When Jon Powell moved from Kansas City back to his hometown of Hutchinson 10 years ago, "there was no LGBT support group, anything," he says.
So he and a few others decided to form Hutchinson's first chapter of Equality Kansas, then known as the Kansas Equality Coalition, a statewide group that advocates for LGBT rights. After a decade of politically focused work, the group is putting on its first-ever Pride event this weekend to celebrate the LGBTQ community.
"It was time for a Pride," says Powell, a co-chair of the event. "Because we are proud of what we've done, we are proud of our accomplishments, and we’re looking toward the future.”
Salt City Pride will bring together community members, allies, activists and artists from across Kansas and the country. The weekend-long event kicks off Friday night at the Atrium Hotel and includes a vendors fair, book signings, Mr. and Miss Salt City Pageant, church service and a unity march, which Powell says is welcome to anyone who wants to join.
"Not just LGBT persons and allies," he says. "Everyone who might feel a bit slighted at all. We want to put unity in the community. ... And then we want to celebrate."
Powell says it's fitting that Hutchinson's first Pride event is being held in Kansas' 102nd District, which was once represented by the late Jan Pauls, who in 1996 drafted the state's ban on same-sex marriage.
But he says there is still work to do: Under Kansas law, LGBT individuals aren't considered a protected class, which Powell says leaves the community open to legal discrimination.
He says residents in Hutchinson have largely been supportive of the organization and its work. He hopes the three-day Pride celebration will change outsiders’ perspective of the city of about 41,000 people just northwest of Wichita.
“Many people from the larger cities think that Hutchinson is just a small, conservative town, which in many aspects it is," he says, "but in many other aspects it’s really progressive."