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February 20, 2013

Previous story: Megan Cramer was a founder of a UMKC gay, lesbian support group

This story appeared in The Star on Dec. 12, 1990.

“Tell ‘em before they’ve had their coffee” and “Tell the parent you feel closest to first” were some of the many words of advice exchanged at a recent University of Missouri-Kansas City student meeting.

But the advice wasn’t on how to break news of bad grades. Much of the meeting dealt with how students could disclose their homosexuality to their parents.

The 4-month-old group, which drew nearly 20 participants at a recent weekly session, was formed to give gay and lesbian students a place to discuss such sensitive topics and find peer support.

The Gay & Lesbian Student Alliance at UMKC is only one of a half-dozen new groups and programs developing in Kansas City’s gay community. The projects grew out of a new activism, created during efforts to amend Kansas City’s civil rights ordinance to include sexual orientation.

“The ordinance effort has probably done more to give this community energy and strength than anything in years,” said Jon Barnett, a gay rights activist.

Four support meetings similar to the UMKC sessions have been held for high school students. A gay and lesbian-owned small-business group is forming. So is an organization of minority homosexuals.

Also, St. Louis and Kansas City gay activists are laying the groundwork for a statewide movement to repeal Missouri’s sexual misconduct law. Organizers of most of the new groups say the Human Rights Ordinance Project, which enlisted dozens of volunteers — some gay and some heterosexual — was the catalyst that brought them together or fueled their activism.

Last month, nearly a year after the efforts began, the City Council approved a resolution and an ordinance giving more rights to homosexuals and persons who carry the AIDS virus.

The ordinance prohibits dis crimination in employment, housing and several other areas against persons with the AIDS virus. The resolution prohibits the city from discriminating in hiring based on the AIDS virus or sexual orientation.

Megan Cramer, a founder of the UMKC group, said she had benefited from meeting other gay and lesbian students at the alliance’s meetings.

“We’re made to feel ashamed of who we are on the outside, so there’s a safety within the group,” Cramer said.

Eight high school students who attend sessions at the Good Samaritan Project, an AIDS hospice center, feel a similar relief, said J.R. Gourley, director of education at Good Samaritan.

Each meeting of Greater KC Gay & Lesbian Youth Services brings a new young person to the group, Gourley said.

“I believe there are a large amount of gay and lesbian teens here,” Gourley said. “But they have a feeling of being alone, that no one else is feeling like they are.”

Participation is expected to rise when brochures are distributed through area high school counselors. The group is limited to people 16 to 20 years old.

Gourley said he expected some resistance as the group tries to reach more students. However, the Good Samaritan Project has good relations with many school districts through the AIDS aware ness seminars it offers, Gourley said.

“We’re not promoting homosexuality,” he said. “What we’re doing is making a place and professionals available to these kids so they will have somewhere to turn.”

Other recent projects:

Efforts to found a Heartland Lesbian and Gay Community Center are in the infant stages. .w r ashamed of who we are on the outside, so there’s a safety within the group.” — Megan Cramer, a founderof UMKC group Questionnaires to gauge support were sent about a month ago to gay and lesbian groups, said Dave Buell, a planning committee member.

Gays and Lesbians of Color formed in midsummer after a City Hall rally in favor of the ordinance garnered supporters who were almost all white, said Dianna Ward, an organizer.

The group, which now includes blacks and Asians, plans to educate its members about various cultural groups, Ward said. Also, it hopes to help counter the myth that AIDS only affects white males.

“I don’t want to have a separatist organization, and even tually I would like to see there not be a need for this organization,” Ward said.

Two meetings have brought St. Louis and Kansas City activists together to seek a change in state law.

Missouri is one of 25 states in which private sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex can be a crime, said Brad Smith, administrative coordinator of the Privacy Rights Education Project, based in St. Louis.

A group of merchants who are mostly gay or lesbian meets weekly to discuss advertising and small-business methods, said Larry Gilbert, owner of Larry’s Gifts & Cards.

The group organized after shop owners held a “block party” and raised money for the city ordinance project, he said. That and other efforts for the ordinance unified the gay and lesbian community, Gilbert said.

“We’ve got a long ways to go, but I think that was one of the steppingstones,” he said. “Kansas City is going to go through some good stages.”

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