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LGBTQ Groups In Johnson County, Kansas, Host First Picnic With Lots Of Pride

Laura Spencer
KCUR 89.3

On Sunday, LGBTQ organizations hosted the first pride picnic in Johnson County, Kansas, in a large pavilion at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park in Lenexa. 

Lori McGee, of Overland Park, sat on a blanket in the grass near a bubble machine, with her nine-month-old daughter, Ellie. 

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Morgan and Lori McGee at the picnic with their nine-month-old daughter, Ellie.

"We've been looking for family events in Johnson County," said McGee, "and saw the pride event and thought, 'Wow, this would be wonderful for our daughter, and we would be able to hang out with other families that are like us."

A pride event on the Kansas side of the state line, said Brett Hoedl, chair of Equality Kansas of Metro Kansas City, has been in the works for a few years.

"People want to be out," Hoedl said. "They want to be able to show their pride and come celebrate in a safe space, and we wanted to be able to make that a possibility."   

Organizers estimate that more than 600 people attended, including LGBTQ elected officials such as Kansas House of Representatives members Susan Ruiz of the 23rd district, Brandon Woodard of the 30th district, and U.S. Congresswoman Sharice Davids, who represents Kansas's 3rd district. 

"Our community is about fighting for things that really stay true to our values," said Davids. "We want everyone to have an opportunity to succeed."

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
Rep. Susan Ruiz stood next to one of the pride balloons that served as photo backdrops at the event.

Seven cities in Johnson County — Merriam, Mission Woods, Mission Hills and Westwood Hills in 2019 —have passed non-discrimination ordinances or NDOs, which provide legal protections for LGBTQ residents and employees.  

Two of the cities Ruiz represents, Shawnee and Overland Park, don't have an NDO. But she said she's hopeful. 

"We have a groundswell right now," said Ruiz, "and it’s allies, you know, and it’s LGBTQ alike. We’re all banding together to try and get these NDOs done."

Two Olathe East High School students, Jordan Otte and Jacqueline Holloway, were decked out in transgender and rainbow flags. 

"I’m wearing thigh-high rainbow socks that say 'pride' on them, a rainbow tie, rainbow suspenders," said Holloway, who wore a nametag listing preferred pronouns they/them. 

Credit Laura Spencer / KCUR 89.3
KCUR 89.3
These two Olathe East high school students draped themselves in transgender and rainbow flags.

Both Otte and Holloway said they've experienced bullying, so the picnic provided a supportive environment. 

"It's really cool to see a community of my friends, family, and a bunch of strangers who accept me for who I am," said Otte, who also identifies as non-binary. "And it's just a fun event."

"I think that it's a place for people like me," said Holloway, "to all come together and celebrate how far we've come."

But, they add, "There's still a bunch of people who don't accept us. This is a place where we can all accept each other and just experience lots of love and positivity because that's what makes life worth living."

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter at @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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