The Ordinance Project: AIDS Activism and Nondiscrimination Legislation in Kansas City, Missouri

Saturday, January 4, 2020: 4:10 PM
Murray Hill East (New York Hilton)
Austin Williams, University of Missouri-Kansas City
On May 10, 1990, the city council of Kansas City, Missouri voted to send a highly contested piece of civil rights legislation back through the council committee process—a measure which would have officially outlawed discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS, gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations. Outraged supporters declared that sending the ordinance back to committee was merely “an attempt to kill the issue.” Over a period of three weeks, the council’s Finance Committee had heard more than twelve hours of public testimony from hundreds of citizens. Supporters and opponents had orchestrated massive campaigns, flooding City Hall with a record-setting amount of phone calls, letters, and demonstrations. By the time that Ordinance 65430 came before the full city council for an official vote, it had already proven to be one of the most (if not the most) controversial pieces of legislation in Kansas City’s history.

Utilizing over fifty hours of oral history interviews with the Kansas City activists, community organizers, and politicians directly involved in fighting for the passage of nondiscrimination legislation for LGBTQ communities and people with HIV/AIDS, this paper will contextualize the controversy surrounding Ordinance 65430 within the broader resurgence of Kansas City LGBTQ activism fueled by the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the late 1980s, AIDS activists frequently made their voices heard on the steps of City Hall, often through controversial tactics which led to infighting among activists and politicians alike. As one of the only major metropolitan areas to introduce protections based upon sexual orientation and HIV-status in the same piece of legislation, Kansas City’s fight for a civil rights ordinance is the perfect focal point to better understand how the issues of homophobia and the fear of AIDS were not only intertwined—they were inseparable.