This month’s column has been harder to write than most, as the winter blues have started to take hold. I keep thinking about spring and our plans for a pancake breakfast on March 16. It also doesn’t help that I am writing this on a snowy morning in late February after first having checked my Facebook messages.
The day before, I was brought into a group chat and learned about a person needing help in assisting a queer youth who was traveling through Kansas City. The youth had been disowned by family and was traveling across the country on a bus to live with friends and be part of a community youth housing project. The person initiating the group chat was looking for someone to help with food and companionship during a long bus layover. Before I was able to make any arrangements, several local people stepped in to help.
However, this morning I learned that the bus had returned to the station due to the weather and that the trip was cancelled until the following day. The person sought refuge at one of the local shelters, but was kicked out of one shelter. The youth reported being told: “We support family values, not the gays!” The young person ended up walking back to the bus station and was safe through the night. This morning, several community members chipped in and even planned to stay with the traveler until the bus was ready to leave.
It is unfortunate that in 2019, members of the LGBTQ+ community can lawfully be discriminated against. This is why we do our work in creating safer spaces. It’s also one of the reasons we are collaborating with the Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce to host a mayoral candidate forum after the primaries in April. We need to hold our elected officials accountable with regard to policies that affect the LGBTQ+ community.
Another reason we do our work motivates me daily – to share and experience the joy of humanity. Although the problem with local shelters is well-documented, it was a joyful moment to see the local community step up to help this individual.
Another joyful moment happened earlier in February. I call these mission moments:
On a chilly Monday afternoon, we received a call from a couple with a unique request on behalf of their son. The boy was in fifth grade and wanted to do a practice run-through of his school assignment, an LGBTQ presentation. We were thrilled to be asked.
“Of course!” we said. “Come on out. We’ll see you soon.”
Within an hour, the family arrived – two dads and their son. The lad set up his tri-fold poster board as if he were unveiling a sacred artifact. The board was covered from edge to edge in printed-out photos of Harvey Milk, and his quotes framed the pictures. (Milk, one of the first openly gay elected officials in the United States, was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was assassinated in 1978.)
When our visiting student was satisfied that his display was placed perfectly on the table, he positioned himself before his audience and lectured expertly on Milk, his hero.
He professionally contained his obvious excitement and enthusiasm as he perfectly recited his 10-minute presentation about this pivotal member of the LGBTQ community. He touched on Milk’s life, work, and his legacy to the community. He closed his moving, well-researched speech by imploring his audience to continue to advocate for LGBTQ folks, because LGBTQ rights are human rights.
We applauded the boy as he bowed with a big grin and sneaked a glance at his parents, who had nothing but pride written on their beaming faces.
We as a community center were proud too, knowing that this young man had not only chosen to share his school project with us, but that he also was carrying on Milk’s work and was already making a difference in the world.
P.S. I just got a message that the youth is safely on the bus and on their way. Just keep swimming!
Samantha Ruggles is the executive director of the Kansas City Center for Inclusion.