Valentine’s Day – and the candy sales that follow – are behind us. I look out the window, and everything is gray. But I am not letting the fluctuating weather and current dreariness get me down. I recently picked up C.J. Janovy’s new book, No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas, and things are looking ever so much brighter! The book, which is a recent history of LGBT activism in Kansas, is vibrant and alive with the stories of people fighting for equality in the 21st century. I recognized stories of people whom I know and have connections with, as well as stories of those I’ve never known. The book is readable and engaging, and I urge people to pick it up. I am thrilled to bring you an interview with C.J. Janovy for this month’s column.
You are a native Nebraskan who earned degrees first at the University of California, Berkeley, and then at Boston University. How did you end up in Kansas City?
When I finished grad school in Boston, my plan was to move back to California. I made it halfway. I was broke and, honestly, a little broken after my time on the East Coast. Kansas City is only three hours from my hometown of Lincoln, so I figured I could spend some time here regrouping. Plus, as I say in the introduction to the book, I’d been friends with some women who played in a national gay softball league and they said Kansas City had the prettiest girls. I found that to be true. Pretty quickly, I got a job writing for the Pitch, and that turned into a journalism career.
Your new book, No Place Like Home: Lessons in Activism from LGBT Kansas, is a recent history of LGBT Kansas. How did you decide that now was the time to write it?
I also explain this a bit in the introduction: When the U.S. Supreme Court’s Windsor and Perry decisions came down in 2013, it was so strange to have marriage equality in some states but not others. When something feels extra weird to me, that’s usually a good sign to write about it. Plus, I knew Kansas would be fertile territory for telling the story – it’s Kansas, after all. And there’s Westboro. More than anything, though, I knew LGBTQ activists had made some progress that readers would find surprising and inspiring.
Was there a particular story that you heard while researching the book that stands out more than others? Please explain.
I interviewed more than 50 people for the book. Some individual stories form the basis of entire chapters; other people I quote for just a couple of lines. I think different stories will stand out to readers for various reasons. Not to dodge your question, or to sound like a mother who says she loves all of her children equally, but: It’s the totality of everyone’s stories combined that stands out the most to me – how brave everyone was at whatever level they could muster, whether it’s the activist with the big personality leading a rally at the Statehouse or a straight ally sending an anonymous card to congratulate two women on their marriage.
What is the most significant thing that you have learned in your travels across Kansas to research this book?
How deeply LGBTQ Kansans love their home state.
I know that the book has just been recently released, but do you have ideas you can share about a future project once things settle a bit with No Place Like Home?
I have ideas, and even a few words on paper. But that’s the sort of thing I tend to keep quiet about. Outside my closest circles, I didn’t even talk much about No Place Like Home until the University Press of Kansas put up a web page for it. I’m a little superstitious that way.
You were an editor for The Pitch in Kansas City for many years. Why did you shift away from print journalism?
The key words in your question are “many years.” I was ready for a change, but I was also troubled by what I saw on the horizon for print. I left journalism altogether for four years and feel incredibly lucky to have made my way back and learned how to practice my calling in new ways. Meanwhile, I’m so glad The Pitch is still here and, I wish the new local owners great success.
You joined KCUR-FM (Kansas City’s NPR affiliate) in August 2014 and are currently a digital content editor. What does your position entail?
This is a new position for me after covering the arts for my first few years at KCUR. We are known as a news-and-talk public radio station, but there are so many more stories on our website that people don’t hear on the air. I’m basically in charge of all of our digital content. Everyone should bookmark kcur.org – you can stream the audio while reading the other stories!
What is the biggest challenge in your position?
Every day, journalists all over the world are working hard to tell the truth with accuracy, speed and integrity. We deliver life-enhancing, and sometimes life-saving, information to audiences who are overwhelmed by a deluge of messages, many of them dubious. And now our leaders are aggressively trying to destroy the free press, which is one of the four pillars of our democracy.
What do you like to do when you’re not working or publicizing your new book?
Spend time with my wife, Lori.
OK, I usually like to end with something fun. I currently have Olympics on my mind, so if you were in the Olympics, would you be in luge, downhill slalom, or figure skating? Please explain.
Let’s go with downhill slalom, but only because it’s the closest thing on your list to surfing, and I had fun taking a surfing lesson on vacation in San Diego last summer. I’m not a fan of winter.