For an example of inclusive and caring community in Kansas, just look back 60 years

May 23, 2023 3:33 am
A new survey of Kansas child-care facilities reveals lingering financial, personnel challenges of COVID-19 pandemic that advocates say pushing system to the brink. (Getty Images)

Decades in the past, schools and adults had a more relaxed cand caring attitude, writes Jamie Frazier. (Getty Images)

In Sherman Smith’s recent article, “Church and state: Kansas Republicans target ’eminently exploitable’ LGBTQ community,” a nurse from Wiley Elementary School was quoted saying: “At the high school, they’re allowing kids to identify as cats and provided them litter boxes.” This was part of a “serious” conversation about transgender youth during a Republican meeting.

The allegation was so absurd I had to read it twice for it to sink in.

This article caused me to remember events I hadn’t thought of for many, many years. I attended that very school, Wiley Elementary in Hutchinson, as a child in the early 1960s. This was a time when most kids walked to school, made May baskets for their neighbors, played kick the can until dark and rode their bicycles all over town. It was a time when the adults on our street did neighborhood parenting of all the kids and the biggest concern was a skinned knee or poison ivy.

Once I gashed my eyebrow and it took several stitches. This event made the paper.

One Halloween, when I was 8 or 9, my sisters persuaded me to wear a pull-over mask of a girl, topped off with a blonde wig (all hand-me-downs). They put me in one of their dresses and sent me off to school at Wiley Elementary for the Halloween festivities. A tradition at the grade school was for all the children to parade around the perimeter of the playground so our costumes could be admired.

Because I wore a full mask, wig and dress, the other students didn’t recognize me for some time, and I enjoyed not being recognized. When they finally did recognize me it was all in good fun. I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my parents about my escapades as a girl.

I never imagined that in 60 years things would devolve to where they are now. In today’s Kansas, under the same circumstances, I might have my genitals inspected by the school nurse, be accused of being an 8-year-old drag queen or have my parents summoned by the authorities for questioning! Although my classmates — some of whom were surely costumed for the Halloween parade as cats and dogs — might have meowed or barked on the playground, I don’t recall seeing any litter boxes in the restrooms.

I never imagined that in 60 years things would devolve to where they are now. In today's Kansas, under the same circumstances, I might have my genitals inspected by the school nurse, be accused of being an 8-year-old drag queen or have my parents summoned by the authorities for questioning!

– Jamie Frazier

I am now 68 years old, happily married for nearly 47 years, with four grown children and four grandkids. Both my wife and I are preacher’s kids and were fortunate to be raised in families that stressed support of all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability. Our extended family includes LGBTQ+ members.

As a senior in high school, I studied at the Ecumenical Institute Academy, where I lived in Chicago’s inner city with 150 people from throughout the world. Much of the curriculum was based on world news of the time and mid-century theologians and philosophers — Paul Tillich, Richard and Reinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Abraham Heschel and others. It set the stage for my worldview ever since.

It was there I believe I was first introduced to the poem “First They Came” by Pastor Martin Niemöller. It had an enduring effect on me.

My wife and I are founding members of Saint Andrew Christian Church in Olathe. It has been an open and affirming church from its beginning more than 32 years ago. Earlier this month, we hosted a Drag Queen Story Hour that was well attended (100-plus) by both church members and members of the LGBTQ+ community and their families. We attended with our son and two granddaughters, 7 and 12 years old.

It was a joyful event, where the children made crafts based on hearts and multi-colored paint and described, one by one, their meaning to those in attendance. There were many smiles and lots of laughter. Everyone found community in a non-judgmental setting.

It is so sad to see religion being hijacked for political fear mongering! Six decades ago, I never would have imagined gender issues, guns, abortion, climate, immigration, etc, being so contentious in today’s America. But I have hope in our kids, grandkids and their friends and families.

Several years ago, I had the honor of visiting briefly with the famous environmentalist and author Wendell Berry at an event where numerous speakers were talking in dire terms about environmental degradation and climate change. I asked Mr. Berry how he maintained a positive spirit in our current milieu.

He simply responded: “The scriptures speak of faith, hope and love, so we must have hope!” And he walked away.

We have to have hope and not be afraid to speak out, or eventually there will be no one left to speak for us.

Jamie Frazier is retired with his wife, Judy, in Overland Park. Through its opinion section, Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Jamie Frazier
Jamie Frazier

Jamie Frazier has lived his entire life in Kansas, except for a 13-year stint in Oklahoma, where he attended Phillips University and managed prisons for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. For more than 30 years, he oversaw multi-level senior communities both locally and regionally. He is retired with his wife, Judy, in Overland Park.