Deanna (2)

Deanna in her studio
Deanna in her studio
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“The original idea started about 10 years ago and it came about when my daughter started writing and I couldn’t find a mentor for her. I was like, ‘If I can’t find one for her, there are probably other kids that don’t have a mentor either’ and I didn’t want her to lose the inspiration to keep writing, to do this long term, because she was really good, so I went ahead and decided to ask for help at Hallmark, where I work.

They helped me figure out how to do it with the help of volunteers. It started with about 12 volunteers from Walmart and about 25 students in KCK. I didn’t have any funding, so Irene Caudillo at El Centro in Kansas City, Kansas gave me space for free.

The Latino Arts Festival was born out of the mentoring program. What I wanted to do was to give the kids more experience on what it’s like to showcase and sell your art. Instead of starting in college or after college, why not start when you’re 15? It is all sponsored because it’s a no cost festival for the attendees and it is no cost for the artist. We give them a booth, table and chairs and all they have to do is come with their creativity. I want them to bring exposure to their art within their own community, so that way, no matter what they do with their life, they’ll always remember where they came from.

There are kids here from all walks of life. A lot of these kids come because they want to be somewhere where they’re seen, somewhere where they feel welcomed. And then when they come in they see that there are other kids like them, they see the diverse culture and they’re like, ‘Wow, this is my place.’ And they just have fun. They don’t have to worry about the cost. They just have to get here and they have an outlet for their creativity.”

— with Latino Foundation for the Arts.

Davis

Davis looking at camera

This is Davis Hammet. When I spoke to him he had been awake for 32 hours straight, working. Davis was the Director of Operations for Planting Peace. He co-created and lived in the Equality House for five years and is the founder of Loud Light, an organization that seeks to empower underrepresented communities in Kansas and promote youth civic participation.

Davis looking at camera

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“Being attracted to more than one gender added some difficulties growing up. I didn’t come out to my parents until the week I was driving up here to create the Equality House. I didn’t want my parents to learn that I was bi on CNN, but I had always put it off because I thought, ‘Well, what if I marry a woman? Why would I go through all those difficulties?’ When I was younger, even as early as elementary school, whenever I would get same sex attraction, I would hate myself for it. Around fourth or fifth grade I attempted suicide a couple of times. I now understand that I didn’t want to die. I had these feelings that I was attracted to someone who was the same gender as me and I hated those feelings and I wanted that to die.

I was born in the 1990s, so there weren’t that many icons telling me that this was okay or safe. I’m also the youngest of five kids, almost all boys and male culture is very homophobic and so even growing up around guys everyone was making queer jokes. I don’t hold it against anyone because everyone was doing it. I believe that to some degree everyone is racist, sexist, homophobic, is sick with prejudice and it’s everyone’s struggle to challenge that prejudice every day. Everyone wants to say, ‘Well, I’m not racist, I’m not sexist,’ but the thing is that I was once so homophobic that I tried to kill someone for same sex attraction and that person was me. That was what my suicide attempt was; it was homophobia.

I’m lucky enough to have a really amazing family that when I was beginning to attempt suicide I remembered constantly thinking, ‘I can’t do this to my parents.’ I wanted to kill myself, but it would be so unfair to my parents who had given me so much. There’s no note I could write, there’s nothing I could do. If a child commits suicide, the parents struggle with that forevermore. I kept all that completely hidden, buried in for a long time. First I came out to my mom and she cried, but she hugged me and said, ‘I don’t understand this at all, but I’m going to figure it out and I love you so much.’ The dream situation of coming out to a parent, right? Then I went to tell my dad and he just started laughing and he just goes, ‘Well, you’re such a people person.’ That was his response. It was so unfazed. Some people come out to their parents and they’re like ‘We always knew,’ but my parents were shocked. Still, my mom said she was going to figure it out and my dad just laughed and they still love me and this didn’t change anything. It was such a blessing.

Having to be in the closet about anything is such a burden. Being in the closet about something fundamental to yourself causes so much harm. And then I came out to the whole world. After I lived in the rainbow house for five years there’s no closet big enough in this world that I can go back into at this point.”