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Anyone who has driven on Main Street in Midtown Kansas City, Mo., sometime during the last few months has probably noticed construction on a new building. It is the Like Me Lighthouse, 3909 Main St., an entire building that is dedicated to the LGBT community, with sister buildings in New York and California. The three-day grand opening for the Lighthouse will be Friday, March 9, through Sunday, March 11.
The Lighthouse is a project of the Like Me Organization, which is the brainchild of country music artist Chely Wright. She came out of the closet as a lesbian in May 2010 and has since made her place in the world as not only a country singer but also as an advocate for LGBT rights. This is Wright’s second charitable group; the first was Reading, Writing, and Rhythm, which is dedicated to music education.
Wright stresses the importance of community in her process of coming out to the public.
“I don’t think I realized how great an experience coming out was going to be until I really found my community. It was a great liberation for me. By coming out, I was finally able to truly connect with people,” she says.
Realizing the importance of the gay community after she moved to New York in 2008 inspired the Like Me Organization, she adds. “It really galvanized for me the importance of community. Living in New York, I was quickly indebted into this culture with the LGBT Center in New York City. A lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought, ‘This is how communities come together. This is how LGBT people are able to really confide in one another and connect and have a social structure and an emotional connectivity.’”
Wright, a Kansan herself, sought to give something like that to Kansas City.
“There was never real space dedicated to the gay community. We all know people have tried to create virtual centers online, and those are important, too. Those are all a part of the things that can feed into the central hub of our community,” she said.
But with a place that is noticeable and available to the public like the Like Me Lighthouse, she said, “Even a truck driver or policeman can drive down Main Street, where we are located, see it and ask ‘What is that? Oh, that’s the LGBT center.’”
Wright understands well that visibility is important in the fight for LGBT equality. “It’s not just important to the LGBT community, but also for the non-LGBT community to see that there is a presence, that we are here. We are in broad daylight, and we are happy and proud and participatory in our community.”
The Lighthouse will be a place for allies, too, who are crucial in the battle for LGBT rights, she said. “It really empowers our allies. Our allies, in some ways, have to come out of the closet, too. We’ve had a lot of straight allies that want to support their LGBT friends, and they find themselves not able to use their voice.”
Now, with the creation of the Lighthouse, Wright says, “There’s a beautiful building right there on Main Street and we’re being talked about and written about. … It really emboldens their voice, and they can stand up and say, ‘I am an ally.’”
The Lighthouse will offer services for the gay community and its allies, including a computer lab, referrals to LGBT organizations and services, daily educational sessions, a suicide prevention line direct to the Trevor Project, health testing, weekly exercise classes, and an LGBT library and reading room.
Wright says, “We have a growing library in the Lighthouse, and I think so far, we are coming up on 2,000 books. And that’s going to be a big part of people’s lives. You can’t go to a lot of libraries and find LGBT materials in the Midwest. I think you’d be hard-pressed to go check out some literature like that in a lot of small-town libraries. So you get to drive an extra 20 minutes to go to the Like Me Lighthouse to get the book. I think it’s well worth the drive.”
Wright has been busy with advocacy work for almost two years. She released her first book, Like Me, about her struggle with coming to terms with her sexuality, as well as her seventh album, Lifted Off the Ground. Those who read the book will know that the songs from Lifted Off the Ground were written directly after Wright considered committing suicide. Actually, she didn’t merely consider it. She had the gun in her mouth with her finger on the trigger and was ready to end it before suddenly rethinking the decision and finally putting the gun away.
Now she says she is happy and making a difference.
Wright says, “If I could, I’d go back to the night I nearly took my life in early 2006 and I would tell myself, ‘You’re gonna be OK.’ Because I didn’t know that I was gonna be OK. I would say, ‘On Aug. 20, 2011, you’re gonna get married to a woman and you’re gonna be happy.’”
Wright’s personal turmoil about her identity is detailed in the book and is very much present on the album. The first track on the CD is called “Broken.” It starts the album off on a sad yet hopeful tone that could not be more appropriate.
The CD is unwavering in its emotional rawness. It is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. Not surprisingly, Wright’s songwriting is graceful and refined. The difference here is that she is sad and at times a little angry, making it the most real and raw album she has put out to date.
From that album, Wright says, it’s hard to pick a favorite song. “I don’t even think I could pick a favorite. The more I listen to the record, I like how “That Train” makes me want to sit on my bike and ride.”
Also, she says, “I really like the song “Like Me” because it inspired me to start the Like Me Organization. It inspired the Like Me Lighthouse.”
When Wright came out, she said, “I felt really powerful to claim my identity. I felt really powerful to say I’m a gay, Christian, country singer. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am an employer. I am song writer, I am an artist. I am this. This is who I am, and I’m proud of it.”
Even so, she said, “The fear is very real. It was a fear that I had because, by and large, my fan base is conservative Christian and there was a reason for that fear. Some of that fear came to pass; some of those disappointments did come to pass. I did have some fans who did not support me after I came out.”
“But I also have some fans that kind of scratched their heads and said, ‘Well gosh, we didn’t know that we knew or loved a gay person. I’ve got to think on this.’ That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to challenge stereotypes. I wanted to use my public capital in a way that made people have to think.”
It’s important to Wright that she shares this part of her life with her fans. “Those who knew me and bought my records all of these 17 years, people who knew they loved me, who knew that they respected me -- I wanted to make sure that they were let in on this different part of my life and challenge them to go back and really think differently.” Quite honestly, she says, “I’ve been gay the whole time.”
Despite her advocacy work, music isn’t exactly on the back burner, Wright said. “Balancing advocacy work and still being an artist is a challenge, but I’ve been writing and I’ve been holding on to the guitar, squeezing it real hard, and you know something will come along.”
Song ideas still pour out of her, even in the middle of the night, “I woke up this morning at about 5:45 and my wife said. ‘Why are you awake? Are you OK? Do you have a headache?’ I said ‘No, I have a song idea.’ … They’re still coming to me.”
Wright’s personal musical taste has grown through the years. “I grew up on Loretta Lynn, Buck Owens, and Dolly Parton. But you know, I lived in Nashville for 22 years and being in such a great music town, you tend to learn about a lot of types of music.”
For example, Wright said, “I’m in love with that Adele record like everybody else. Who doesn’t own it? Everyone I know owns it.”
Though she likes pop music and other alternative styles, Wright won’t be making a pop record any time soon.
“I think my last record was kind of alternative country. I think whatever comes out of me, it is what it is. It’s hard to put labels on it. I think I’ll always be a country singer, though.”
Wright is more comfortable with what she knows she is good at. “If I tried to make a pop record, it would be a country singer trying to make a pop record. I think it’s better to stick with what I know. I love making country music, and I let the lines blur and be alternative and funky but just something under the umbrella of acoustic guitars and words that tell stories.”
At the grand opening, Wright concluded, “We’re going to have a great show in KC, and those tickets are going really fast, so people are going to want to get those. There are limited tickets, so people are going to have to get a jump on that.”
Grand Opening Events
For March 9, the first day of the Lighthouse’s grand opening, the screening of the film Wish Me Away is already sold out. The documentary was three years in the making and details Wright’s coming out.
Wright will perform with her band as part of the Saturday event. Other performers that night will be Alan Cumming from The Good Wife and comedian Hal Sparks from Queer As Folk.
In addition, Wright says, “We have a great Christian performer, Jennifer Knapp, and the local entertainer Kristie Stremel will be on the show as well.” From The Real L Word Stamie Karakasidis and Tracy Ryerson are also on the bill. Thomas Roberts from MSNBC’s Live will make a personal appearance as well. For tickets, go to likeme.org.
On that Sunday, The No H8 Campaign will be taking their nationally recognized professional No H8 photos to the public in an open photo shoot.
Worldwide opera star Renée Fleming will perform in Kansas City on Thursday night, November 18, but the day before, she'll be part of a panel discussion for "Music and the Mind" — a conversation about how music affects the brain, cognitive development, healing and quality of life.
WHAT: Music and the Mind with Renée Fleming
WHEN: Wednesday, Nov 17, 2021
TIME: 4:00-5:30 PM
WHERE: The 1900 Building, 1900 Shawnee Mission Parkway, Mission Woods, KS, 66205
Music has a profound impact and the ability to shape 86 billion neurons in the brain for cognitive development, healing, and therapy. Science research has clearly shown that music therapy interventions can improve quality of life across nearly all neurological disorders. And there is tremendous public-interest in applying music to creative aging, childhood development, and community wellness.
But scientists want to know more.
Join soprano Renée Fleming and a distinguished panel of local Kansas City experts in neurology, music therapy, music and healing, and more for this cutting-edge discussion. Audience members will be able to participate in a Q&A following the panel discussion.
*Please note this Music and the Mind Event is not a musical performance*
As Artistic Advisor at Large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Renée Fleming has spearheaded a collaboration with the National Institutes of Health, with the participation of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Sound Health initiative explores and brings attention to research and practice at the intersection of music, health, and neuroscience. This collaboration has led to workshops at the NIH, and events and performances at the Kennedy Center. This initiative has also led the NIH to recently award $20 million dollars in funding for music and neuroscience research over five years.
As part of her advocacy, Fleming is also advisor to the recently launched NEA/UCSF Sound Health Network and co-chair of the Aspen Institute/Johns Hopkins NeuroArts Blueprint, both working to advance the field of arts and health.
This event is free and open to the public, but seating is limited. Please call the Harriman-Jewell Series at 816-415-5025 to reserve your seat.
WHAT: Renée Fleming, soprano in recital
WHEN: Thursday, Nov 18, 2021
TIME: 7:00 PM
WHERE: Helzberg Hall, Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts
COST: Tickets from $25.00 *discounts available for students, educators, first responders, active duty military and veterans with valid I.D.
Pair a glorious voice with a winning personality and you have a diva for the ages. Renée Fleming is a longstanding Harriman-Jewell Series favorite. With her many television and Broadway appearances, Fleming has been embraced by music lovers of all genres.
Whether singing at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony, the Olympics, or Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee, Renée Fleming represents opera to the world. In addition to her numerous operatic performances, Fleming often works classic show tunes and the Great American Songbook into her recitals. Fleming’s trademark rapport with audiences will give her Kansas City performance a warmth that is personal and sincere.
Rob Ainsley is pianist for the recital. His diverse career as a musician, conductor, educator, and administrator has taken him to top organizations and colleges from coast to coast. He now serves as Director of the Washington National Opera’s Cafritz Young Artists and American Opera Initiative. Ainsley performed with Renée Fleming in The Metropolitan Opera’s August 2020 “Met Stars Live in Concert” that was streamed worldwide.
ABOUT THE HARRIMAN-JEWELL SERIES
Renée Fleming's recital will mark the 977th performance since the Series was founded in 1965. From free education events that allow interaction with musicians and dancers, to our free Discovery Concerts that are open to the community, the Harriman-Jewell Series continues to offer life-enriching opportunities for its community's youth and lifelong learners.
Whether you're spreading truth, information, or love, traveling abroad for humanitarian reasons can have risks. Detained American journalist in Myanmar, Danny Fenster, is to be released from jail, and to fly home soon. But it doesn't always end well for every foreign national attempting to do good in a foreign country.
The missionaries consisting of sixteen Americans and one Canadian kidnapped by the Haitian “400 Mawozo” gang on October 16, is extremely scary. The gang has threatened to kill the humanitarian Christians if a million dollar per person ransom is not fulfilled. The group consists of men, women, children and an eight-month-old baby.
These missionaries have sacrificed their time and paid their own way to go to the poorest place in the Western hemisphere to try to spread God’s love and save some souls. In turn, the missionaries are experiencing a nightmare like they’ve never imagined. They’re imprisoned and being threatened with a bullet in the head.
Most of us will never get over seeing journalists being beheaded and tortured in Syria and Iraq by the barbaric Islamic extremist group called ISIL. Burning people alive and beheading others were too graphic and gruesome to ever be forgotten.
Years ago, I traveled to a third world country on a “missionary trip” with others thinking it would be a nice break. I’ve never worked so hard in my life.
Sadly, the 17 missionaries in Haiti are undergoing a cruel experience that may end with the cost of their very lives. What are they thinking now? What is going through the minds of the little children who traveled to a world to help others and spread God’s love?
Haiti has been the site of years of humanitarian efforts. The United States and other countries have given billions of dollars to help Haiti. Sadly, hurricanes, political unrest, underdevelopment and extreme poverty have all made for a sad scenario.
How much money would the world have to give to Haiti to make life better for this nation? This is a question no one can answer because usually aid is a short-term solution. We spent a trillion dollars in Afghanistan and they aren’t any better off today.
Good missionary people went to Haiti with good hearts for helping others in the name of God’s love. They went to share a message they hoped would bring about change and better lives. They may now lose their lives.
Christians point to Jesus as the model for such missionary efforts. He came preaching and teaching in an effort to demonstrate and spread God’s love and it cost him plenty – his life, executed in public on a cross.
There are some Christians today who, like Jesus, are willing to risk their lives for the sake of others. Did these men and women literally go to Haiti taking their children with them truly believe they could be killed? Would they purposefully do this to their children? Who convinced these people that such a trip with small children was a good idea?
My goal here is to simply say, think about such trips to places like Haiti. Afghanistan, Iraq, Northern Nigeria and numerous others countries are not vacation spots. Foreign travel may sound exotic and adventurous but consider the possible cost.
Many missionaries and Christian workers have paid the ultimate price in order to spread the gospel of Christ. Only eternity will reveal what their selfless sacrifice has meant to those whose lives they impacted.
By chance, if you decide such an international trip is not for you, don’t feel bad. Consider helping in an American inner city, Appalachia or maybe your own neighborhood. Service at home is needed across America.
Let’s pray for the safety of these missionaries and for those negotiating their release. May God help them and all who may consider such endeavors.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Glenn Mollette is a graduate of numerous schools including Georgetown College, Southern and Lexington Seminaries in Kentucky. He is the author of 13 books including Uncommon Sense, Grandpa's Store, Minister's Guidebook: insights from a fellow minister. His column is published weekly in over 600 publications in all 50 states. Glenn Mollette has been on numerous International humanitarian and missionary group trips. Hear Glenn Mollette every weekday morning EST at 8:56 on XM radio 131. Editor-If you need to tweak or do a small edit for you paper or website that is okay. Please respond to this email if you need a picture for this column. Scroll down for additional biographical info. Buy his latest recording titled "Black Coffee" on iTunes. Learn more at www.glennmollette.com
The Black Trans Fund, incubated at Groundswell Fund, and Grantmakers for Girls of Color launched the Holding a Sister Initiative, the first-ever national fund explicitly dedicated to transgender girls and gender-expansive youth of color.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, president and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color, and Bré Rivera, program director of the Black Trans Fund are together spearheading the Holding a Sister Initiative to bring attention and resources to organizations supporting trans girls of color, normalize concern and investment in their success, and create learning opportunities for cis and trans girls of color to move in deeper community with one another.
The initiative will award $1 million in grants in the first year, and will ultimately engage trans girls and gender-expansive youth of color in the decision-making process for selecting grantees on an ongoing basis.
While there has been an increase in donor attention to work led by people of color, it has yet to translate into significant gains in funding for trans and gender-expansive youth of color.
According to recent regional studies in Detroit, South Florida and New Orleans, trans women of color face higher levels of hunger, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration and discrimination. At the same time, the majority of this year's record-breaking anti-trans legislation are targeted to affect youth, including bills that prevent transgender athletes from playing in school sports and the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act." Research has show sharp rises in suicide attempts among trans youth during 2020 and 2021.
"The reality is transgender and gender-expansive youth of color require more attention, and resources to interrupt the staggering intersections of trauma and crises they experience," said Bré Rivera.
The initiative joins existing funding intermediaries who have been leading the work to resource trans communities and engage trans people in the direction and distribution of resources, including the Third Wave Fund, the Black Trans Travel Fund, and Fund for Trans Generations. As funding partners, the Black Trans Fund and Grantmakers for Girls of Color aim to expand and transform philanthropy's investments in trans and gender-nonconforming youth. The initiative will move resources to organizations serving and led by trans girls and young women of color. It will also amplify narratives that elevate the humanity, dignity and leadership of trans and gender-expansive youth of color, as well as the ways their experiences and contributions have been overlooked, minimized and targeted by oppositional and systemic forces, and larger social justice movements.
The Holding a Sister Initiative will be led by a manager, who will steward culture change through grantmaking, capacity building, narrative shifting and philanthropic organizing. The position is currently open for applicants.
About Grantmakers for Girls of Color
Fiscally-sponsored by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Grantmakers for Girls of Color (G4GC) works to mobilize resources and amplify transformative organizing work to dismantle systems of oppression led by girls and gender-expansive youth of color. Grantmakers for Girls of Color openly invites partners and stakeholders to co-create an inclusive space in support of girls, young women, and gender-expansive youth of color across programmatic issues and geographic areas. Learn more by visiting Grantmakers for Girls of Color.
About the Black Trans Fund
The Black Trans Fund is a groundbreaking endeavor: the first national fund in the country dedicated to uplifting and resourcing Black trans social justice leaders. BTF seeks to address the lack of funding for Black trans communities in the U.S. through direct grantmaking, capacity building support, and funder organizing to transform philanthropy. Learn more by visiting Black Trans Fund.