By Emily Beckman
WICHITA - Jonathan Cooley wanted to spread the message that it is OK to be gay - so he started by coming out.
That was several years ago.
Now entering his junior year at Campus High School, the 17-year-old is Wichita’s Pride Student Ambassador. He acquired that position in June, and will hold it for one year.
The position - in its second year - is part of Wichita Pride. The position includes speaking up for LGBTQ+ youth and listening to their ideas, Cooley said. In addition, the Pride Student Ambassador is expected to maintain good grades, be a good role model and work with the Pride board, according to Daisha King-Madden, Youth and Family Director for Wichita Pride.
“Jonathan is a very empathetic person,” King-Madden said. “He can relate to a lot of other kids on a lot of different levels. He’s been through a lot so he has a better understanding what it’s like for a lot of kids that are going through a hard time.”
At school, Cooley is invol-ved in the Campus LGBTQ+ group, of which he is the auditor. Cooley says that most teachers at Campus are supportive of LGBTQ+ students.
“It’s a really nice school to go to,” he said.
In the future, Cooley hopes to become a drag queen, a cosmetologist and a nurse practitioner. As an aspiring drag queen, Cooley enjoyed attending Pride in drag and meeting drag queens. Once he turns 18, he plans to perform at Club Boomerang.
“When I do drag it’s kind of a confidence booster and it’s something to make me feel proud of myself,” Cooley said. “I already feel proud of myself and where I am at, but drag is just more of a comfort zone for me. [It’s] a way to express my feelings and to show everyone it’s OK to be what you want [and] to dress the way you want.”
Cooley remembers a time in his life when he didn’t feel like he had a voice.
“I want to continue speaking for the youth and being there for the youth and helping people who don’t necessarily have a voice at the moment,” Cooley said.
He has advice for those who may be in shoes he previously wore: reach out and get help.
“There is someone that is going to care about you no matter who you are, what you identify as or who you like. Because, I mean, we’re all human,” Cooley said.
As far as getting involved in high school LGBTQ+ groups, he recommends seeking out a teacher, counselor or administrator who is LGBTQ-friendly for guidance.
King-Madden hopes that the Student Ambassador position will show LGBTQ+ youth that Pride cares.
“We want students to realize Pride does know that they’re there and that the youth do make a huge impact on our community and they are our future,” she said. l
By Annette Billings
TOPEKA - In 2015 a small group of concerned Topekans met to discuss the idea of a community center to provide a safe space for people of all gender identities and sexual orientations. The results of a community needs survey had led them to believe the time had come for such a space to be created in Topeka.
The name chosen was Capitol City Community Center (CCEC). A board was formed with Stephanie Mott as president and Dan Brennan as executive director. As a result of fundraising efforts, the group was able to obtain designation as a 501(c)(3) organization. This development led to continued efforts to secure funds to purchase a building to house the center.
During this time the Planting Peace organization purchased the house next door to the Equality House in Topeka and painted it in the colors of the transgender pride flag. Both houses, the Equality House and the Transgender Pride House, are located across the street from Westboro Baptist Church.
Last November, Planting Peace generously donated the Transgender Pride House to serve as the location for CCEC. Work to prepare the house was undertaken by dedicated individuals from the community.
Fast forward to this past June 28. What began as an idea became a reality as the Capitol City Equality Center had a ribbon-cutting ceremony and opened its doors. The center’s opening makes it the third of its kind in Kansas and the first in Topeka.
KANSAS CITY - The Respectful Prostitute, directed by James Weber, is showing at the 2017 KC Fringe Festival on July 22, 25, 27, and 29 at the Unicorn Theatre’s Jerome Stage. This social commentary about corrupt politics, homosexual oppression, the power of white privilege, and the criminalization of black men was written by Jean-Paul Sartre in 1946 and blatantly addresses the suffocating racial tension, gender bias, sexual oppression, and stereotyping of the era.
She&Her Productions’ adaptation takes place in a present-day setting, but only had to be slightly altered for modernity, because these seemingly-antiquated circumstances are still entirely relevant.
The first character seen is THE PROSTITUTE, who has just moved to Montgomery, Ala. She’s found a new client and things are looking up . . . until THE NEGRO starts banging on her door. He’s being chased by an angry mob and is wanted by law enforcement for the crime of a white man, a crime she bore witness to - and, though she wants to be a good person, she refuses to help him.
“Please, ma’am, please. Please tell them that I didn’t do anything.”
The production features local Kansas City actors Jennifer Coville, Cori Anne Weber, Stevie Haynes, and Peter Leondedis, and will incorporate multimedia projections to help convey its message of introspection and social accountability. The play contains sensitive-yet-necessary content that many will find disturbing and is not appropriate for young audiences. Tickets are $10 in addition to the one-time purchase of the $5 Fringe Festival admission button.
Visit www.rpfringekc.wordpress.com for show times. More info at www.sheandherproductions.com.