Kansas no longer over the rainbow?
by Leon Satterfield
"Kansas is the ugliest, most hateful state in the country. It's where bad Nebraskans go when they die."
That little piece of interstate calumny popped up on my computer screen earlier this month, and it immediately caught my attention. Having been born in Kansas, having been a Kansas citizen for the first quarter-century of my life, my feelings were badly hurt and I teared up for a minute or two.
But then I remembered that I've been a citizen of Nebraska for the last 47 years, and for some reason Rev. Fred Phelps' name leapt out of my memory and I recollected having once given him an obscene gesture. So I was happy again.
Rev. Phelps, you'll remember, is the guy from Topeka who takes his over-populated family with him when he takes his anti-gay signs to funerals.
So I assumed that the author of the above quotation had Rev. Phelps in mind and my badly hurt feelings got all better.
But still, I thought, it wasn't fair to condemn an entire state because of one inhabitant. Rev. Phelps, on his own, couldn't make the whole state of Kansas a hellhole where bad Nebraskans have to spend eternity, could he? So I did some reading and here's what I found out:
First, I cannily deduced, the antagonism that appeared to be directed at the whole of Kansas was really about a town of 1,600 residents in southwest Kansas. The town is Meade and it's the county seat of Meade County.
And that touched a sensitive spot in my psyche: the Kansas town I grew up in is also in Meade County. It's named Plains and it has about half the population Meade has, and it's 14 miles west of Meade, and it's not the county seat of anything. And even though Meade is twice the size of Plains, our high school competed with theirs in football, basketball, and track.
When we beat Meade, it made a successful season for us. When Meade beat us, it was nothing more that what was expected.
In the summer, we'd go to Meade to swim in their municipal swimming pool. Plains didn't have a swimming pool then, and the Meade kids would splash the chlorinated water in the eyes of the Plains kids and make fun of our swim suits.
And so forth.
So when I figured out it was only Meade and not Plains that bad Nebraskans would go to after they die, I felt a little better.
But I digress.
To go back to the opening quotation, what, you may be wondering, would lead anyone to call Kansas "the ugliest, most hateful state in the country"?
It's not, I'm afraid, because it's the home state of Rev. Phelpsalthough some of his influence may have spread like small pox as far west as Meade.
The quotation is more likely pointing to the reaction of some of the Meade citizens to a rainbow-colored flag flying just below the U.S. flag in front of the Lakeway hotel and restaurant in Meade.
The rainbow flag, according to an Aug. 7 piece by Mike Hendricks in the Kansas City Star, was displayed by J.R. Knight, co-owner of the hotel and restaurant. He received the rainbow flag, he said, from his 12-year-old son who had bought it at a tourist spot in Liberal, Kansas, about 35 miles west of Meade. The tourist spot is called "Dorothy's House" and it sells memorabilia from "The Wizard of Oz" book and movie.
You all remember Judy Garland singing "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Hence, the rainbow flag.
Hardly sounds ominous, does it?
But when the Meade County News ran a picture of the rainbow flag, it was identified, Hendricks wrote, "as a symbol of the gay community."
Hendricks pointed out that the rainbow "happens to symbolize many other thingsequity, diversity, human rights and the Rainbow Girls."
And on Aug. 16, the Wichita Eagle reported that many Meade citizens were boycotting Knight's hotel and restaurant, that someone had cut the rainbow flag down, and that "Recently, someone flung two brickswith expletives written on themthrough a front window, destroying two neon signs along the way."
I suspect that Rev. Phelps is gloating to see his seed sprout into still more hatred and intolerance. I suspect that most of Meade is ashamed that he has reason to gloat.
And I trust that the entire town of Plains is contemplating moving the Meade County boundary far enough east that no one will associate Plains residents with the Phelpsian disease that seems to have spread beyond Topeka to more innocent parts of Kansas.
You know the parts I meanthe parts that somewhere over the rainbow have retained their innocence, the parts where some believe good Nebraskans might go to when they die.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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