I came to Topeka in 2005. I landed on the men’s side of the Topeka Rescue Mission, five days sober, but very certain that my nearly 48-year journey of pretending to be a man was coming to an end. A lot has changed since then.
Today, I am one of a group of people who have decided to open an LGBT center in Topeka. It will, of course, have space for all the letters in the alphabet and it is our purpose to create safe space for anyone who is marginalized and oppressed.
Capital City Equality Center (CCEC) is the newest of the organizations that have come to life in the capital city of Kansas in the last several years. Equality Kansas has had a chapter in Topeka for some 11 years, and Beacon Youth Group is a thriving organization for Topeka area youth.
In 2010, the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project was conceived here. In 2012, the Topeka Chapter of the National Organization for Women was formed.
In 2014, Topeka Pride brought about 2,000 people into the North Topeka Arts District for a celebration of diversity never before seen in a town that is far-too-often known for the hate crimes perpetrated by Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). Times, have indeed, been changing.
The equality center began in the usual way, a group of people who care about providing safe space for all gender identities and sexual orientations came together at a table in the Topeka-Shawnee County Public Library and decided it was time for such a space to exist here.
A year ago, CCEC received word that we had been approved as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Since then, we have been dreaming dreams and putting together plans and working to raise the money to purchase a physical space in which to make these dreams come true.
In the meantime, Planting Peace, which created the Equality House across the street from WBC, purchased the house next door and painted it the colors of the transgender pride flag. In November, Planting Peace offered to let Capital City Equality Center use that house, the Transgender Pride House.
As we enter 2017, CCEC is preparing to open our equality center - months (perhaps years) earlier than we might have believed. There are not enough words to begin to express our gratitude.
There is work to be done - painting and cleaning, furnishing the space, enhancing accessibility. There are many details to work out with utilizing volunteers, raising funds, and developing programming.
Our first mission is to provide a safe space for persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations, our friends, family and allies.
Our dream includes an emergency food bank, and some clothes for free; and a place where people are connected to the resources they need in the community.
Our dream includes looking at the resources in the community and identifying the gaps, then creating or facilitating the creation of resources that fill the gaps.
We hope to have a space to hold educational meetings for the community, and to develop teams that can go out into the community to provide education.
Our dream includes classes designed to help people be able to find employment, live successfully in the community, and learn how to care for themselves; as well as classes designed to teach leadership skills, activism, and advocacy.
Our dream includes a library with books and information related to the needs of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and a place where we can capture and display the amazing history of LGBTQ+ people in Topeka and Shawnee County.
These are not dreams I could have held in 2005. They are dreams created by the never-ceasing desire of dedicated individuals to make a difference and reclaim Topeka as a city where diversity is truly embraced.
Capital City Equality Center is about to come to life. Not in keeping with the old adage - the more things change, the more things change. Look for a Grand Opening Ceremony sometime in early 2017. We hope you come and join us!
Check us out at capcitycenter.org or find us on Facebook! l