harris’s political track record tells a different story. In 2014 Harris’s office argued that supporting a program to parole more people who were currently incarcerated would drain the state’s source of cheap labor. This ensures that those who are incarcerated in California serve longer sentences in their facilities for the purpose of providing the government with unpaid labor. In 2015, Harris fought to stop a Michelle-Lael Norsworthy, a trans woman in California’s prison system, from getting reassignment surgery. (1)

Also in 2015, Harris adamantly supported California’s criminalization of sex work. Harris’s office stated that this criminalization is necessary because “[p]rostitution is linked to the transmission of AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases”; the state has an interest in “deterring the commodification of sex”; and “[p]rostitution creates a climate conducive to violence against women.” (2) Not only are these statements factually incorrect and contribute to the stigmatization of sex work, but they also disproportionately lead to the incarceration of transgender people. Many transgender people, and specifically transgender women, rely on sex work for survival because of their hyper-sexualization and discrimination in other sectors of employment. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 19 percent of all trans people, and 47 percent of black trans women, have engaged in sex work. Those who lost a job as a result of anti-transgender discrimination are three times more likely to engage in the sex-trade. (3)

Incarceration is an obstacle to transgender liberation. Lambda Legal reports that one in six transgender Americans have been incarcerated, while half of all black transgender Americans have been incarcerated. (4) Issues concerning transgender people who are incarcerated should concern all of us, because it a system of discrimination deployed through the policing of our communities.

While Harris’s tweets and messages of support could be interpreted as a sign that she has reformed her views and now prioritizes addressing the challenges that face transgender people, it is more likely that she is voicing her support for transgender people as a tool to gain political leverage by rallying support from progressive voters, most of whom are not transgender.

Kamala Harris’s moderate reputation and confidence in policing and the criminal justice system has already gained her criticism from progressive Democrats, the same faction of the Democratic Party that demonstrated its power in influencing elections through its support of the Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign in 2016. Transgender rights have emerged as a key topic of discussion surrounding social justice and progressiveness. By voicing a message of support for transgender people she is attempting to rally the support of progressive voters who are not transgender and may have no relationship to the problems facing transgender people. If elected into office, Harris’s political background as a state attorney suggests that she will likely continue to rely on the criminal justice system as a mechanism for targeting crime, which in turn will only reinforce incarceration rates for transgender people.

Kamala Harris’s support for the transgender community is nothing more than an empty promise that offers no material support to the hardships that we currently face.

Work Cited

  1. Beckett, Lois and Sam Levin. “Kamala Harris: Can a ‘top Cop’ Win over Progressives in 2020?” The Guardian. January 19, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/jan/19/kamala-harris-2020-election-top-cop-prosecutor.
  2. Samudzi, Zoe. “Incarcerated Transgender Women’s Lives Must Matter.” The Appeal. January 28, 2019. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://theappeal.org/incarcerated-transgender-womens-lives-must-matter/.
  3. James, Sandy E., et al. “The Report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey.” National Center for Transgender Equality, December 2016. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://transequality.org/sites/default/files/docs/usts/USTS-Full-Report-Dec17.pdf.
  4. “Transgender Incarcerated People in Crisis.” Lambda Legal. Accessed April 7, 2019. https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/trans-incarcerated-people.

Marsha P. Johnson, the Revolutionary

By Nico Lueba Jones

Jones is a second year at Sarah Lawrence College.

Marsha P. Johnson was born on August 4, 1945 in Elizabeth, NJ. She self-identified as a street queen and “transvestite” at a time when the word transgender did not yet exist, but she always called herself a woman and used “she” pronouns. The P stands for “Pay It No Mind,” and that was her attitude much of the time, with her friends saying she had an exuberant personality and a penchant for optimism. She dressed in brightly colored outfits and cared deeply for the people in her community, often praying for them. She was so generous, some of her friends even called her “Saint Marsha.” She has gotten a lot of attention lately as one of the trans women of color that Pride has forgotten, and many credit her with being an instigator at the Stonewall riots in 1969. The truth is much fuzzier than that, with Johnson herself saying she didn’t arrive until the riot was already underway, and her close friend and partner in activism Silvia Rivera saying she was there when the riot started but did not instigate it. She is remembered as a prominent figure nonetheless. Regardless of her involvement in the Stonewall riots, what I think makes Marsha so amazing is all the activist work she did after the riot.

After the Stonewall riots, Marsha P. Johnson continued to advocate for LGBT rights, participating in and organizing protests. It was following one of these protests, a sit-in at New York University in 1970, that Johnson and Rivera decided to found Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR. At the protest, many groups had come together to protest for gay rights, but Johnson and Rivera noted that there were no groups protecting the interests and livelihoods of street youth, particularly transgender youth. Silvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson were themselves homeless and working the streets to make money, and they knew how dangerous it could be. Rivera even credits Johnson with saving her life, after meeting her in 1963 and offering her some comfort and constancy in her life. STAR was the first documented LGBT youth shelter in North America, and by the next year they had opened their first house for street youth in a trailer parked in a parking lot in Greenwich Village. When that shelter fell through, they got a building. Together, Silvia and Marsha provided a safe living space, a gathering space, and a space for LGBT youth to learn. STAR expanded to multiple cities before having to close in the mid 1970’s.

Johnson’s activism did not end, though. In the 80’s she worked with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) as an organizer and marshall. Johnson herself was HIV positive, and participated in direct action demonstrations with ACT UP for much of the 80’s, and cared for many of her HIV+ friends. Johnson dedicated her life to activism, to protecting LGBT youth, homeless LGBT folks, and making her community better and safer for herself and everyone. She was an active member of the Gay Liberation Front (GLF), marching every year on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and her direct action both personally and through STAR helped feed and house many trans and gay homeless youths. She was also an activist against police brutality, regularly engaging with police who harassed her and addressing their harassment in court when she was arrested. Marsha P. Johnson’s activism extends far beyond Stonewall. As a trans person myself, I am happy to have Marsha as a radical trans icon, to remind me to always look out for my community, and when it comes to those who don’t like us, to pay them no mind.

Works Cited

Brockell, Gillian. “The Transgender Women at Stonewall Were Pushed out of the Gay Rights Movement. Now They Are Getting a Statue in New York.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 12 June 2019, http://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/06/12/transgender-women-heart-stonewall-riots-are-getting-statue-new-york/?noredirect=on.

Feinberg, Leslie. “Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries .” Workers World, Workers World, 24 Sept. 2006, 11:53pm, www.workers.org/2006/us/lavender-red-73/.

“Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries Found STAR House.” Global Network of Sex Work Projects, NSWP, 12 July 2017, www.nswp.org/timeline/event/street-transvestite-action-revolutionaries-found-star-house.

“From Cowtown to Gaytown”: Kansas Politics and Gay Rights in Wichita, KS

By Korbin Painter

Korbin Painter (he/him/his) is an M.A. candidate in the History Department at the University of Iowa. He was born and raised in Kansas and he is an alumnus of the University of Kansas. His research interests include LGBT history of the United States and Germany, focused on LGBT politics, social movements, and the history of emotions. Korbin can be contacted by e-mail at korbin-painter@uiowa.edu.

In Kansas, before the election of Governor Laura Kelly, there were no laws on the books at the state-level to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people from discrimination in employment, housing, and adoption. However, individual cities such as Lawrence, Topeka, and Kansas City have enacted such laws. In 2007, during her service as Governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius issued an executive order protecting state employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Yet, in 2015, former Governor Sam Brownback revoked this order. In fact, during Brownback’s tenure, there had been many attempts by the Kansas state legislature to restrict the civil rights and protections of LGBT people in both the public and private sectors. Former interim Governor Jeff Colyer signed a law in May of 2018, which allowed adoption agencies in Kansas to refuse to place a child with LGBT couples on “religious or moral objection” (Polaski).  

It is clear that many Kansas leaders do not support LGBT Kansans. In at least the last decade, many Republican legislators have not only refused to support or enact legislation that protects LGBT people and their families, but they have also championed discriminatory and harmful legislation that threatens the lives and livelihoods of LGBT Kansans (Mallory and Sears). The elections of democratic Governor Laura Kelly and democratic Representative Sharice Davids signify the resilience and efforts of LGBT Kansans and serve as reminders of Kansas values and spirit. As we move into Pride Month, I am reminded of the radical history of LGBT people in Kansas.

Often, people who live in “blue states” and large coastal cities are quick to dismiss Kansas as merely “fly-over” country, characterizing Kansans as “backward” and deeply conservative. Without dismissing the patterns in Kansas electoral politics, this perception and characterization is unfair, inaccurate, and obscures the lives and history of LGBT Kansans, who have been active in fighting for their civil rights and protections for decades.

One example from LGBT Kansas history takes us not to Lawrence or Kansas City, often characterized as liberal hubs in the “red state”, but to the city of Wichita. Wichita, Kansas is perhaps best known as the home of airplane manufacturing, McConnell Airforce base, and the BTK killer. It may be surprising to some that Wichita holds an important place in LGBT history in the United States. In fact, the designer and creator of the iconic rainbow pride flag, Gilbert Baker, was born and raised in Wichita.

In May of 1978, Washington Post reporter Bill Curry visited Wichita to report on a major political battle over a gay rights ordinance passed in September of 1977, which would protect Wichitans from employment and housing discrimination based on actual or perceived sexual orientation. While Curry was in Wichita, he observed the anti-gay slogan “From Cowtown to Gaytown” littering car bumpers across the city. Wichita is known as “Cowtown” because, in the 1860s and 1870s, the Chisolm Trail, the Southwest Railroad, and the Santa Fe Railway ran through the newly established city of Wichita. Wichita thus became a major center of commerce and trade, as well as a railhead for cattle drives from Texas. The bumper sticker indeed represented some Wichitans’ homophobic fears about an encroaching degenerate sexual minority who “cannot reproduce so they have to recruit” (Curry).

In the 1970s, there were a large number of gay and lesbian people and organizations in Wichita. Gay and lesbian Wichitans lived and worked, attended Church, and frequented bars and other community gatherings around the city. One of the early gay rights groups in Wichita was called the Homophile Association of Sedgwick County (HASC). In 1977, the HASC took a proposal for a city ordinance to the Wichita City Commission and Mayor Connie Peters. Wichita City Ordinance No. 35-242 would prohibit housing and employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the city of Wichita. Gay and lesbian leaders Bruce McKinney, Pat Kaslo, and Robert Lewis led the fight. “Kansans are conservative, but they’re not bigots, not all of them,” one woman told Curry, “if they were, we wouldn’t be voting on a referendum” (Curry).

Anita Bryant and “Save Our Children”, 1978 https://timeline.com/anita-bryant-anti-gay-dade-county-christian-conservative-video-history-e026fd5bfad8

Soon after the ordinance was passed by the Wichita City Commission in a 3-2 vote, Anita Bryant – celebrity, anti-Gay crusader, and spokeswoman of Florida Oranges – mobilized in Wichita. Bryant and her organization, “Save Our Children”, had just won a fight to repeal a similar gay rights ordinance in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Bryant and “Save Our Children” began recruiting many Wichita pastors, like Ron Adrian, and campaigned to put a stop to homosexuality in the heartland. “The whole strategy of homosexuals,” commented Adrian “is to get homosexuality recognized as a normal lifestyle and an accepted lifestyle – and they’re getting a lot of publicity, that’s for sure” (Curry).

A fierce battle played out among Wichitans as the city commission voted to hold a referendum for the gay rights ordinance. In this particular historical moment, Wichita, Kansas became the battleground in the United States over sex, deviance, civil rights, and religious liberty. However, on May 9th of 1978, the ordinance was repealed. Gay Wichitans became the subjects of sensational news coverage across the country. In fact, the night of the repeal, the gay residents of San Francisco’s Castro Street marched on Union Square, chanting, “Wichita means fight back.”

Governor Laura Kelly, Representative Sharice Davids, Janelle Monáe, Former Governor Kathleen Sibelius https://twitter.com/laurakellyks/status/1051187659878612993

As a gay man, born and raised in the small town of Augusta, Kansas, I was filled with excitement on election night in 2018 as I watched the results come in. Representative Sharice Davids became the first openly lesbian woman to be elected to the House of Representatives (Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin is openly lesbian but serves in the Senate). Alongside Deb Haaland of New Mexico, Davids was also among the first Native American women to be elected to the House. In the Kansas State Legislature, Representatives Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard were elected as the first LGBT state legislators in Kansas history. Laura Kelly’s election to the governorship of Kansas was significant as she expressed support for the LGBT community and has a voting record in favor of LGBT rights. One of Kelly’s first moves in January as Governor was to reinstate former Governor Sibelius’s executive order and restore state-level protections for LGBT state-workers (Shorman). On election night, I felt an immense swell of pride and hope that Kansas leaders may soon recognize the dignity of LGBT Kansans and move to provide us with civil rights and protections.

As we celebrate Pride month on the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, it is critical now, more than ever, that we remember gay and lesbian radical liberation politics in the 1970s. When we do this, we discover that these stories extend far beyond the “Gay Meccas” of New York City and San Francisco. These stories remind us that LGBT people, love, and resistance are everywhere; even in Wichita, Kansas.

References

Cover photo comes from the @KansasDems twitter and can be found here, https://twitter.com/KansasDems/status/1134814393101893632

Two brilliant and thoughtful works on LGBT activism in Kansas are Beth Bailey’s Sex in the Heartland (1999) and C.J. Janovy’s No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas (2018).

Equality Kansas, https://eqks.org

Wichita Pride, http://www.wichitapride.org

Curry, Bill. “Wichita Gay Rights Vote Today.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 9 May 1978. www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/05/09/wichita-gay-rights-vote-today/9471d460-49de-4f80-9f59-ba06b6e0bd6b/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee33b7742d0f.

Gilchrist, Tracy E. “Kansas Governor-Elect Laura Kelly Moves to Protect LGBTQ People.” Advocate, Advocate.com, 9 Nov. 2018. www.advocate.com/politics/2018/11/08/kansas-governor-elect-laura-kelly-moves-protect-lgbtq-people?amp&utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=politics&__twitter_impression=true.

Mallory, Christy and Brad Sears, “Discrimination against LGBT People in Kansas” UCLA School of Law, William’s Institute, January 2019. https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Kansas-ND-Report-January-2019.pdf

Polaski, Adam. “Kansas Governor Signs Dangerous Anti-LGBTQ Child Welfare Bill, Latest in Disturbing Trend.” Freedom for All Americans, 18 May 2018. www.freedomforallamericans.org/kansas-governor-jeff-colyer-signs-dangerous-anti-lgbtq-child-welfare-bill-latest-in-disturbing-trend/.

Shorman, Jonathan. “Kelly reinstates protections for LGBT state workers in Kansas eliminated by Brownback” The Wichita Eagle, 15 Jan. 2019. https://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article224559230.html

The Mattachine Society: Henry “Harry” Hay and Harold “Hal” Call

By Marian Phillips

Marian is a second year graduate student in the Women’s History program at Sarah Lawrence College.

A year ago, when I began my Master’s research on homosexuality during the 1950s in America, I was certain that there was an abundance of research on the topic. I didn’t think there was anything more to discover that John D’Emilio, David Allyn, Estelle Freedman, Allan Bérubé, and Margot Canaday hadn’t already found. They cover such an immense breadth of information that covers the homophile movement, McCarthyism, red-baiting and queer-baiting, riots, Lewd Vagrancy laws, and sexology reports.  As I flipped through page after page of archived materials at the Kinsey Institute Library and Special Collections, I noticed that there is an integral piece of the history of the Mattachine Society and the homophile movement that has gone understudied or completely ignored.

For the purposes of this post I am writing today, I will not pose my question onto the audience (you, the reader) until I have finalized the thesis in a year from now. Today, I present to you a few members of the Mattachine Society that assisted in the early beginnings of the gay rights movement and key figures in the thesis I am crafting. Posts that will follow throughout the month of June that I intend to cover include the Daughters of Bilitis, riots (including Stonewall and Cooper Do-nuts), and historical figures of the LGBT+ community.

The Mattachine Foundation (1950-1953), later becoming the Mattachine Society in 1953, formed in the mind of its founder, Harry Hay, in 1948. While historians debate the exact year the organization formed, most conclude that it was 1950, but Hay conceived of the idea two years prior. Henry “Harry” Hay was born to a well-to-do family on April 17, 1912 in Worthing, Sussex England. As a child, his family moved to California. Heavily influenced by Marxism and communism, Hay joined the Community Party USA in his adult years while living in Los Angeles. When the party discovered that he was gay, they told him to either resist his urges or to leave the party, so he left.

Henry “Harry” Hay image from https://makinggayhistory.com/podcast/harry-hay/

Determined to find an organization that would welcome him for being both gay and a communist, Hay decided to take matters into his own hands and formed the Mattachine Foundation. The organization welcomed homosexual men and women regardless of race, creed, class, gender, and political affiliation. Despite Hay realizing his dream through the Mattachine, Harold “Hal” Call took over its leadership in 1953. There are mixed accounts on why Hay stepped down as leader; some speculate it was a disagreement the two had, others say that Call was a more conservative member and didn’t believe Hay’s communist beliefs could benefit or assist in the growth of the Mattachine.

Nonetheless, Call took over in 1953 and changed its name to the Mattachine Society. Born in Grundy County, Missouri in September 1917, Call enlisted in the military as a private in 1941, and went on to receive a purple heart for his service. Upon returning to US in 1945, he moved to California and joined the homophile organization he would later become leader of. His dreams for the Mattachine were realized when, in 1955, he co-founded Pan Graphic Press, which would go on to publish The Mattachine Review, The Ladder, and other homophile publications. His goal was to ensure that the organization would and could grow throughout the nation, while assisting other homophile groups in their growth. They viewed each other as brothers and sisters of the gay liberation movement of the 1950s.

Harold “Hal” Call image from https://makinggayhistory.com/podcast/episode-13-hal-call/

Call and Hay are only two of the countless members of the Mattachine that are key figures in the early beginnings of gay liberation; both considered fathers of the early homophile movement. The Mattachine would go on participate in legal proceedings, hold annual meetings in major cities, and help gay men and women across the United States. Under Call’s leadership, it appeared that nothing could stop the steady growth of the organization. Starting in 1955, chapters began in Denver, Chicago, Detroit, New York, and Washington, D.C. Some were short lived, while others have continued to thrive to this very day. Come 1961, the national organization of the Mattachine in San Francisco disbanded; thereafter, the society became a regional body.

Despite the disbanding of the first chapter of the Mattachine, the homophile movement continued to grow and change as most do. Today, the D.C. chapter seeks to keep the history of the Mattachine alive and well by digitizing the documents they have archived and offering resources to anyone who may need them. You can find them here: https://mattachinesocietywashingtondc.org/ . Now that we are a full week into Pride, I hope that this post finds you all at a moment of joy and celebration among friends, family, and/or loved ones. For more information on the Mattachine Society’s history, I highly recommend the Making Gay History podcast; links for specific episodes are found under the images of Hay and Call.