NOTO offers LGBT pride rally

On Sept. 6, members of the LGBT community and their supporters came out to the NOTO Arts District to celebrate and take pride in their identities. It is the first year that this event has been offered and with approximately 2,000 individuals in attendance, it was a rousing success.

Stephanie Mott, president of Capital City N.O.W. (National Organization for Women), commissioner of the Topeka Human Relations Commission, and executive director of the Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, was an integral part of planning for Topeka Pride.

“At a meeting of Equality Kansas of Topeka, we were wondering if there was going to be a Pride event this year. We simply decided that rather than ask the question, we would answer it. We decided that we would begin planning an event. We reached out to Kimberly Daugherty of The Green Gals and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. Then we reached out some more, and lots of different organizations wanted to be involved,” said Mott.

After an exciting performance by the Irie Tribal Dance Company, important members of the community and event planners took to the stage. After an introduction from Stephanie Mott, the first speaker was Dan Brennan, of the Topeka branch of MoveOn, which, according to their website, is a community of more than 8 million Americans from all walks of life who use innovative technology to lead, participate in and win campaigns for progressive change. Next to the stage were K.T. Nesmith of Seaman High School and Alex Reid of Topeka West High School. After inviting middle- and high-school-aged youth to join them on stage, the duo spoke about the struggles that LGBT young adults face in society and their hope for a more accepting future. Rev. Sarah Oglesby-Dunegan, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka spoke next, discussing her denomination’s pledge to “stand on the side of love” and support all persons. Dr. Jim McCollough, executive director of the Topeka Center for Peace and Justice, took the stage next to discuss social justice rights and promote “Turnaround Tuesdays,” “a series of educational events that will be held at 5:30 each Tuesday on the south State House grounds.” Next Davis Hammet, director of operations for Planting Peace, gave an inspiring speech about being symbols of love and acceptance that shine forth in the community. After that, Kimberly Daugherty, co-founder/CEO of The Green Gals, explained how her charity organization created items are from previously used materials then sold them, using the proceeds to help women in correctional facilities. Luc Bensimon, chair of Equality Kansas of Topeka, took the stage next. Then Rev. Joshua Longbottom, minister for the Central Congregational United Church of Christ spoke. The rally concluded with a passionate speech by Pedro Irigonegaray, a Topeka Defense and Civil Rights attorney/advocate, who called for all able citizens to use their vote to incite change in the Kansas legal system. One speaker, Thomas Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, was unable to attend.

The organizations and charities present were Capital City N.O.W., Central Congregational United Church of Christ, Equality Kansas of Topeka, The Green Gals, Interweave Topeka, Kansas Democratic Party, Kansas Statewide Transgender Education Project, Kansas Youth Empowerment Academy, League of Women Voters of Topeka and Shawnee County, Libertarian Party of Kansas, Metropolitan Community Church of Topeka, PFLAG of Northeast Kansas, Positive Connections, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Topeka. Two Washburn organizations also had booths at the event, the Washburn Psychological Services Clinic and the Washburn Young Americans for Liberty.

Kimberly Daugherty, Vice President of Topeka Pride and co-founder/CEO of The Green Gals stated, “I think that Pride is a huge step for Topeka Kansas, I think that having an annual event where people can come and look one another in the eye and say ‘I accept you, I see you, you’re as valuable in this community as I am,’ is beyond valuable.” Daughery went on to say, “I think that Topeka {Pride is not done just with our annual event, we’re just getting started. This is just one way to celebrate people’s uniqueness and fight for equality, but it’s not the only way and we’re just warming up.”