The portable toilets at Kansas City PrideFest 2016 were gender neutral — and noncontroversial.
But it would be hard to find someone at the three-day event at Berkley Riverfront Park who wasn’t aware of efforts in some states to require that transgender public school students use the bathroom that corresponds to their gender at birth. Kansas last week joined 11 other states in a legal challenge to a directive from the Obama administration to allow people to use the bathroom of the gender they identify with.
“I think it’s outrageous,” Justin Warner, who was staffing a table selling T-shirts, said of legislative moves in North Carolina and other states. “People just want to pee.”
Jimmy Lesch and Darin Slyman, co-publishers of the Midwest gay magazine Vital Voice, said there was not a lot of discussion about so-called bathroom bills at the festival because the LGBT community is all on the same side.
“I know a lot of transgender people are frustrated because we have so much more to fight for than where (they) can go to the bathroom,” said Lesch.
“As a whole, the community is like, why is this an issue?”
Proponents of bathroom bills say they are meant to protect women and children from sexual predators.
Gillian R. Wilcox, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri, said such bills violate people’s rights.
“Nothing has, thankfully, passed yet in Missouri,” Wilcox said from behind a table at PrideFest. “We are opposed to any effort in that arena, and we’re working really hard on lobbying the legislative side to make sure a bill doesn’t get passed and to educate the public.”
The ACLU also opposed a “religious freedom” bill to amend the Missouri Constitution that died in committee during the last session. It would have allowed people and businesses to cite their religious beliefs in denying services to same-sex couples.
Promo, an advocacy group, saw PrideFest as an opportunity to gather data with surveys.
“We are asking LGBTQ Missourians how they’re accessing and experiencing services, housing, employment,” said Elizabeth Fuchs, manager of public policy for the group. “Do they have health insurance? What are their experiences with perceived discrimination in these areas?”
With the exception of a table of Hillary Clinton buttons, PrideFest was not overtly political. Several hawkers sold novelty and other items. People of all ages enjoyed food for sale and a stage with musical acts. Some folks dressed up in expressive ways. One vendor offered three softball throws for $5 to dunk a drag queen in a water tank.
“I think everyone here can probably identify with the notion of being marginalized,” said Jennifer Murphy with Squad of Sisters, a group combating sexual violence in the Kansas City region. She was handing out the group’s first publication of stories from anonymous victims. “And so while you’re here to be among like-minded people, everyone also wants to have the freedom to be who they are. So the social issues are just as important as having a good time. It’s both.”