Courtney Farr: Kansas is passing the same laws that powered the 1969 Stonewall raid (Column)

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We set our scene: Police line up bar patrons based on the gender of their clothes. Dresses and blouses on one side, pants and suit jackets on the other. One by one, they lead people in “women’s” clothing to a bathroom to expose their genitals, arresting those with a penis. It is not the first time this has happened. It will not be the last. But on this evening, this night, they will not let a cop feel them up. They will not be assaulted. They will not be humiliated. They will resist, and they will fight back. 

This is queer history. It is American history. It is recent American history, just short of 54 years ago. Police conducting dick checks in a dirty bathroom to arrest the queers daring to wear a skirt. Does that kind of crassness make you flinch? Does it make you uncomfortable? That’s what happened at Stonewall Inn in New York in June 1969. It happened all over this country. Anywhere LGBTQ+ folk gathered, the police would eventually show up, bust it up, grope some folks, beat some others, arrest a few to scare everyone else. 

The first Pride was a riot. You can buy it on a T-shirt nowadays. Coffee mugs. Bumper stickers. It has been assimilated into the capitalist merch machine, as all good slogans are. 

The first Pride followed an assault on a Black trans body. 

The first Pride followed someone being groped during a lineup.

The first Pride was resisting. 

The first Pride was saying “No.”

The first Pride was, “I exist.”

The first Pride was a woman yelling, “Why don’t you guys do something?” as she was shoved into a police van.

And people answered her. With a riot.

Almost 54 years later, I wish that Pride could just be the party that we’re currently planning for June 3. That we could celebrate queer love. That we could lift up trans joy. That we could plan art fairs and carnival games for gay families. 

We’re going to do most of that anyway; we deserve a reprieve from the week after week after week drumbeat of bad news. Kansas passing the most restrictive bathroom bill in the nation. Banning the changing of gender markers. Attacking trans kids. Salt City Pride in Hutchinson having their venue pulled out from underneath them. Tennessee becoming the first state to ban all-ages drag shows. 

I just watched a video of a drag queen performing in Columbus, Ohio as a group of more than a dozen armed Nazis protested on the other side of a fence holding a sign reading “There Will Be Blood.”

Almost 54 years later, the idea of being arrested after a genital inspection doesn’t feel all that far-fetched once again.

Why don’t you guys do something?

That’s a pretty good start for Pride. Lawrence PRIDE is in the beginning of its story as an organization. We just legally formed in January, but our collective roots run deep in this town and state. 

We’re still growing and learning, but I believe in the work that we’re doing to build out queer spaces in this town. Our June 3 event is our annual celebration, because we deserve that. We deserve space to celebrate our performers, artists, activists and selves. We deserve to come together as a community to dance and sing and scream together. We have the basic human right to times of joy. 

Beyond that, we’ll continue to create events centering queer history, stories and culture. We will celebrate the amazing people in our state. We will show up and lend our voices to rallies and other calls. And we’ll boost and support the hard work being done by so many in this state to oppose the hate, including the ACLU, Kansas Legal Services, public libraries and thousands of individuals.

And if you’re an ally, you can help. Give support to the organizations doing so much of the legwork for this fight. Show up to events, ours and others. Educate yourself about the laws, issues, and realities of being queer in Kansas today. 

Do something.

— Courtney Farr (he/him) is the chair of community engagement with Lawrence PRIDE.

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