Publisher of Liberty Press, who brought Kansas LGBTQ community together, dies at 49

Kristi Parker, left, and Sharon "Vinnie" Reed in the early days of the Liberty Press.
Kristi Parker, left, and Sharon "Vinnie" Reed in the early days of the Liberty Press.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had an incorrect time for the celebration of life.

A quarter of a century ago, Kristi Parker was tired of living up to other people’s expectations.

She was an oil and gas accountant who yearned to live another life — one that didn’t include having to wear dresses to work. She wanted to fall in love with whom she wanted, bring people together through stories and connect gay and lesbian communities across the state.


Ms. Parker, editor of Liberty Press — the LGBTQ newspaper she established in 1994 and whose motto was “We were gay before it was cool” — died Saturday after suffering a stroke on Thursday. She was 49.

Her death means the end of the Liberty Press, according to Sharon “Vinnie” Reed, Ms. Parker’s friend, former business partner and ex-wife.

A celebration of life will be at 3:30 p.m. Friday at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Wichita, 7202 E. 21st Street. Those attending are asked to wear casual clothes — such as jeans and T-shirts — and instead of flowers, write down a favorite memory to be included in a book to hand to her son.

Ms. Parker was born May 25, 1968 in Wichita. She grew up in College Hill and attended College Hill Elementary. She was an East High School graduate and received her bachelor’s degree in finance and accounting from Wichita State University.

“She was very knowledgeable and skilled as an accountant,” Reed said. “And she was filled with this passion for helping and being part of the gay and lesbian community. She had this ability to be the editor, write and finance and keep the business afloat.”

In April 1994, Ms. Parker became co-chairman of Wichita’s Pride Committee, which organized an annual 10-day celebration of the area’s gay and lesbian community. She was in charge of producing the Pride Guide, a program for the celebration, selling ads, writing and editing stories, overseeing all the details.

That guide evolved and, with a $1,000 loan from her mother, Ms. Parker began publishing the Liberty Press.

The first issue was published in August 1994 with 12 pages and five advertisers. Later, the paper averaged about 60 pages with 5,000 copies printed in each run.

“She was professionally so cool, smart and humble,” said Shannon Littlejohn, a friend and past president of the Wichita Professional Communicators, of which Ms. Parker was a board member. “She is leaving a big legacy with Liberty Press. We have speculated what will happen. I hope it will be picked up, again. WPC will be doing something for her. We were so lucky to have her in our group.”

James Woods worked with Ms. Parker at Positive Directions, a nonprofit organization committed to the prevention of HIV transmission. He would sometimes write columns for Liberty Press.

“We worked together on several projects,” Woods said. “She was one of the most compassionate people I have ever met with a wicked sense of humor and a unique way of thinking about things to get the outcome she knew we needed.”

She was also brave.

“She was nuts, completely nuts, to come up with this paper,” Woods said. “But in fact, she made it work and made it work well for so long. I don’t know anybody else that could have done it. She was doing things with the paper before — not that it is completely acceptable now — but in Middle America that no one else had the guts to do. She would tackle any topic in that paper.”

In 1999, Liberty Press won three national Vice Versa Awards for Excellence in the Gay and Lesbian Press.

“That paper came about when the internet was just catching on,” Woods said. “Most people didn’t have the resources then that are available now. Now, you can Google anything but she would provide a section in the paper that talked about what was happening around Kansas. For a high school student who might have been struggling with things and didn’t have any way to find things out, it was lifeline for them. It became a way to connect people.”

Ms. Parker is survived by her son, Jack Irwin; mother and stepfather Jacquelyn and Robert Burdorff; father and stepmother Keith and Ann Parker; two brothers and sisters-in-law, Todd and Carol Parker and Chad Parker and Eve Mattucci; and niece Margot Parker.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner