Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.
Check the blog each Friday for a new “That’s Distinctive!” post. I created the series because I genuinely believe there is something in our collections for everyone, whether you’re writing a paper or just want to have a look. “That’s Distinctive!” will provide a more lighthearted glimpse into the diverse and unique materials at Spencer – including items that many people may not realize the library holds. If you have suggested topics for a future item feature or questions about the collections, feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this page.
This week in honor of Pride Month we share the Pride Guide from the 1990 Kansas Pride celebrations in Wichita. The guide is a part of the Bruce McKinney papers here at the library. Bruce McKinney began his journey as an LGBT activist during the 1960s. The collection reflects his involvement in the community as an activist and an archivist. He began collecting items related to the LGBT community in his youth and continued through the 1980s. Donated in 2008, the collection holds 142 boxes, 147 oversize boxes, 21 card files, and 13 oversize folders. For those who have never been to the library, that is a massive collection!
The Bruce McKinney collection at Kenneth Spencer Research Library holds many pieces of LGBTQIA+ materials and memorabilia. McKinney was a Kansas activist for gender and gay rights. His collection of papers ranges from pamphlets for rallies and centers for queer individuals all over the country to stickers and pins.
For example, McKinney’s papers document the work of the Wichita, Kansas, LesBiGayTrans Center, an organization with which he worked closely.
Some items in the McKinney collection highlight the history of the LGBTQIA+ community at the University of Kansas. The documents below focus on LesBiGay Awareness Week events held in 1995.
Additionally, McKinney’s papers includes information to help learn more about the queer community. I was particularly interested in the information written on bisexuality and even a paper about how to defend homosexuality in instances where individuals use the Bible against them.
Some of the more fun things to look at were the many different bumper stickers that McKinney saved!
Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc., originally named Spinsters Books, was founded in 1979 in Lawrence, Kansas. The store and community center was organized by a group of Lesbians “to meet the social, educational, and informational needs of the Lesbian and women’s community.” When the store opened in March 1980, it consisted of one bookshelf in a private residence before later moving to a storefront.
Besides selling printed materials, music, and jewelry and crafts on consignment, Spinsters included a free lending library, speaker’s bureau, lesbian archives, and community and resource center and hosted support groups.
The collective also worked closely with other community and KU campus groups such as Women’s Coalition and Women’s Transitional Care Services. Not only was Spinsters unique due to the nature of the store and the services it provided, but it was run largely by the organizers, a group of dedicated volunteers, and part-time employees.
The Spinsters Collective also published a newsletter called the Monthly Cycle. The purpose of the newsletter, as stated in the first issue, was “for sharing skills, services, thoughts, and ideas.”
Any submission by or for Lesbians was accepted. The goal was to foster communication within the Lesbian community, especially in more isolated areas of Kansas and the region.
In August 1988, Judy Brown, Elsie Hughes, Dana Parhm, and Paula Schumacher, members of the Spinsters Collective, made the difficult decision to sell or close Spinsters Books and Webbery. A store sale notice was published on August 18, 1988. The asking price of $7000 did not include the contents of the library, archives, and furniture, nor did it include the name. In November 1988, the store’s office supplies, fixtures, and décor were sold at auction.
The Spinsters Collective donated the archives and business records to Kenneth Spencer Research Library in the spring of 1990. Researchers interested in the Women’s and Gay Rights Movements should look at the materials in the Spinsters Books and Webbery, Inc. collection. It contains a verity of information on various women’s issues such as the equal rights, sexual discrimination, abortion and birth control, and domestic violence. There are also numerous Lesbian periodicals and newsletters, as well as other records regarding the LGBTQ+ movement. The newsletters and periodicals are from various local, regional, and national organizations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.