Why is Kansas City in the news so often? From recent appearances in the World Series and Super Bowl, to political dramas both righteous and scandalous, and taking a star-turn as the host of Netflix’s Queer Eye, this small-ish city in the middle of Flyover Country has a way of keeping its name in the headlines.
The residents are unruffled by the attention these days, and are characteristically soft-spoken and polite as they discuss the city’s many successes and media attention. If you encounter someone from Kansas City, they will usually be remarkably friendly and may want to chit-chat; it will not be a long conversation, so just go along with it, and the Kansas Citian will soon leave you alone and go about their day. Just don’t bring up barbecue. But more about that later.
Let’s get to know Kansas City a little bit, with Five Fun Facts About Kansas City:
- Gay and trans politics are a hot topic in Kansas City. The central Midwest is not a particularly liberal or otherwise gay-friendly part of the U.S. Westboro Baptist Church, famous for their “God Hates Fags” picket lines, is based in Topeka, Kan., just an hour’s drive away; then there is the representative from the Missouri State House who is trying to make “drag queen story hour” illegal in public libraries. And let’s not forget when Netflix’s Queer Eye filmed in Kansas City, they posted gloating images of their own glamorous apartment in Two Light, a real estate development partially owned by Jared Kushner, the sycophant and son-in-law of President Trump.
But fret not about these quibbles, because Kansas City also has lots of gay love in the political front. Rep. Sharice Davids is a Kansas Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing a district that includes the Kansas portion of the Kansas City metro area. Davids openly identifies as a lesbian; when she ran for office, she had virtually no political experience, but was better known as a mixed martial arts fighter with a winning record. So the Democrats ran commercials with her throwing punches in the ring, and voters in Kansas liked the idea of a bad-ass lesbian mixed martial arts fighter as their elected official. She defeated a long-time (and very grouchy) Republican incumbent, Kevin Yoder, and won by a pretty big margin. On the Missouri side, Democratic Rep. Greg Razer serves in the state House of Representatives, representing a district that is in southern Kansas City, and he identifies as openly gay.
- Barbecue really is a big deal. There are world-famous barbecue competitions in Kansas City, and people travel from thousands of miles away to compete–and bring their own smokers and grills. Everybody has their local favorites; one of the many barbecue restaurants in the city (Jones Bar-B-Q) became famous when it was featured on an episode of Queer Eye, and Jared Kushner does not own a stake in Jones Bar-B-Q so that’s a step in the right direction. Anthony Bourdain loved Kansas City barbecue so much, he did an episode of No Reservations about his favorite places in Kansas City to get that delicious meat. What’s the big deal about it? Kansas Citians discuss barbecue sauce like it is fine wine (the sauce here is characteristically sweet, and may be spicy but not always). And Kansas City “burnt ends” are like the “pork belly” of the barbecue world, little chunks of delicate meat laced with luscious fat, and they melt in your mouth. It’s a thing. Get some burnt ends.
- Kansas City loves their drag queens. The gay nightlife scene in Kansas City is not particularly robust, but drag is big. Late Night Theatre produces drag parody shows of popular movies and TV shows (photo below), which regularly bring in sold-out audiences.
As of 2020, RuPaul’s Drag Race will have included two Kansas City queens: Monique Heart, and Widow Von’Du. A protest against the “no drag queen story hour” law is planned for March 7, 2020 at the Missouri capitol in Jefferson City, which is a couple hours’ drive from Kansas City, and queens from Kansas City will help lead the charge.
- Don’t be mad at Hallmark. Hallmark, the international greeting cards conglomerate, is based in Kansas City and controls various divisions, including the Hallmark Channel on cable TV. In 2019, the CEO of Crown Media (the TV division) freaked out when the Hallmark Channel broadcast a commercial showing two women kissing at their wedding, and he banned the commercial from being broadcast on the network again. But a few days later he issued an apology, saying the decision was a mistake, and same-gender content was welcome on the network. Then he “resigned” (most likely not his choice) due to the drama. This was especially odd coming from Hallmark, which is a company of artists; not only do they make same-gender wedding cards, the company created an inclusive nondiscrimination policy long before it was a trend to do so. The actual headquarters of Hallmark, a collection of buildings called Crown Center, includes a public shopping center and theater complex, and in the past Crown Center has hosted the Kansas City Fringe Festival where there are lots of fantastic gay and trans themed shows.
- The United Methodist Church is breaking apart to allow same-gender weddings, and that change is being led by a church in Kansas City. Church of the Resurrection (COR) is the largest Methodist congregation in the world, and it is based in the suburbs of Kansas City. The church’s senior pastor, Rev. Adam Hamilton, is a leading voice in the push to give “everybody a seat at the table,” equality for all under the eyes of God, and publicly supports the idea that same-gender weddings should be welcome in their churches. The United Methodist Church voted in 2020 to give member congregations a choice: either allow same-gender weddings, or split from the denomination and go do their own thing. Most congregations in the U.S. are expected to embrace the new policy, and this will make the United Methodist Church the first major Christian religion to approve of same-gender marriage.