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Kansas City Area Has All-Stars and Also-Rans in Terms of LGBTQ Support

'There’s More Work to Do’

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Above image credit: (Gender Spectrum Collection | Vice)

For some LGBTQ people, living and working in the Kansas City area has improved over the past few years. But others say there’s still more work to be done.

In the latest Municipal Equality Index report published by the Human Rights Campaign, several cities in or near the metro scored highly for local equity and inclusion efforts. But what does that exactly mean?

“Uh, that it looks great on paper,” said Cici Glasgow, who is the outreach manager at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project and KC Passages. “But being that I do what I do, I know for a fact that we’re not as inclusive as we look.”

According to the report, Kansas City, Missouri, scored well for implementing policies or laws that support LGBTQ individuals living and working in the area, despite a lack of state-level policies and protections. 

In Missouri, Kansas City is one of three “All-Star” cities, along with St. Louis and Columbia. “All-Star” scores are those higher than 85 out of a possible 100. The report grades municipalities on six categories: non-discrimination laws, municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBTQ equality. 

“It’s important that any time we look at good reports like this that we … realize that there’s more work to do,” said Suzanne Wheeler, executive director of the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce. “Our community straddles two state lines (and) neither one of those states have, um, any type of employment or non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals within their state.”

Some surrounding cities in the metro earned low scores. For instance, 20 minutes east of Kansas City, Independence scored 18 out of 100. This can pose issues for LGBTQ commuters or folks who shop, live or work elsewhere.

“As soon as you leave, just like the corner of your city limits, you’re no longer protected anymore,” Glasgow said. “We want to talk about being inclusive and being all fair, but we literally still have all these issues even in our internal communities.”

On the Kansas side, Lawrence scored a 98, Overland Park earned a 93, Kansas City, Kansas, meanwhile, earned a 68 and Olathe scored a 73. Kansas was among the four states that had the highest state average increases compared to last year’s score. 

But laws and policies only go so far. Residents and business owners need to use those guiding principles day in and day out, Glasgow said, noting the data serves as a box to check or pat on the back for efforts that don’t necessarily reflect the community. 

“You have to actually rely on (individuals) to follow those policies as well, through their personal biases. You know what I mean?” Glasgow added. “You have to allow them not to be hateful towards your community in general, (motivated by what they) don’t like what you’re dressed as, or the color of your skin or your accent.” 

This speaks to the intersectional issues facing the community. Both Wheeler and Glasgow say the metro has a long way to go to curb the violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color. The data support that. 

The latest FBI Hate Crime Statistics report data show the share of hate crimes that were anti-LGBTQ has risen from 17% in 2017 to nearly 19% in 2018. There were more than 1,000 incidents specifically because of someone’s sexual orientation and almost 200 because someone identified as trans. The HRC even released a resource that outlines the 40 transgender and gender-nonconforming people who died in 2020. 

More than half of the individuals listed were Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). 

A non-binary person using a laptop at work
Cities in the Kansas City metro area all earned different scores for local efforts to protect, support and create policies for the LGBTQ community. (Gender Spectrum Collection | Vice)

Wheeler is a white trans woman who grew up in Olathe. She’s seen first-hand how the city evolved to become a safer, more supportive place for LGBTQ Kansas Citians. In the 1990s, Kansas City was one of the first cities to create a domestic partner registry for its residents.

While she sees the steps the city has taken, she also acknowledges the shortcomings, including support for LGBTQ individuals who live in more rural areas. 

Those gaps are reflected in this year’s score for Kansas City, which is 5 points less than last year’s near-perfect tally of 99. Notably, Kansas City lost an LGBTQ liaison in the city executive’s office. 

Chris Hernandez, a spokesperson for the city, said in an email there was a vacancy in that role during the scoring period. He added this was shortly after the transition to the new administration, and at about the same time that the pandemic hit. 

“We currently have a staffer in the mayor’s office, Fengxue Zhang, whose role includes being a liaison to the LGBTQ community,” Hernandez said.

More recently, the community has rallied together in new ways, brought on in part by the pandemic. 

In early October, U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver announced the Tri-Chambers, a collaborative that would help minority-, women- and LGBTQ-owned businesses burdened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Three groups — the Mid-America LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Heartland Black Chamber of Commerce — joined efforts for the sake of their communities. 

“We’re still individual chambers with identities, but what we are doing is trying to knock down the walls between our business communities,” Wheeler said. “So there’s, again, more acceptance, more inclusion, and we become a much more vibrant community.” 

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