It has been a full week, and in spite of our new, scaled back hours, we still feel a bit daunted by the length of our to do lists. A full, characteristically wordy update follows, but if you just came here for the details of what’s happening this week, here’s the TL;DR:
If you’d like to join in planning our presence at KC Pride Parade and Festival (June 10-12, 2022) stop by on Sunday, May 15 at 11am, in person at KCCI. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a Zoom link if virtual is a better option for you. This is a volunteer-led committee and the direction will be guided by who shows up. So show up! Bring snacks or food to share if you would like. The committee will decide when and where future meetings will take place. We’ll do our best to communicate more as we learn more.
This past week was full of some pretty extreme highs and lows, including:
KCCI was awarded grant funds which enabled us to update some of our technology. We received a donation of gender affirming garments for trans girls, which will help us grow our Binder Program into something even more impactful for the trans and nonbinary community. Students in Blue Valley gifted KCCI with money from ticket sales at an event they held last week. The GSA at St. Teresa's Academy held a bake sale, sending us the proceeds. We had someone stop by in person to drop off some cool pronoun mugs they found, which we look forward to filling with tea and coffee to get us through the many gatherings and meetings in our future. Someone brought us new flags for our patio, ours having been shredded and battered in the wind. Times are tough, for all of us, but we are so thankful for our community for showing up in even small ways.
On Tuesday afternoon, we met with our ambassadors, to talk through what the new hours mean for them. It is hard to “dismiss” people who have been so faithfully showing up, week after week, to help us. Everyone agrees that scaling back is the only way to figure out how to move forward with purpose, but it’s also sad. Our volunteers are incredible, kind, and gifted community servants, and we don’t exist without them. This change will hopefully result in us being better able to support them. But right now, things are up in the air. And that’s a bit scary.
The second meeting of our Religious Trauma Support Group took place on Thursday evening. A lot of people showed up. It was sobering to hear people’s stories, and to be presented with such clear evidence of community need. We are trying to find a stable, accessible place to hold future meetings of this group. The public libraries are perfect for many of our programs, but this group is seeking more of an intimate, homelike setting. We had a couple of churches reach out to offer space, which we appreciate, but for many of the attendees, this is not a comfortable option. We hope to have an announcement on the June location soon.
On Friday, our last day with regular hours, KCCI was a whirlwind of activity. We had a lot of last minute things to print, assemble, organize, and communicate for our prom. In spite of months of countless meetings, there’s always last minute work to do when you plan a big event like prom.
On Friday afternoon, one of our regulars dropped in to hang out and listen to music. It became clear that they were in need of some immediate help, so we set aside our furious prom preparations to assist them. This individual lives at the intersection of various social identities that are associated with major disparities in access to support, and we did our best to affirm them, to validate their feelings, to provide a space to rest their body for a bit, and to connect them with emergency housing and mental health services. This experience has become common in our community center, and while it was a challenge to handle it while also in the final hours of event planning, it’s the kind of thing that we’ve gotten pretty accustomed to. If we’ve learned anything from the past couple of years in a pandemic, it’s a quick pivot.
As I processed my feelings and our response later, it once again seemed clear that we need to better train and equip our volunteers to handle these kinds of stressful situations. However, it also struck me that being technically unqualified actually makes our center *more* accessible to some members of the community. This week alone, guests in severe need expressed to me that they’d rather get help from one of our volunteers than seek mental health care, emergency room care, or housing assistance. They are wary of therapists, which they associate with judgment, cruelty, and religious indoctrination. They are afraid of emergency health care services, which they associate with police officers, harm, and violence. They are afraid to seek emergency housing help, because organizations in our area have been known to turn away trans people, to criminalize behaviors rather than find ways to reduce harm, and to require that people on the receiving end of charity abandon their autonomy, coping mechanisms, dignity, and identities. We aren’t doctors, therapists, or social workers. We’re just LGBTQ+ community members doing our best to help. And for a lot of people, that’s what makes us a safer place to get help. We must equip our volunteers with the skills to provide this needed peer support, and to care for themselves in the process. But we can’t stop being there for our community, especially during a time of crisis. With frightening, dehumanizing legislation in the works, local beacons of hope KCAVP announcing their organization’s closure, bigoted individuals on school boards and in foster care agencies creating barriers between the people we love and the resources they desperately need. We are facing crises on multiple fronts. Just this month, two beloved members of our local trans community passed away, victims of a society that tells them they don’t deserve to exist. We are grieving.
KCCI is not perfect, and honestly it is a little embarrassing how many wrong turns we have taken. We continue to hear from community members who have been hurt. We will continue to save space for those emotions, and to learn from the lessons of our past. But we are here, for as long as we can be here, and our community has never needed us more than they do now. We have to figure out these issues of accessibility, funding, staffing, communicating, and providing a space that fosters community and offers resources. KCAVP's closure leaves a gap that we must do our best to fill. We don't face that challenge alone. We can't do any of this alone.
Finally, let’s end this update on a high note. The Equality Teen Prom was a beautiful, joyful success. Seeing these teenagers in handcrafted outfits, with every imaginable style on display, friends and dates of all genders gripping each other’s hands, showing off mad dance skills, shy and beautiful smiles, pride flags draped across their backs, laughter and queer joy exuding from their wiggly frames… it was a lot of work to bring this event to fruition, but we were all renewed just to see it come together, to see how much they enjoyed it all. We are overwhelmed by the community turnout for this event.
Huge, heartfelt thanks to
Him.her.them salon in Waldo
Mid-Continent Public Libraries in Grandview and Lee’s Summit
KC Care Health Clinic
Big Brothers Big Sisters KC
Burns & McDonnell
City of Fountains Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Anna Knutson Photography
Drag performer and emcee, Salty Fears
...and our friends at Kansas City Anti-Violence Project.
Finally, we are deeply grateful for the hard work of our amazing prom committee, led by Keaton Vaughn, one of our board members. They jumped into this planning process, in the middle of a COVID surge, in the middle of organization-wide changes and burnout, without much of a budget, and without a map for how to pull it all together. They did an incredible job. They were joined by several of you. Thank you all.
With trainings, coffee dates, and meetings on the horizon, we know we will have much more to report next week. We hope you find time this week to care for yourself, to learn, and to celebrate magical moments of queer joy. From Audre Lorde: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation. And that is an act of political warfare.”
In care and hope,