Final - Chicago 1 (N/B)

Draft 1

Pulling Up Roots: Inciting Change with Courage

Molly Nolan

7 January, 2015

AP Language and Composition

Dr. Gen

     A location’s history is often deeply ingrained in its people, and can ultimately define the political and cultural climate of the area.  This is true for Kansas, a state strongly influenced by lingering inequality and seemingly antiquated values that drive its politics.  One of the issues that challenges many of these beliefs is the controversy regarding LBGTQ rights.  As mayor and city commissioner of Manhattan, Kansas from 2007 to 2013, James Sherow took it upon himself to offer a profoundly different perspective on what should constitute state rights.  Upending Kansas politics, Sherow spoke for this community in his mayoral campaign, vying for the protection and equality for members of the LGBTQ community across the state.1 Hindered by dominant conservatives, Sherow’s efforts to provide impactful change required a powerful resolve.  He demonstrated qualities rare for a politician, qualities that would label him as both a political outcast and a community hero.

     Kansas was an uncompromising setting for the change James Sherow hoped to introduce regarding LGBTQ rights.  The concept of gay marriage, scorned by associations like the Wesboro Baptist Church, holds a largely negative connotation among members of the strong conservative party in the state.  “In Kansas…anti-LGBTQ discrimination runs deeper than what is written into law – or deliberately kept out of it,” explained Steven Rosenfeld in an article on emerging activists in the state.2 Conservatives are also described as having, “’won the heart of America’ by convincing Kansas and other people of modest means to vote against their own economic interests in a vain effort to defend traditional cultural values."3  These values extend beyond a disapproval of gay marriage to include a lack of protection under the law for the LGBTQ community, the inability to pass the bar exam without a record of sexual orientation, and discrimination in the workplace and job market.4  While groups attempt to combat these policies, it is difficult to fight the statistics.  Both Wichita and Overland Park were ranked in the top twenty five most conservative cities in the country, according to the Bay Area Center for Voting Research.5  Similarly, in a survey estimating pro-gay policy support, Kansas was ranked low in almost all categories, including gay marriage and the prevention of hate crimes.6  Unsurprisingly, success in Kansas politics has not coincided with the advocacy of many of these policies, making Sherow’s efforts as a politician even more challenging.

     James Sherow’s point of view seems simple.  “I support equality for all people, and equal protection under the law, and there is no reason why anyone of a different sexual orientation should be denied that right,” Sherow explained in a personal interview.7  Although this logic might resonate with people across the nation, violent hate crimes in Kansas revealed challenges regarding its practice within the state.  Chris Reeves, the victim of a heinous attack near Kansas State University in 1995, was a student of James Sherow’s.  After being nearly beaten to death, Reeves was told that the group of attackers suspected he was gay, “and the idea of killing me was OK, in effect, because killing a gay person didn’t matter as much,” he said.8 Reeves consulted James Sherow, who in return made a promise to change the community, so that an incident like this would never occur again.  This involved introducing himself to various equal-rights advocates and offering a channel for change in Kansas politics.

     Producing change in a location with such deeply rooted political values proved difficult.  Serving in a non-partisan office, James Sherow faced the immense challenge of expressing progressive values in a largely conservative state. He helped pass an LGBTQ anti-discrimination ordinance in reaction to Reeves’ attack, only to have it overturned by right-wing groups.  Sherow pursued measures that not only challenged conservative policy, but tested his own political party as well. He refused to back Chad Taylor during Taylor’s race for Senate, despite his Democratic affiliation, due to his refusal to investigate domestic violence cases in reaction to the state’s tight budget.9  These efforts in no way failed to have an impact on the social atmosphere of Manhattan and other Kansas cities.  “Jim Sherow…kept his word to me,” said Chris Reeves.  “Manhattan is a different community now.  It’s safer."10

     Sherow’s 2014 campaign for congress was a risky one.  Running against Tim Huelskamp, a Republican backed by the state majority, Sherow’s courageous efforts to advance LGBTQ rights were eventually halted by his loss of the election.11  Although the final vote suggested a conservative majority, Kansas’ low voter turnout may also explain the election’s result.  While Kansans personally have shown signs of support for equal rights, “majoritarian responsiveness has thwarted the objectives of the gay rights movement."12 According to Larry M. Bartels, a member of the Department of Politics at Princeton University, much of the white working-class are beginning to agree with Democratic views on social issues, like LGBTQ rights, but may associate themselves with the Republican party on economic issues.13  Jefferey R. Lax and Justin H. Phillips, professors of political science at Columbia, also explained that there is often “minimal matching of government choice to citizen preference."14 James Sherow was not tempted to follow this trend; he spoke directly with his constituents, understanding their needs and arguing for their rights.  John F. Kennedy said “it is…on matters of conscience which challenge party and regional loyalties, that the test of courage is presented."15 James Sherow faced this challenge with integrity, leading Kansas toward a positive future. 

     Despite the challenges, Sherow anticipates change.  The laws restricting gay marriage in Kansas are predicted to be overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous gay rights advocates have recently challenged the institutions that restrain their rights.16 In fact, gay marriage is in an uncertain state, after a federal judge ruled to allow it in the state.17  This evidence and other trends seem to suggest that “the degree of difference between gay and straight, although significant, is decreasing."18 But the publicized efforts to make change in Kansas communities could not have started without the immensely courageous efforts of James Sherow.  “Sherow…fought for non-discrimination,” said Chris Reeves, “for the idea of treating people as equal, and never less than."19  His was not just any incident of gay rights advocacy.  His was gay rights advocacy in a state home to countless politicians denouncing the legitimacy of the LGBTQ community. Sherow saw another side of Kansas – one where the public was leaning toward equal rights rather than veering away from it, like many of their elected representatives. “I’ve experienced both the joy of victory in supporting human rights, and the pain of seeing those reversed,” Sherow explained.20  But in the end, the results of his actions clearly outweigh his losses.  For those supporting equality, this was a victory.

Notes

     1. Steven Rosenfeld, “Meet the Kansans Fighting Conservatives Tooth and Nail for Gay Rights,” Salon, October 26, 2014, accessed December 2, 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/meet_the_kansans_fighting_the_good_fight_for_gay_rights_partner/

      2.  Steven Rosenfeld, “Meet the Kansans."

      3. Larry M. Bartels, “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter With Kansas,Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2006 (1): 2.

      4. Rosenfeld, “Meet the Kansans.”

      6. Jason Alderman, Gitanjali Gurudatt Borkar, Amanda Garrett, Lindsay Hogan, Janet Kim,

Winston Le, Veronica Louie, Alissa Marque, Phil Reiff, Colin Christopher Richard, Peter Thai, Tania Wang and Craig Wickersham, “The

Most Conservative and Liberal Cities in the United States,” The Bay Area Center for Voting Research 2014 (1): 8.

      7. James Sherow, Interview by Molly Nolan, Los Angeles, CA, December 2, 2014.

      8. Chris Reeves, “Why Jim Sherow Matters to Kansas: A Democrat in the West Sets the Tone,” Daily Kos, October 30, 2014, accessed December 2, 2014, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/10/30/1340414/-Why-Jim-Sherow-Matters-to-Kansas-A-Democrat-in-the-West-Sets-the-Tone

    9. Rosenfeld, “Meet the Kansans.”

      10. Reeves, “Why Jim Sherow.”

      11. Paige Lavender, “Democrat in the West Sets the Tone,” Huffington Post, November 5, 2014, accessed December 2, 2014, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/04/tim-huelskamp-midterm-election-results_n_5845922.html

    12. Jeffery R. Lax and Justin H. Phillips. “Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and Policy Responsiveness,” American Political Science Review 103 (3): 373.

      13. Bartels, “What’s the Matter,” 201.

      14. Lax and Phillips, “Gay Rights,” 367.

      15. John F. Kennedy, Profiles in Courage, (New York: HarperCollins 1956), 221.

      16. Rosenfeld, “Meet the Kansans.”

      17. 41 Action News. “Judge Allows Gay Marriages in Kansas,” YouTube video, 1:20, November 4, 2014.

      18. Nan D. Hunter, “The Future Impact of Same Sex Marriage: More Questions than Answers,” Georgetown University Law Center 2012 (12-146): 1858.

      19. Reeves, “Why Jim Sherow.”

     20. James Sherow, Interviewed by Molly Nolan, Los Angeles, CA, December 2, 2014. 

 

 

Bibliography

Alderman, Jason and Gitanjali Gurudatt Borkar, Amanda Garrett, Lindsay Hogan, Janet Kim,
     Winston Le, Veronica Louie, Alissa Marque, Phil Reiff, Colin Christopher Richard, 
Peter Thai, Tania Wang, Craig Wickersham. “The Most
     Conservative and Liberal Cities in the United States.” The Bay Area Center for Voting Research 2014, no. 1 (2014): 1-8.

Bartels, Larry M. “What’s the Matter with What’s the Matter with Kansas.” Quarterly
     Journal of Political Science
2006, no. 1 (Feb. 2, 2006): 201-226.

Hunter, Nan D. “The Future Impact of Same Sex Marriage: More Questions than Answers.” Georgetown University Law Center 2012, no. 12-146 (2012):
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Kennedy, John F. Profiles in Courage. New York: HarperCollins, 1956.

 Lavender, Paige. "Tim Huelskamp Wins Midterm Election Against Jim Sherow."
     Huffington Post, November 5, 2014. Accessed December 2 2014. 
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Lax, Jefferey R. and Justin H. Phillips. “Gay Rights in the States: Public Opinion and
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Reeves, Chris. "Why Jim Sherow Matters to Kansas: A Democrat in the West Sets the
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Rosenfeld, Steven. "Meet the Kansas Fighting Conservatives Tooth and Nail for Gay Rights." Salon, October 26, 2014. Accessed December 2, 2014.
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http://www.salon.com/2014/10/26/meet_the_kansans_fighting_the_good_fight_for_gay_ rights_partner/ 

Sherow, James. Interview by Nolan, Molly. Personal Interview. Los Angeles, December 2, 2014.

 Sutter, Lexi. “Judge Allows Gay Marriages in Kansas,”41 Action News. YouTube video, 1:20, November 4, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-
     cll0GoaXtc


 

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