15 Years of Pride: Wichitans hit the streets for annual LGBT+ rally and parade

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15 Years of Pride: Wichitans hit the streets for annual LGBT+ rally and parade

A parade participant carries a Starbucks pride flag during the Wichita Pride Parade on Sunday in downtown Wichita.

A parade participant carries a Starbucks pride flag during the Wichita Pride Parade on Sunday in downtown Wichita.

Morgan Anderson

A parade participant carries a Starbucks pride flag during the Wichita Pride Parade on Sunday in downtown Wichita.

Morgan Anderson

Morgan Anderson

A parade participant carries a Starbucks pride flag during the Wichita Pride Parade on Sunday in downtown Wichita.

At the 2019 Wichita Pride Parade, members and allies of the LGBT+ community spoke of the progress made toward equal rights since the first consecutive annual parade 15 years ago — and the work that still needs to be done.

Before paraders made the one-mile trip Sunday from the Sedgwick County Historic Courthouse to the Mid-America All-Indian Center, they gathered in front of the courthouse. 

Activists, politicians and LGBT+ citizens spoke to hundreds of ralliers, backdropped by a sea of flags that lined the courthouse steps — including a traditional rainbow pride flag, a U.S. flag, an AIDS awareness flag, and a trans rights flag. 

While those at the rally celebrated strides that have progressed LGBT+ rights in recent decades, some also spoke of the changes they feel still need to be made.

“Representation matters,” said Kansas Rep. Brandon Woodard, the first openly gay man elected to the state government. “As we saw this year . . . having two openly LGBT members in the Kansas House allowed us to stop and block terrible legislation . . . that would have defined same-sex marriage as a parody marriage.” 

Woodard spoke against gay conversion therapy, and advocated for Kansas to pass a statewide law that would outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

“Even though marriage equality has come across the land, that does not mean there are equal rights for all,” said Kerry Wilks, chair of the local chapter of Equality Kansas — a pro-LGBT+ organization that sponsored the parade. 

“We know people still get fired from their job for being gay, they get kicked out of where they live for being gay, and we’ve seen hatred even in our city with the flag burning,” said Wilks, who also serves as the assistant dean of the Wichita State University Graduate School.

“The work is not done.”

One speaker was Micala Gingrich-Gaylord, whose homefront LGBT pride flag was burned this month in an apparent hate crime at Wichita’s Riverside neighborhood.

“This flag gave me a great sense of hope and joy on my porch as it flew brightly,” Gingrich-Gaylord said of how she felt when she first purchased it. Gingrich-Gaylord and her 11-year-old child both identify as members of the LGBT+ community. 

After the flag was burned, Gingrich-Gaylord said she learned that “flying this flag is still going to scare some people. It still acts as a symbol of a community that has yet to find, fully, its rightful place. It still waves in the face of bigots who seek to shame and squelch pride.” 

Within throwing distance of City Hall, mayoral candidate Brandon Whipple — a long-time Democrat in the Kansas House — spoke of his vision for LGBT+ citizens if elected. 

“We need a mayor that cares more about the civil rights of the people of this city than they care about lining their pockets with donations of insiders who they’re giving contracts to,” Whipple said, taking a jab at Mayor Jeff Longwell in light of an investigative report published Sunday by The Wichita Eagle. 

At previous public speaking events, Whipple has called for Wichita to institute a non-discrimination ordinance that would make it illegal for employers to fire people based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He also believes the city should reestablish a civil rights commission to investigate discrimination in the community. 

Also present at the rally were Lt. Governor Lynn Rogers, State Sen. Mary Ware, State Rep. Jim Ward and Sedgwick County Commissioner Lacey Cruse. 

The annual parade is organized by Wichita Pride. Along with Equality Kansas, the event featured other pro-LGBT+ sponsors, including GLSEN and The Center of Wichita. Local churches, businesses and other groups marched alongside the organizations, expressing support for the LGBT+ community.

Former WSU Student Body President Joseph Shepard participated in the parade with his partner, saying he wanted to represent LGBT+ students. In his run for the USD 259 Board of Education, Shepard has vocalized support for increasing anti-discrimination policy in the school district.

“I think [LGBT students and families] want to make sure they are free from harrassment, free from bullying, free from discrimination, free from isolation,” Shepard said. “And free to learn being who they are — being their authentic self.”

Shepard, who works as Newman University’s director of multicultural engagement and campus life, acknowledged the district’s efforts so far, but he said he wants to advance more progress.

“When we look at the big picture, this isn’t just an LGBTQ issue — this is a human rights issue,” he said. “Every parent wants to send their student to school where they know their child is going to feel safe and protected.” 

Shepard, who identifies as bisexual, said the parade also meant something to him on a personal level. 

“This event means that we are creating and carving out spaces intentionally where we can celebrate people being their authentic selves — loving who they love, and making sure everyone understands equality is for everybody or its for nobody.”