‘Queer Kansas History’ art exhibit cancelled by Newman, hosted at Final Friday instead


Brian Hayes

Newman University alumnus Clint Stucky poses with the “evil & sick” badges he made at the “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History” exhibit at Harvester Art. “Evil” and “sickness” were some of the words used by a local Catholic writer in an appeal for the exhibit, focusing on LGBTQ history in Kansas, to not be shown at Newman University.

Newman University was set to hold the art exhibition “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History” by Genevieve Waller in the Steckline Gallery Friday. But following backlash and protest from “conservative Catholics who thought the show would be evil and sick,” the university decided to cancel the exhibition, said Mary Werner, director of Newman’s art department.

“The word ‘queer’ in the title is what scared them,” Werner said. “They had seen no images . . . and now they look pretty narrow-minded.”

Since the university cancelled the show about a week before Final Friday, Werner was quick to act. She reached out to Harvester Arts to see if they would host the show instead.

“When Mary [Werner] called, it was pretty lucky that we didn’t have a show already,” said Kate Van Steenhuyse, founder of Harvester Arts. “This space is about hosting critical conversation and this exhibition does just that.”

Werner said the department presented an argument to the university to try and keep the show, but were turned down.

“This is very academic work,” Werner said. “There’s nothing here that should frighten anyone. I told my kids in class the other day, you can’t catch gay from a drinking fountain, a toilet, a swimming pool — you can’t catch gay. There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

After earning her undergraduate degree in art history from Wichita State and a master’s degree in photography and art history from Ohio University, Waller began creating art that combined her art history knowledge into her work.

Waller said “Rainbow in Reverse: Queer Kansas History” was created because she felt like there were many important LGBTQ+ people from Kansas that people didn’t know enough about. Even the namesake of the exhibition “Rainbow in Reverse” comes from native Kansan Gilbert Baker who created the international symbol for the LGBTQ+ community with the rainbow flag in 1978.

“I’m sure (Newman University) was imagining the worst of this exhibition when they cancelled it just because of the topic,” Waller said. “The protesters just got the ear of the powerful people at the university and objected to the fact that LGBTQ people exist in Kansas — that there are gay Kansans, that they’ve existed since the beginnings of the state in 1861 and they don’t want those people to be celebrated.”

Waller said she started doing research on LGBTQ Kansans in 2012 when she started learning about Gilbert Baker and the project stemmed from there. Waller then chose six LGBTQ Kansans to focus her exhibition on and she hopes people just have an open mind when viewing and learning about this part of Kansas history.