A Season for Thanks and Gratitude
By C.L. Frederick
The holiday season is arguably one of the most magical times of year in Kansas City. From the lighting of the Country Club Plaza to ice skating at Crown Center, there are a multitude of time honored traditions that have captivated generations and added to the nostalgia factor this time of year. The season is also one of individual reflection and gratitude, a time to reflect on the blessings in life, the things we are thankful for. This is a universal experience, but for some special and magical reason it can be mightily felt within the Kansas City LGBTQ community. There is much to be thankful for and gratitude to be shared amongst the city.
It should go without saying that the Kansas City CARE Clinic is the cornerstone of the community. The clinic has provided health care services and education to the underserved and all people in the city, with or without insurance. It’s focus on HIV prevention and primary care has undeniably touched the lives of every LGBTQ individual in Kansas City by reducing transmission rates and aiding those affected by the virus. They have enabled thousands of HIV positive individuals to stick to antiretroviral adherence and reach undetectable viral loads. The clinic has become an angel network of 115 staff members and over 900 volunteers. It is one of the largest community health clinics in the country. Kansas City has been truly blessed by the clinic and the impactful work they do within the community.
Coming out as a youth is never an easy experience and can be overwhelming. Youth suicides have been an unfortunate and heartbreaking reality within the community. The LIKEME Lighthouse has become a pillar of support in the Kansas City area by addressing youth suicide. LIKEME has become a vital resource that also addresses numerous other issues, such as advocating for equality and anti-bullying. It is a completely volunteer-based organization that was founded in 2010 by country music star Chely Wright, who chose to publicly come out and to advocate for the LGBTQ community. The city is all the stronger because of The LIKEME Lighthouse and they are owed a debt of gratitude for their positive and lifesaving contributions to all LGBTQ individuals in Kansas City.
Still fresh in our minds and hearts, the Orlando tragedy from June of this year continues to affect all LGBTQ individuals around the country. One of the most touching and beautiful local eulogies was the lighting of the Bond Bridge in honor of the victims of the shooting. Kansas City Mayor and LGBTQ ally Sly James spearheaded the tribute. A wide array of support was shown, such as rainbow clothing, other lighting displays, vigils, prayers and community gatherings. Kansas City’s citizens came together in wake of the tragedy and showed tremendous support to not only the victims of Pulse, but their own LGBTQ community as well. It is of special note to recognize that Kansas City has scored 100 points the last three years on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, a fact that should make every LGBTQ and straight ally tremendously proud. It affirms the belief that this is unequivocally one of the most caring cities in the country.
Kansas City is a community that takes care of its own and that is evident in the fundraisers and charity work done throughout the year. The biggest and most reaching fundraiser was AIDS Walk, which raised around $500,000 over the course of the year. Individuals and teams raised money through taking donations and the creation of local events and functions. The proceeds of these were distributed to the four major AIDS service organizations in the city. The creation of grants from the money raised also benefitted other local organizations. Kansas City AIDS Walk has kept countless HIV positive individuals healthy and in turn has helped drastically lower HIV transmission rates. It has eased the burden in accessing care and treatment for those who are HIV positive. Passion and advocacy amongst community members is shown through these fundraisers and it is a beautiful realization knowing just how much people care.
It cannot go without being said that there are numerous local individuals who give of their time and talent to not only fundraise, but to bring the community closer together. Their generosity has been witnessed in the holiday gatherings, pool parties, and other social functions that they hold. These have provided a strong network all the while raising money for worthy LGBTQ causes, such as The Trevor Project.
Hearts were broken following the Orlando shooting at Pulse Nightclub. It was an unthinkable tragedy that will forever weigh on the minds and hearts of the LGBTQ community. Within 36 hours of the tragedy, Missie B’s, Hamburger Mary’s, Woody’s Classic Sports Pub, Bistro 303, Cucina Della Ragazza, Buddies KC, Sidekicks Saloon and Sidestreet Bar organized KC Cares: A Benefit for the Victims of Pulse. This became the largest unified fundraising event in Kansas City LGBTQ history and over $50,000 were raised. Under normal circumstances this would have taken weeks to organize, KC Cares was put together in just four days. State and local agencies expedited the necessary permits for the fundraiser and hundreds of volunteers worked tirelessly to bring everything together. This is quite possible the most humbling and moving and proud moment looking back at the year. There was great deal of love and empathy radiating from the community. This was a loving experience that few will ever forget.
Humor, creativity and athleticism are signature trademarks of the LGBTQ community in Kansas City. Late Night Theater at Missie B’s has provided much needed laughs and levity during a trying year for LGBTQ individuals. Pure adult camp and hilarity have helped take minds off the tragedies and unease over the presidential election. It should bring a smile to everyone’s face knowing that the arts have picked so many up during one of the darkest years in recent LGBTQ history. The Heart of America Softball League (HASL) has been active in the region for forty years and promotes amateur softball. It is a nonprofit organization that caters to an LGBTQ membership, however it is inclusive of all regardless of age, race, creed, religion, sex or national origin.
HASL is home of the 2016 NAGAAA’s Division Champions the KC Cocktails and the ASANA’s Division Champions the Dirty Hellions. Not only are the players talented athletes, but the games have become major social outlets for the community. The arts and sporting events in Kansas City are two sometimes overlooked areas in which to give thanks. This year it would be failing them to not acknowledge their importance. They are owed so much for lifting the spirits of an entire community.
The 2016 presidential election was one of controversy and the marginalization of minority populations took center stage. Donald Trump was elected president and that became a ‘reality check’ for many. His campaign received attention for possible racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-gay actions.
While Kansas City is a small, Midwestern city it represented its might and strength the day after the election. In large cities across the United States thousands took to the streets in peaceful protests against President-elect Trump and the ideals feared he would continue to represent. Hundreds of protesters took to Kansas City streets to condemn the election. “Not My President” and “Love Trumps Hate” were a few of the chants protesters used to see to that their voices would be heard against that of blatant disregarding of minority populations in the United States under the leadership of Trump. Countless were proud of the city that day for being visible and supporting those most vulnerable. Proud so many let their voices be heard and took a stand against inequality. A powerful day in Kansas City that will always be remembered.
Looking back, there have been great moments within the community. Moments of genuine empathy, advocacy, support and care were witnessed. The common thread running through the Kansas City LGBTQ community is love. As 2016 nears its close, individuals will not only be reflecting on these moments but many others as well. There is much to be thankful for during this holiday.