I feel like we all do some amazing things that no one really gets a chance to hear the story behind it. I would like to offer some history that lead to where we are right now, creating such an amazing event.
Growing up in a small town where the word gay was a god fearing sin, realizing I was gay was not the outcome I was hoping would happen in life. I dated girls in high school, tried some g rated intimacy and holding hands. More of a status symbol saying "I'm not gay, see I have a girlfriend." Deep inside I knew a very uncomfortable truth that I did my best to overcome.
Fast forward to a young man with no support system and on my own. I have realized that this is my truth wether I like it or not, crying and succumbing to the inevitable gay end. My life was pretty much over, I was not in the right circles to support such a 'decision'. I am serious when saying it was a small town America, the environmental mentality box that was the norm was not something I fit in. These were the days when I realized so much about myself but lets stay focused. Knowing that I was not a fit for my home town was disturbing in and of itself because where do I call home? I tried to escape in many forms but always ended up back in that town. One summer doing another go nowhere job at the bottom of the ladder with a group of guys. We normally got gigs together since we all only had one car, and was very convenient, I knew I was gay and was not at all out or ok with it. One day a story comes across the T.V. about a guy named Mathew Shepard in a near by town. It was brutal and exactly what you would think small town hate mentality would achieve. Whatever conspired at that place was not enough to do that to someone. As the newscast ended one of the 3 guys spoke up to say "If I knew someone too close to me was gay I'd do the same thing to them." It was at that moment I knew my next escape plan had to work or it might be my life.
I made a plan to escape to Portland, Oregon and it worked!!!!! Success right!? Well kind of, I finally got to explore what being gay was to me. Again no support, in a HUGE city with only my environmentally small town box of knowing to go off from. I was not prepared. It only took 2 years to find the wrong circles and start my journey down what had to be my path at that moment. There are so many moments when I learned what I didn't want that it seemed like I should have known how to find what I did by then. It took many years past that to realize that I needed to love myself first. How basic is that huh? If you knew the depth of the dark hole I called my life then you would know that learning to love that was almost a impossible task. I had no idea what to do, no one to help figure it out and only knew that I did not want to give up. Thankfully when getting through my childhood trauma I learned about meditation and taking time for yourself. Though I was still not in a place where I wanted to be alone. I would always remind life how much time I had already been alone and this was not going to be more of that. Whatever I needed to learn did NOT involve being with anyone, and isolation was my only constant friend. Hanging out at bars or anywhere with drinking was a big NO, so I went where I could and took what jobs I could.
It took many MANY years of isolation and work for my soul and finances to start to know that I am ok. I even started a personal chef business called 'Bee Cuisine, slogan: a personal chef for the busy bee in you!' I knew that I had a passion inside of me outside of food, but I only knew my education from Le Cordon Bleu and what my Grandmother drilled into me in the culinary field. That was the one thing I knew for sure, how to cook! Not a bad thing I did some amazing things with my biz with catering gigs, amercanized sushi rolls and I was 'The Pie Guy' for a while. Making pies and cakes ended up being my favorite and would take them to downtown coffee shops. Folks on the max would recognize me carrying my pie and say 'Hey it's the Pie Guy,' slowly I built my confidence in myself up. It was not till I met the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in Portland that I learned to go out on the scene again without doing anything stupid. They were kind, crazy and outgoing. I was looking for a group that could see me through the pain I wore, and they did. I never could give up, I knew one day my hard learning would be over and I could benefit from all that I learned. It was that thought alone that kept me going through everything. I found support, my own housing, friends and much more over time. It may not have been as easy as one would think it could be but I don't roll like that LOL
Let's do another fast forward in another big city, San Diego. Not liking the vibe there, all these fake plastic people not showing their true selves till much MUCH later. Or my Instagram account was not big enough to be recognized.
I have volunteered a lot and found that helping others greatly helps me. MCHD, Cascade AIDS project, Quest Center for Integrative Health and many more places. It was in these places I learned so much about community organization, though I never saw myself as a event organizer. Side note, it was also in these places I learned about herbs and healing, in all my research making newsletters for C.A.P. there was plenty of information on Immune and HIV treatment with herbs in other countries. Though I could not share that information since they would loose their funding, only the relevant information (fast tracked meds and information on current medications).
I had flipped my life upside down, shredded it and rebuilt a few times at this point and knew I had a few more start overs in me at that age. I was just starting over again working with some friends in a fun job called Fliptography making moving flip books that we printed on the spot at events. It was a blast and in all that crazy clowning around I found myself, that core place that I knew was not the pain in disguise but my true self. It was all smiles and love, everyone was my friend and I finally found things that I did want in life. I met my love of 13 years at that point. When I found myself and found SO MUCH LOVE it was not hard to create a pathway to a community that I could see low key the same pain I suffered from long ago.
In my journey to find myself there is one thing for sure, I am not a controversial beer can, or a cool t-shirt with a fun rainbow design. Our passions go beyond that of a fun party and drinking the night away. What is normal, is normal even normal? I always feel normal is whatever inside of you feels comfortable in that moment, normal is subjective to each of us. When thinking on what could bring a sense of normality to our community here in Wichita I thought of a nice small market called ICT Big Gay Market. It was going to be small, fun and cute and folks would love to help support our local businesses without all that extra pressure. Something that was not going to make you feel like you had to be COVID tested, or buy a drink, or show who our top corporate funders are. How about we show our community leaders helping make the magic happen. It was supposed to be small and quaint with a name called BIG GAY as a funny statement. It was anything but small LOL it lived up to its name on the first day! We are so grateful for this!
So yes a Big Gay Market, celebrate like it was when Pride was first conceived before all the corporatization and gay for pay businesses during June. Like when AZT was first introduced our family members only had months to live after contracting HIV and accepting you were gay. Celebrate like you want to be, exactly how you want, with who you want and in a space that is safe and love. Without laws being created like back in 1969 with the Stonewall raids. There is so much I feel we have forgot when we are celebrating ourselves during these months. I celebrate in my own way as a person that has gone through their own personal hell to get to a place where I can accept who I am, and nurture it.
There is a time and place for a party, celebrating life with friends letting go of all the worries or stress even for the moment. There is also something to be said for a space that is non-alcoholic, but has all the fun things like music, food and activities for adults and kids. Especially drinks being sold out of the same place kids are buying food. Where my experience comes from, we created 'beer gardens' where drinks and folks could be better managed separately from the event.
After coming to Wichita I could see the remnants of that small town mentality, and a huge need for a space to learn to love yourself and feel safe. One situation in particular sparked the action to create this event. Not too long after opening we had some previous customers from the markets come in. They did not know we were a couple, and I spilled the gay beans showing off all the hard work we did to our shop. It was at that moment we became sinners and our creations were demonic and needed to be prayed upon. I wanted to avoid this situation happening again, so I chose to pursue ICT Big Gay Market.
When creating this space, why not make it as stated for business owners too. It is amazing how many LGBTQIA+ and Allied owned businesses we have here, they are extremely creative and just need a place to be seen. In the time we have been here there has been so much change in the questions asked, energies brought to our tent at the markets and the kindness to both my partner and I for our relationship. At first it was not super comfortable, but like any other place it is about the circles you have found yourself in. For safe circles to be created we need to first create a safe space for them to be nurtured. It is our responsibility as motivated passionate folks to at least say we tried.
What joy and sense of accomplishment to create something that our local LGBTQIA+ community can utilize for growth, creating a sense of safety and something to look forward to in the future! Bonus, the Sisters also have a chapter here in Wichita, how wonderful!! I might not be able to give back to the Sisters in Portland, but we try to help them here.
Now that we have tried and succeeded it is our goal to figure out how to grow, and also help our community at large grow! It is our goal to integrate every aspect of our community into a structure of growth that we can all benefit from. Healing comes in many ways, the first thing in all healing is a safe space to do so. So yes if there is anything I can do to offer my story and support to our community I will try. Even if it's just holding space with a Big Gay Market, as big as we can make it!