In the early morning of March 5, 1999, I sat in my college apartment in Columbia and told my roommate and best friend that I was gay. It was the first time I had ever said those words to another human being. There it was — my secret was out. A secret that only three years before had nearly taken me to a point of ending my own life rather than saying the words out loud. There was a long pause and deafening silence. Would I lose my best friend and roommate all with the utterance of one sentence? Would I have to find a new place to live? Would all of my friends find out? Would I be shunned by society, as I always imaged gay people to be?
The answer came quickly. My roommate had two questions for me: First, was I in love with him? (I was not.) Second, in a joking manner, if I’m gay, why wasn’t our apartment decorated better? (I didn’t get that gene.)
The conversation between us continued for hours. There were tears and laughter. There was the overwhelming sense of fear and excitement over what would come next for me. But mostly, there was relief that for the first time in my life, I could sit in a room with my best friend and be myself, with nothing to hide or hold back.
Little did those two 20-year-olds know that our conversation went the way it did thanks to a rich history of LGBT activists who had been working for equality for nearly 50 years. We had never heard the names of Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, Kay Lahusen, Marsha P. Johnson or Larry Kramer. We had no way of knowing that in 1966, only 33 years before, the first national LGBT civil rights conference ever had taken place in Kansas City. That from the conference our city’s first LGBT organization was founded, the Phoenix Society. That the Kansas City community had come together — LGBT people and our family and friends alike — to help save the lives of gay men in the 1980s when our government didn’t care. Or that Kansas City had elected Missouri’s first openly LGBT member to the state legislature only five years earlier.
What we did know is that we were friends, that we cared about each other, that we had each other’s back, and that the fact that I was gay wouldn’t change any of it. Today, I know we were capable of having that attitude thanks to those who came before us.
The governor’s decision to remove the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s “Making History: Kansas City and the Rise of Gay Rights” from the Missouri State Museum in the Capitol is a personal insult to me and to all Kansas Citians. The exhibit is the story of how our city became a leader in our state in accepting and loving all of our neighbors, regardless of whom they may love. Because of the brave men and women whose story is told in the exhibit, Kansas City gave Missouri its first openly LGBT state House member and its first openly LGBT state senator. And today I have the distinct honor of representing our city in the state Senate, and to do so fully as myself, an openly gay man.
Removal of this exhibit is an insult. It’s an insult to those brave individuals from our past. It’s an insult to those of us fighting for equality today, and to those who will continue the fight in the future. It’s also an insult to all those friends and family members who love us, who support us, and who teach us we are perfect just the way we are.
Without those who came before me, who fought the fight displayed in this exhibit, our city would not be the welcoming and loving place it is today.
Without the amazing friends I’ve been fortunate enough to have in my life, I certainly wouldn’t be your senator today. I will continue to fight for everyone’s history, legacy, courage and friendship.
Greg Razer represents the 7th District in the Missouri Senate.