Wichita gay-pride attendees celebrate progress, note challenges ahead

Marchers gathered on the steps of the old Sedgwick County Courthouse Sunday to hear speakers prior to the Wichita Pride Festival parade. (Sept. 20, 2015)
Marchers gathered on the steps of the old Sedgwick County Courthouse Sunday to hear speakers prior to the Wichita Pride Festival parade. (Sept. 20, 2015) Eagle correspondent

The fight is not over.

That was the message Sunday as more than 300 people gathered at noon around the steps of the Historic County Courthouse and listened to speakers at the gay pride festival and parade.

The crowd was smaller than in past years, organizers acknowledged.

“Our first parade was back in 1992, and then we did and didn’t have parades over the years,” said Mark Kahabka, who drove the parade’s grand marshal, physician Donna Sweet, in a white Porsche convertible. “This is 10 years in a row we have pulled off a pride fest with parade. It is very significant to our community to be able to pull off an event like this where we can all come out in public supporting one another.”

Last November, 15 local same-sex couples stood on the steps of the Historic County Courthouse and married. The mass marriage ceremony took place because a federal court ruled in favor of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two lesbian couples denied licenses in Douglas and Sedgwick counties.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage a constitutional right.

There has been some progress, festivalgoes said Sunday, but added that their fight is not over.

“You have to think about this every day of the year, not let this (gay pride) be just one day or one week of the year,” said Kerry Wilks, who last fall along with her partner, Donna DiTrani, filed a lawsuit with the ACLU because they were denied marriage licenses. “That’s the bittersweet thing. This should be an everyday occurrence.”

In past years, the festival and parade often drew up to 1,500 people. Competing events on Sunday, such as the last day of the Kansas State Fair and Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield may have pulled some supporters from the parade, Kahabka said.

Donna Sweet – considered one of the nation’s foremost AIDS physicians – said she was honored to have been chosen as this year’s grand marshal.

“Pride is an important event for people who have same-sex relationships,” Sweet said. “This year is exceedingly important. We had a landmark decision for the community with the (Supreme Court) gay marriage ruling – now everyone can be equal under the law. But it’s been too long coming.”

But even with the ruling, Sweet said, there is more to do.

“We have to advocate for all people,” she said. “I may not be part of the gay community, but I have been a longtime advocate for their health. Health care access is a huge issue around here in Kansas. We didn’t expand Medicaid. A large portion of the young gay community are service workers who don’t have insurance. They don’t make much, they can’t afford to buy insurance. I believe health care is a right and not a privilege and unfortunately, it is treated like a privilege.”

The Rev. Jackie Carter, pastor at First Metropolitan Community Church, told the crowd that they should never discriminate.

“When we begin diminishing people’s lives to make them less than – no matter what they are – whether they are same-gender-loving people, or have purple or green hair or tattoos up to their ears, we begin to diminish God’s people, and that is not okay,” Carter said. “We have been called to make certain that there are never county clerks again who can deny the rights. When we begin to draw lines, we make God cry and it is not OK.”

Reach Beccy Tanner at 316-268-6336 or btanner@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @beccytanner.