Still from “No Place Like Home: The Struggle Against Hate in Kansas” (noplacelikehomedoc.com)
Recent months have seen a spate of showings of Kevin Willmott’s 2022 documentary, “No Place Like Home: The Struggle Against Hate in Kansas,” examining the pervasive challenges that LGTBQ+ people encounter in the state at a time when challenges to and repression of the community have been intensifying. Their personal stories reveal hard-won gains, losses, love and hatred, and willful ignorance that impacts Kansans.
Willmott, an Academy Award-winning director and KU professor, based the film on veteran journalist C.J. Janovy’s award-winning 2018 book, “No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas.” Janovy served as the film’s associate producer.
Janovy’s book covers Kansas activism between 2005 and 2015, when marriage equality cases made their way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Public opinion about same-sex marriage shifted then, in part because activists worked to educate others and attract allies.
“Kansas was the perfect place to tell that story because it’s in the middle of the country — not the coasts, which most people associate with the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights,” Janovy said.
Building on this foundation, the film introduces rural and urban Kansans in the deep-red state of Kansas, which is a battleground for LGBTQ+ rights. LGBTQ+ activism and hate-fueled opposition complicate the bucolic identity of a state associated worldwide with “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Activism is a constant necessity for LGBTQ+ people in Kansas and all over the country and the world,” Janovy said.
Janovy’s book focused on details that gradually led to change rather than rewriting history as a simple narrative with “a grand decisive moment.”
Through Willmott’s film, “Watching brave Kansans tell their stories, juxtaposed with footage of comments made by lawmakers on the floor of the Kansas Senate, makes the human stakes starkly clear,” Janovy said.
The work of Janovy and Willmott documents ongoing activism for a contemporary audience.
“Most of my films deal with the Black struggle in American history,” Willmott said in a statement. “This film allowed me to expand upon my belief that all these struggles have the same opponent — ignorance. The lawmakers, politicians, and others that fight progress with African Americans, women, and immigrants are the same ones that battle the LGBTQ community.”
Willmott links the work of abolitionists to end slavery to the right of women to vote, the cessation of child labor, the work to end foreign wars and the fight against poverty as struggles on the same continuum. Willmott said, “It is important to look at all these struggles as one experience. History tells us that is how those that manufacture and sell hate always look at it.”
“It’s legitimate to cast the battle for LGBTQ+ rights on the same historic arc. But Kansas’s DNA might be changing. It’s too soon to know whether Kansas will be able to boast about being a Free State in the future, especially for trans people,” Janovy said.
“The attack on trans youth is one of the most shocking and hateful episodes in recent history. The lack of compassion and the willingness of lawmakers to dismiss the lost lives of these trans youth can only be called heartless,” Willmott stated. “Our film shines the light on the hate and struggle here in Kansas. But Kansas is just a reflection of the rest of the United States, no better and no worse.”