Though many LGBTQ+ people and others may leave the state of Kansas repulsed by legislation targeting gender diversity, Adam Kellogg said he’ll have to be dragged out by his ears.
“I will not stop fighting for the kids that can’t leave,” he told the crowd of a few dozen people at a panel hosted by the Douglas County Democrats Saturday morning.
Kellogg, a 20-year-old transgender activist and KU graduate student in counseling psychology, began his transition at age 12 and has advocated for acceptance of trans youth.
He’s also a drag queen. Drag, in Kansas and nationwide, has received increasing negative attention from some lawmakers, particularly drag shows intended for kids. (An anti-drag Kansas bill requested by Sen. Mike Thompson, a Shawnee Republican, died in committee during the most recent legislative session.)
For Kellogg, it’s another avenue to help advocate for others — drag artists often perform for charity, but they also help draw attention away from protesters or from people who feel unsafe. “The point is to make you look,” he said.
Drag also challenges gender norms, and it’s for everybody, Kellogg said. As a trans man who usually presents as male and said he can choose to present “very heteronormative,” he likes to dress as a drag queen to experience joy that way as well.
Jae Moyer, a community political activist in Overland Park who focuses on standing up for LGBTQ+ rights in Kansas, said during the panel that drag also exaggerates the absurdity of gender norms.
Moyer is nonbinary, which they explained to mean they don’t see themself as masculine or feminine, man or woman.
They said they think people in power — who do not want to let go of that power — want to attack gender identity because they think it’s an easy target. There is a lot of confusion around the topic, and they can say something that is absolutely wrong about it and still convince people that they’re right, Moyer said.
Brynn Fitzsimmons, who recently graduated with their doctorate in English rhetoric and composition, is a teacher, activist and citizen journalist. They said before coming out as nonbinary, they felt like they were acting in a play that they didn’t want to be in, all the time.
Afterward, “There’s other people who are like me, and also I can stop trying to be something that I’m not. I can stop trying to be a girl that everybody told me I was supposed to be,” Fitzsimmons said.
Fitzsimmons said kids already know gender is absurd. Tell a kid they can’t play with a particular toy because of their gender, and they’ll tell you that’s ridiculous.
“Which then tells me that the fear of drag queens is just you being afraid that you’re not gonna be able to condition children into these rigid gender norms that are meant to control how they move through the world in perpetuity,” they said.
Moyer said the reason we’re having these conversations, and the reason it’s so questioned by society that someone would be nonbinary or trans, is because people in power at the Kansas Statehouse and elected officials in Washington, D.C., are talking about it.
“Because they know that they can rile people up about it and try to win elections with it — that’s why it’s a conversation,” Moyer said.
And being gay and lesbian is generally more accepted now, said Donnavan Dillon, a Loud Light political activist, KU political science and sociology student, LGBTQ advocate and community organizer.
He said some people don’t know how to respond to questions regarding gender identity, and they react with anger, hatred and confusion. Dillon, who identifies as gay and cisgender, said more people see homophobia as taboo — so now those in power are “finding a new target to try and attack.”
Dillon said, however, that some Republicans during the recent legislative session said the anti-drag bill was too extreme for them.
Yet “You have people voting on bills that criminalize people’s existence and cut their access to resources that they need that they (legislators) don’t believe in but because someone higher told them to do that, they put into law,” Dillon said. “Which is really sad and unfortunate, but it’s the reality we live in and a reason why I really push civic engagement so much in my own work.”
It shows the power that a more extreme minority in party leadership has over others, he said. In addition, many of the more moderate Republicans of previous years have been replaced, and now the party holds a supermajority.
Kids are bearing the brunt of much of the political rhetoric and anti-transgender legislation — Kellogg said he could talk to advocates in high school and find solutions when needed. Now, with the passage of the bill that bars trans girls and women from playing sports with their peers and other similar legislation, kids don’t have that choice, he said.
Kellogg said the message has been clear: “‘We don’t want you here, we don’t want you to have a choice. We want you to conform to what it is that we want you to be.'”
On the path forward, the panelists emphasized the need to center the most marginalized people.
Dillon said he wants people to move beyond passive support — bumper stickers or Progress flags on the doors of businesses don’t really do much for anyone in their fight for rights and equality, he said. He pointed out that there were just four or five Black or brown people in the crowd Saturday.
“If you’re not actively working to include people in progress movements, you’re not really doing the work,” he said.
Kellogg said he understands the privilege he has as a trans man who presents heteronormative.
“I should walk into a room where I look fairly masculine, and I should say, ‘Why aren’t they including people who look, you know, gender-nonconforming? Why aren’t we including Black and brown voices?'” he said.
Fitzsimmons encouraged people to put their money where their mouth is, and to please believe people when they share their life experiences — not just by validating them in the moment, but by carrying that forward and voting for people who will advocate.
Moyer pointed to a legislative seat representing Lawrence that will likely be opening up next year.
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could fill that (seat) with a queer Black person that can go represent those voices in the state Legislature? Just food for thought,” Moyer said. “We need to be empowering people who look different than us and who think differently than us and who sound different than us, to take those positions of power. And you need to support them with your time or energy or money, and we need to give them the opportunity to serve us in the state Legislature so there is representation there.”
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