When it comes to the early battles over LGBT rights, places like San Francisco, Miami and New York might come to mind. But longtime advocates for the LGBT community have also been waging battles in the heartland. Next month, Kansas will swear in its first two openly LGBT state lawmakers and Sharice Davids, a lesbian, will soon represent Kansas in Congress. Clearly, LGBT candidates and issues have been making progress. In her book No Place Like Home, author C.J. Janovy tells readers what the struggle has been like, here in Kansas. Commentator Rex Buchanan has this review.
Commentator Rex Buchanan is a writer and traveler who lives in Lawrence. He's also director emeritus of the Kansas Geological Survey.
Rex Buchanan recently received the Distinguished Service Award from the American Geosciences Institute for his achievements promoting geosciences and natural resources issues affecting Kansans.
Like most places, Kansas is more complicated than it seems. It’s conservative, but constantly changing, becoming more urban, more diverse, struggling to redefine itself politically and culturally. It’s a state that produced both Gilbert Baker, creator of the rainbow flag, the symbol of the LGBT movement, and the protesters from Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church.
One aspect of change in Kansas is documented in a new book from the University Press of Kansas. It’s called No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas, by C. J. Janovy, a reporter for KCUR, the public radio station in Kansas City. Janovy details the reality of LGBT living in a red state, describing the challenges of navigating everyday life in a place that’s not always welcoming.
In particular, Janovy focuses on the political struggles of the past few decades, especially the fight over a constitutional amendment banning gay and lesbian marriage in the state--an amendment that won by an overwhelming 70 percent of the vote just 13 years ago--and battles over non-discrimination ordinances in cities as big as Wichita and as small as Roeland Park. Those fights, as she makes clear, were bruising, but they also brought the LGBT community together, helping it better understand itself and providing support to its members.
Maybe what I like best about this book is this: It doesn’t just focus on places like Lawrence, famous for its liberality. She also writes knowledgeably about LGBT experiences in Manhattan, Hutchinson, Salina, each with its own story about the politics of, and opposition to, recognizing marriages or banning housing and job discrimination. More importantly, she writes about little towns, in places like WaKeeny in western Kansas, or Meade and Cimarron, in southwestern Kansas. Places where you might not expect acceptance. Often there isn’t, but sometimes there is.
Janovy tells this story largely through the eyes of individuals. Kansas is a small state, population-wise, so you probably know some of the people she writes about. There is, for example, Topeka resident Stephanie Mott, a leader in the transgender community. Mott talks about the pride she felt when voting for the first time as a woman for Barack Obama in the old Monroe Elementary School, monument to another fight, the Brown versus Board of Education case.
It’s often said that journalism is the first draft of history. And sometimes this book feels a little like that first draft. It documents the successes and failures of a movement, describing the infighting, fracturing, and disagreements within the LGBT movement. It depicts the outsize personalities and sometimes unlikely leaders who materialized to wage battles, then sometimes moved away or just went back to quiet daily life.
Janovy has given us the record of a struggle for change that is part of a larger national movement but also particular to Kansas. But it’s mostly about people who have worked hard and gone through much to claim this complicated place as their home.