Inside Spencer: The KSRL Blog

LGBT History Month: Remembering Kristi Parker and Liberty Press

October 2nd, 2019

This LGBT History Month we would like to commemorate the life of Kristi Parker, a prominent activist in the LGBTQ community in Kansas and the founder of Liberty Press, Kansas’s first and only LGBTQ news magazine.

Kristi Parker and Sharon “Vinnie” (Levine) Reed in the Liberty Press office, late 1990s
Kristi Parker, left, and Sharon “Vinnie” (Levine) Reed in the Liberty Press office, late 1990s. Call Number: RH MS-P 1480, Box 2, Folder 1. Click image to enlarge.

This October marks eighteen months since the final issue of Liberty Press was published shortly before Kristi Parker’s unexpected death last year at the age of forty-nine. During the Liberty Press’s twenty-four-year run, Parker and her team tackled an enormous variety of topics affecting the Kansas LGBTQ community, including politics, art, sports, health, parenting, events, religion, and education. The magazine was truly one of a kind in the central Midwest, and its regional focus created a sense of collective identity for Kansas’s LGBTQ community.

In addition to her role as editor and publisher of Liberty Press, Parker was also a member of the Wichita Pride Committee and Kansans for Human Dignity, and she was a member the governing board of The Center, an LGBTQ community center in Wichita.

We are fortunate to hold the papers of Kristi Parker at Spencer Research Library and would like to highlight a few items from the collection that demonstrate Parker’s role in the history of the Kansas LGBTQ community.

The evolution of Liberty Press covers over the years. Call Number: RH MS 1480, Boxes 1-2. Click image to enlarge.

We hold a nearly-complete run of Liberty Press issues from the second issue published in 1994 through the magazine’s final issue in 2018, as well as a full run of the Kansas City-specific edition, Liberty Press Kansas City. The production files that accompany each issue of the magazine include preparatory correspondence, mock-ups, photographs, and sample advertisements, all of which serve as evidence of the creative process behind the business. The files also provide invaluable insight into the LGBTQ community in Kansas from the mid-1990s through the 2010s, particularly through a selection of truly touching letters written by readers to Kristi Parker and others behind the magazine. Many letters come from members of the LGBTQ community living in small towns in Kansas; they write about the struggles and loneliness they feel as LGBTQ individuals in these rural communities, but also about the life-changing impact Liberty Press had on their lives. The magazine encouraged them to be confident and proud as LGBTQ Kansans and affirmed that they were not alone in their experience, but rather were part of a widespread, vibrant community across the state.

Buttons collected by Kristi Parker at LGBTQ Pride events in Wichita, Topeka, and Kansas City. Call Number: RH MS Q420, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

Kristi Parker’s involvement in the LGBTQ community began several years before the founding of Liberty Press. Parker attended Stonewall and Pride events from the 1980s onward and became deeply involved in Wichita Pride in the early 1990s, writing guides for the festival, providing press coverage, and later sitting on the organizing committee. Her collection holds a vast amount of ephemera from Wichita Pride and other Kansas-based Pride events, including colorful buttons, lanyards, flags, magnets, posters, sashes, trophies, and even t-shirts. These artifacts complement the collection’s documentary evidence of these parades, rallies, and concerts celebrating the LGBTQ community in a very tangible way, allowing us to visualize these events and the energetic, joyful experience had by Parker and other attendees.

Rosie O’Donnell, a staff favorite among the Kristi Parker artifacts, relaxes in the Spencer Research Library mailroom. Call Number: RH MS Q452, Box 2. Click image to enlarge.

There are countless other gems throughout Kristi Parker’s papers that testify to the Kansan LGBTQ experience and to Parker’s work, life, and lasting impact on the community. We hope you have enjoyed this brief tour of the insight Parker’s papers have to offer, and we invite you to continue exploring her papers and other collections we hold regarding the history of LGBTQ communities in Kansas this October and beyond.

Vannis Jones
Processing Archivist

Lawrence Gay Liberation Front: Road to Recognition

October 31st, 2018

In honor of LGBT History Month, we are looking back at some of KU’s LGBT history.

In the late 1960s, gay and lesbian organizations were being created all over college campuses in the United States as a response to the Stonewall Riot in New York City. In 1969, students from the University of Kansas decided to form their own LGBT organization, titled the “Lawrence Gay Liberation Front.”

The Lawrence Gay Liberation Front had a few trials at the beginning of their formation. One of their main goals after establishing themselves was to secure funding through Student Senate. This required being formally recognized as a student organization at the University of Kansas. The group tried on multiple occasions to appeal to Chancellor Laurence Chalmers to be recognized as a student organization at KU. Here is what the Chancellor responded to them after their second attempt for recognition:

Image of a KU news release about the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front student organization, 1970

KU news release about the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front,
September 5, 1970. Call Number: RG 67/66. Click image to enlarge.

After being denied formal recognition from Chancellor Chalmers, the students of the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front decided that they had no other choice but to sue the University of Kansas for infringing on their first and fourteenth amendment rights. The suit was filed in late 1971, two years after the group had formed. Below is a newspaper clipping explaining the federal suit:

Image of a Topeka Capital Journal article about the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front student organization, 1971

A Topeka Capital Journal article about the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front,
December 14, 1971. Call Number: RG 67/66. Click image to enlarge.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit was met with a denial of the organization’s request from U.S. District Court Judge George Templar. The group appealed the ruling multiple times, but in 1973 their fight for recognition was halted by the Supreme Court refusing to hear their case. This frustrated the students of the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front, but they did not disband. Instead, the organization continued to grow and gain support throughout the decade of the 1970s. It was not until a decade after the Lawrence Gay Liberation Front was formed that they received formal recognition as a legitimate student organization at the University of Kansas.

While the road to recognition was difficult for the Gay Liberation Front (renamed Lawrence Gay Liberation Incorporated by the time they were formally recognized), perseverance by a decade of students allowed the group to flourish. Without the dedication of these students, KU would not have the reputation of being a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students in Kansas that is has today. This group is still present on campus today, now titled Spectrum KU.

Emma Piazza
Public Services Student Assistant