By Jillian Fisher @JAU_Fisher
I was born and raised in Kansas and looking to return. In the past three years I have had the opportunity to live away from my native state and partake in new experiences and cultures not only across the United States but also in different countries. Doing so has given me a chance to reflect and realize a few things. First, I love Kansas for many reasons and I cannot wait to return. Second, in general, people do not see Kansas in a positive light. Some of the beliefs are warranted and some are simply contrived from ignorant stereotypes. And my third realization, I truly dislike it when people speak badly about my beautiful home state and I spend quite a bit of energy defending her.
The warranted beliefs, however, are a little more difficult to defend. A perfect example is this past week when the Kansas House of Representatives passed a bill that legalized discrimination and disguised it as “religious freedom.” I felt extreme anger and disgust, followed by embarrassment and frustration as it received national attention. Being a native, I heard about this potential law before it got swept up in the national media where it received judgmental and knee-jerk responses. As Wizard of Oz jokes and critical comments about Kansans flooded my news feed I became extremely frustrated because I know Kansas is better than that and I find it ironic that people who are critical of Kansas fail to look in their back yard. Especially the article written by Slate contributor Mark Joseph Stern, which is presumptuous and expresses little faith in Kansas as a whole. Yes, the House easily passed the bill, yes our Senate is also conservative, and yes, if it landed on our ultra-conservative Governor’s desk whose record is notoriously anti-gay, he would have likely had no reservations.
Trying to cope with my own personal heartbreak and not react to the slurs against my home, I simply responded to these remarks by informing them that it was not popular opinion and asked them to help do something about the matter. Just like every state has their radicals, they also have their do-gooders. Over 20 thousand members joined a Facebook group opposed to the legislation, which now has well over 50 thousand members, in less than 24 hours. And a petition, which could only be signed by Kansas residents, reached its goal of 10,000 votes within two days. In short, the good people of Kansas banded together in outrage, raised up, and the Kansas Senate responded by killing the bill. With a new blemish on our name and hurt feelings, the matter was over as almost as quickly as it started.
The United States is the greatest country in the world. I have dedicated my life to making it better and with that comes great analysis (criticism) of its actions and policies. But I remind you that we certainly do not like it when foreigners point out our shortcomings! We have seen a paradigm shift across the country where our agreed upon social responsibilities are being challenged, and the emergence of political and religious radicals has created political gridlock. These actions surely call for change or at least a serious discussion. As citizens we must continue to stand together and not only reject ridiculous legislation but also not forget during election season and hold politicians accountable.
Not even a week went by when Kansas made national news about a proposed bill that would allow spanking in schools. Luckily it did not even make it past the House. Unfortunately, there have been several instances where Kansas has not been as lucky since our leadership shifted drastically in 2010 with the election of Sam Brownback as Governor and other ultra-conservatives such as Kris Kobach as Secretary of State. Since Brownback has become governor he has made tremendous cuts to Kansas education, gutted funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, and if it weren’t for major pushback from concerned Kansans, he would have successfully closed an institute for the profoundly developmentally disabled. His plan to bounce Kansas back from the recession is not only failing but also left Kansans up in arms. I know several Kansans who consider themselves conservative and voted for him in 2010 but are distraught by his aggressive cuts. In fact, a recent poll shows that if elections were held now, his opponent Paul Davis, a current State Representative, would win. The numbers show that Brownback is extremely unpopular and his approval rating continues to plummet. It is clearly time for a change.
The truth is, Kansas is fair. It has a rich history full of hardworking, creative, and diverse population who has founded itself on the principles of freedom and liberty. We value community and relentlessly reach out to the disenfranchised and those in need. We have a history of defending what is right and have stood up for freedom and equality from Bleeding Kansas to Brown v. Board. However, something happens between the living room, the streets, and the voting booth. Kansas native Thomas Frank touches on this issue in his book What’s the Matter with Kansas. Frank documents that Kansans tend to vote based on social or value issues without an awareness of impact on personal or community interests. In other words, Kansans often vote against what will be in their best interests.
To discriminate against people based on their background is disingenuous of Kansas’ historical nature. This is not who we are and we must be tolerant of all members of our community, including the LGBT community. It is clear that still we have a long road ahead of us. But to reference Kansas’ state motto: “Ad Astra per Aspera” which is Latin for “to the stars through difficulties” I have faith that we, Kansas and the United States, will get back on track to a better, more progressive America.