By Diane Silver
I have a confession: I love science fiction.
I’m one of those crazy people who never met a story about a space ship they didn’t like. I also love to speculate about the future, whether I’m mulling over the impact of new technology or changes in society.
That is why I want to engage in a science fictional exercise right now. I want you to imagine a future Kansas. Flying cars zip through the air. Shiny skyscrapers crowd the downtowns of what have become the densely populated cities of Topeka and, let’s say, Salina.
This far-off future is an age where same-sex couples can legally marry. The laws of the state treat us as fairly as they treat other Kansans. Our families and children are legally supported. Prejudice has all but disappeared as more people have learned the truth about our lives.
In this daydream, LGBT Kansans and our straight allies are organized in every part of the state. Politicians who campaign against gays are voted out of office. Our lobbyists are active in the Statehouse. Reporters seek out our representatives and publicize our viewpoints. If bigots attack, people have a place to turn for help.
Alas, fair laws, marriage equality and support for our children are as much science fiction in Kansas as skyscrapers in Salina. The rest of that daydream, though, isn’t far fetched. In fact, some of it is already happening thanks to the Kansas Equality Coalition
Just under a year old, the Equality Coalition has the potential to turn all of that daydream into reality.
The coalition has already begun organizing around the state. The group’s lobbyist worked the Statehouse during the last legislative session. Reporters are calling the group’s leaders for comment. When the owners of a Meade, Kan., hotel were harassed for flying a rainbow flag and Topeka’s anti-discrimination commission was threatened, the coalition was there to help.
I’ve either watched or been involved in gay rights work in this state for more than 20 years, and I’ve never seen anything like the Equality Coalition before. The group is already larger, is more geographically diverse and has a wider range of volunteers than past Kansas groups.
The coalition is also the first Kansas gay rights group to be organized in chapters. This allows the group to build strength in lawmakers’ home districts.
“With seven chapters around the state -- and more on the way – we’re able to have a local presence everywhere from Liberal to Overland Park,” said Thomas Witt, the group’s chair. “We have the ability to respond to local events and statewide issues in a coordinated way across Kansas.”
The coalition has established a PAC to elect candidates who will vote for equality, and defeat those who don’t. Plans call for an educational foundation to teach Kansans about the issues and needs of their LGBT neighbors.
One of the group’s strengths is its straight volunteers. Anna Kraxner, secretary for the Lawrence Chapter, said she is involved because she doesn’t like injustice.
“Expecting – forcing -- any segment of our society to live under a different set of rules because they're supposedly different divides us from ourselves, and that divisiveness generates misunderstanding and hate,” she said. “We are ALL ‘different’ in some way. The goal should be to see how we are alike.”
The organization is already getting attention from national groups. Cyd Slayton, a member of the Human Rights Campaign’s Board of Governors, said HRC “strongly supports KEC’s work.”
"Because of the actions of a few fanatics in the state, Kansas has come to symbolize prejudice and extremism in the minds of too many Americans,” Slayton said. “Thankfully, fair-minded Kansans are standing up and speaking out so that rational voices rise above the polarizing rhetoric.”
I’m not going to pretend to be objective about the coalition. I helped organize the group and served as its first vice chair.
Despite that, I won’t tell you the group is perfect, or can immediately solve all of our problems. We have a long way to go to build the strength we need to protect our community.
Flying cars and other science fictional ideas may never become reality, but fairness under the law can be more than a daydream in Kansas. The Equality Coalition may well give us the tools we need to turn that fiction into fact.
ILLUSTRATION: The infamous Space Babe of Tiptree Award fame is used by special permission of the Tiptree Literary Award Council. All rights are reserved. Ole' SB was designed by the incredible Jeanne Gomoll. I had the privilege of serving on the Tiptree Award jury this year. That was a fascinating experience that I'm still mulling over and hope to blog on soon.
This column was published in the Liberty Press in 2006, and this is the first time it has appeared online. Regular blogging will resume after Memorial Day.