One of Kansas City’s unique identifiers is its dual-statehood in Missouri and Kansas, but this can be a major roadblock to continuity across State law.
A recent example is the recently leaked Roe V. Wade ruling and how different laws look for abortion across state lines. Should Roe V. Wade be overturned, Missourians will be at an extreme risk of losing their rights due to a “trigger law” passed by the General Assembly in 2019. Kansans, however, do not face this risk. In fact, Kansans will have the opportunity to supersede the State’s power to make decisions on abortion in a ballot vote this coming August––securing their right to this one aspect of reproductive autonomy.
An older example of this incontinuity extends to these states’ history around anti-miscegenation laws.
Miscegenation refers to the “interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types” (Oxford Languages). Kansas’s laws around anti-miscegenation were repealed before achieving statehood in 1859, making it one of the earliest states to (technically) allow interracial marriages (Monahan, 1971). Missouri, however, wouldn’t be able to say the same until 1967, when the state—–along with fifteen others—–overturned laws after the success of Loving V. Virginia (Stein, 2010).
That’s an over 100 year difference between the States on one issue.
I bring up these discrepancies––and our country’s purely pitiful lawmaking––to examine just how complex these social issues can become, how little conversations have shifted across time, and to frame the importance of the group being spotlighted in this very piece.
Just 13 years after anti-miscegenation laws were overturned in Missouri, this group of Kansas Citians came together to foster support for interracial couples, specifically for gay men.
Rocky Beginnings: National Association of Black and White Men Together
In 1980, the National Association of Black and White Men Together (NABWMT), was founded. The Association was started by Michael J. Smith in San Francisco, California. Smith, a white man, was very vocal about racism within gay communities throughout his life. Smith used his platform as editor for the Quarterly (a periodical that duly served as NABWMT’s newsletter) to express his frustrations: releasing articles that focused on topics like media perpetuating racist stereotypes and challenging gay white men’s assertions that they couldn’t be racist. Smith’s notoriety was high––being involved with the first (openly) gay US baseball player, Glenn Burke, in the early 80’s for example––and this would help with advertising the Association’s founding (Burgin, 2013).
Though Smith’s fight was loud, his actions were undermined by his claim to be an “interracialist”: individuals who are attracted to people of other races. Dr. John Bush, a Black Professor at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and long member of NABWMT, would describe Smith’s motivations for NABWMT as easily finding Black men to have sex with: “[Smith] was totally dedicated to sex with black men. He, like many others, felt that they were especially endowed”(Burgin, 2013). This caused NABWMT to have a rocky onset.
Smith would also provide no semblance of direction for the Association. In an interview with Thomas Beame in 1982, Smith said this about the organization: “If they want to be activist-minded, fine. If they choose to make it a fuck-club, hey, that‘s their business.” This would further charge negative perceptions for NABWMT. On the plus side, because of Smith’s poor vision, many people took matters into their own hands to become an organization that meant more than cruising.
After the creation of the parent organization in early 1980, several chapters across the nation were created in cities like New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Kansas City that summer. Black and White Men Together – Kansas City (BWMT-KC) kept its purpose as a social space for Black and White gay men––specifically those in or seeking relationships––but also had three other goals:
- To develop AIDS and Safer Sex Education workshops
- To fight racism and homophobia within the [gay] community
- To foster a supportive environment for interracial relationships
Douglas Reynolds, one of the most prominent leaders of BWMT-KC since 1987, described interracial relationships amongst gay men as being extremely difficult to navigate at that time––especially with the added layer that gay marriage wasn’t legalized. Douglas describes his observations of what it was like to be a Black gay man in the 80’s:
“There was still a lot of racism in the white community. Publications to the advertisements––it was all geared toward white gay men. Not just on the Kansas City level, but the national level. And I would have to say, about 15 to 20 years ago, that all started changing, because we had to fight for stuff. I mean, our organization had to go in and talk to [gay clubs] and say, ‘Why did the black guys have to produce three pieces of ID and the white guys just walked on back?’”Douglas Reynolds (D. Reynolds, personal communication, June, 20 2022)
BWMT-KC hosted a variety of events to achieve their mission in creating safe spaces for Black and white gay men. These included Pot Lucks, Picnics, “Rap Nights” (roundtable-like discussions), Movie Nights, Restaurant Nights, and various gatherings at members’ households. Some of these outings might even be recognizable to Kansas Citians today––with the group hosting events at beloved places like Manny’s Restaurant and Peking Chinese Restaurant.
Membership for BWMT-KC operated on a fee system. To join for a full year in 1990, the fee was $20 (roughly $44.24 in 2022). The organization also had various tiers. If you wanted to join for a half-year, the fee was $10. And if you only wanted the newsletter, it was $5.
Much of BWMT-KC’s history can be explored through their newsletters, released on a monthly or quarterly schedule. The first documented newsletter from the organization at the Gay and Lesbian Archives of Mid-America (GLAMA) was in March 1986.
BWMT-KC was also a highly collaborative organization, commonly working alongside organizations such as Gaytalk, Condom Crusaders, Good Samaritan Project, HARC (Heartland Aids Regional Council) Mart, and GALA (Gay And Lesbian Acceptance Inc.).
1991 Midland Spring Regional
As BWMT-KC increased in size, so did the reach of the organization. The newsletters from BWMT-KC shifted from being purely schedule-based to featuring reports from prominent leaders in the organization, beginning with co-chairs Douglas Reynolds and Quience Sykes. In a 1990 newsletter, Reynolds set seven new goals for the Kansas City Chapter after attending NABWMT’s convention in San Francisco. These goals included getting more involved in civic affairs, increasing AIDS awareness, and getting the BWMT-KC name out there.
Reynolds received his wish in early 1991 when BWMT-KC was tasked with hosting the National Association’s “1991 Midland Spring Regional”: a chance for members across all midwest chapters to congregate and get to know each other. Fittingly, the theme was “Getting To Know You.”
From April 26 to 28th 1991, over seventy people attended the Regional in Kansas City. Guests were greeted with a registration and reception on the 26th, and spent the weekend attending different workshops and events. Jon Barnett, founding member of the Kansas City ACT UP (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power) Chapter, gave a speech, guests toured the Country Club Plaza, and events culminated in a night out at former gay nightclub, Edge.
While the event was a success in terms of schedule and participants, the organization suffered in terms of finances and leadership. The organization faced a roughly $300 budget deficit that Quience Sykes would have to help cover; and Douglas Reynolds stepped down as co-chair around June/July of that year. Steve Sadler, a regular member of the organization, temporarily took his place.
Rebranding as Men Of All Colors Together-Kansas City (MACT-KC)
On November 9, 1991, BWMT-KC rebranded to Men Of All Colors Together-Kansas City (MACT-KC) after a chapter vote. The change came after several members raised points of interracial relationships being beyond the breadth of solely Black and White men––a point that still seems to be missed by large media even in 2022.
Can you say ahead of their time?
Steve Sadler did not run for a co-chair position. Instead, members Yul Stell and Kurtis M. became co-chairs in 1992, and pioneered the organization’s rebrand toward greater inclusivity.
The organization changed their logo once again, unveiling it in their May/June 1992 Newsletter.
MACT-KC experienced a lot of growth during the 90’s––being featured in several pieces by Kansas City news, hosting variety shows with Kansas City drag queens, and even grabbing the attention of the Cleavers at a Gay PRIDE picnic in 1991.
The organization’s growth, however, would be stunted by the loss of several members to AIDS.
Fighting The AIDS Pandemic and Racism
In a 1995 article from The Lesbian and Gay News Telegraph (written by Jon Barnett, the same founder of ACT-UP KC), members of MACT-KC spoke of the loss of around “four of five” organizers to “AIDS-related causes.” Steve Sadler’s words from a 1995 January/February newsletter were included in the piece:
“Looking back through the past year, Men of All Colors-Kansas City has been through a lot. We’ve watched friends that we hold close leave us and move on to another plane of existence. We’ve experienced joys and sorrow. The chapter has slowly become smaller and smaller to just 23 members at the present.” (Barnett, 1995)
With each passing member, MACT-KC dedicated a page to them in their newsletter. Below are a few from GLAMA’s archives.
Quience X. Sykes
Born: Oct 26, 1964. Died: September 12, 1994.
Quience X. Sykes joined MACT-KC in 1987, and would hold various positions including serving as Co-Chair of the organization from 1990 to 1992. Born in Westpoint, Mississippi and later moving to Kansas City in 1982, Sykes worked at McDonald’s for 12 years. Sykes had an instrumental role in planning events for the organization like their 10th anniversary and the 1991 Midland Spring Regional, and he attended NABWMT conventions in Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis as a representative.
He was only 29 years old.
Born: July 23, 1952. Died: December 3, 1994.
Carl Woodford, similar to Sykes, had been a regular member of MACT-KC since before the 90s. Woodford served as the organization’s treasurer from 1993 to 1994, described by Steve Sadler as a “perfect match for Carl.” Woodford also attended several national conventions and offered his helping hand to several events.
Woodford was Steve Ricard’s partner for three years prior to his death. Steve Ricard was a regular member of MACT-KC, serving as co-chair of the organization from 1993 to 1994. The organization would, subsequently, go on “life-support” (as Douglas Reynolds called it) near the end of 1994 and Ricard’s term––with heavy inference that it was due to Woodford’s health and Ricard’s decline in participation in order to tend to his lover.
Born: Oct. 24, 1957. Died: Feb. 8, 1999
Yul Stell served as the organization’s co-chair from 1992 to 1993, pioneering the organization’s rebrand from BWMT-KC to MACT-KC. In a 1999 March/April Newsletter, it was announced an ad-hoc committee was being created to better honor deceased members in cases where family members did not accept them, implying that Stell’s family would not hold space for him even in death.
Reynolds describes how difficult it was not only just to process the sheer amount of people MACT-KC was losing to the pandemic, but also the added components of navigating members’ family dynamics, hospital visitation policies and just blatant homophobia from religious groups claiming this was “God’s divine intervention” on LGBTQ+ individuals. Though the organization went on life support following Woodford’s death, the group continued to rally around their members and offer support to one another. (D. Reynolds, personal communication, June, 20, 2022)
The Telegraph article also covered MACT-KC’s actions to hold various establishments accountable for racism. In a letter from Yul Stell to then-Dixie Belle Bar in the Summer of 1993, Stell condemns them for hanging a confederate flag within their establishment. Stell also alludes to undercover practices held by bars to prevent Black folks from entering––whether that be requiring multiple forms of identification or limiting the amount of Black people allowed inside at one time––painting the picture that bars are not so far removed from once being racially segregated.
MACT-KC would also confront a Catholic African relief organization when they denied a donation from a MACT-organized fundraiser to support African people abroad. Members successfully used tactics like public call-outs and phone trees to get them to change their mind.
The end of MACT-KC
Despite the organization’s successes, it was apparent that the organization never fully recovered after their battle with AIDS. MACT-KC’s membership would coast from 1995-1999, with Douglas Reynolds taking helm once again to keep things afloat.
Reynolds sent out the organization’s last newsletter in a July/August/September 1999 issue, just a year shy of their 20th anniversary. These were Reynolds’ departing words to MACT-KC:
“I have truly enjoyed the times I have been involved with MACT-KC. Over the years I have learned much about Black and White (and Gray) issues. I truly feel more educated about matters of racism and the ugly effects of prejudiceness. Through MACT-KC I feel I have learned much about myself as well as what I can do as an individual to fight the disease of racism. It starts with myself and understanding my own prejudice toward those who are different from me. Without MACT-KC, I would be years behind in my education as a person living in a multicultural society in the nineties!”– Douglas Reynolds ([Newsletters from BWMT/MACT-KC], 1999)
Though the MACT-KC chapter is no longer active, the National Association still operates today, and is actually co-chaired by the same Douglas Reynolds mentioned throughout. Reynolds still resides in Kansas City, and is retired after over thirty years of teaching in the Kansas City, MO school district. The bulk of the Association now manifests itself through a Facebook group with over 15,000 members who, according to Reynolds, have an average age of around sixty years old. They also have a website, where they’re advertising their 2022 National Convention in Minneapolis––which Reynolds was positively giddy about. He also mentions that there are other former MACT-KC members still living in Kansas City today that he sees every so often, but aren’t necessarily involved with the Association anymore.
Today–in all its colors
Reynolds’ advice to queer people today is simple: “Get off your ass.” Reynolds stresses that the fight for queer acceptance is not over (referencing recent legislation targeting gay and transgender people across the nation) and, that even if MACT-KC is not your organization of choice, there are plenty others fighting the good fight.
In 2022, conversations around interracial relationships are still controversial and haven’t progressed much past where MACT-KC left them in 1999. Is it okay to date a race that has historically oppressed you? How do you navigate various spaces and power dynamics with a partner who looks nothing like you? Will you ever be able to fully experience your partner’s love across racial divides?
I don’t have the answers––maybe some opinions––but despite whatever work MACT-KC was doing, MACT-KC was one of few safe spaces for Black gay men to simply exist. The organization’s scrapbooks residing at GLAMA are full of pictures of members smiling, giggling, embracing and loving one another in full vibrancy. The pictures, in fact, are very reminiscent of today’s Queer Bar Takeover and their Instagram carousels of queer folks giddy to be amongst each other.
This year’s large PRIDE weekend may be over, but for the rest of PRIDE (and the rest of this year), I challenge white LGBTQIA+ individuals to channel the energies members like Doug, Steve, Carl and Kurt had in fighting for their Black and Brown peers.
Only then can we truly signify ourselves with a rainbow. In all our colors, together.
Barnett, J. D. (1995, February 9). MACT-KC: Fifteen-Year Itch. Lesbian and Gay News Telegraph, p. 7.
[MACT-KC Brochure]. (ca. 1990-1995). Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, Kansas City, MO, United States.
Monahan, T. P. (1971). Interracial Marriage and Divorce in Kansas and the Question of Instability of Mixed Marriages. Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 2(1), 107–120. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41600774
Onyejiaka, T. (2019, February 26). Why is TV so afraid to show Black people loving Black people? RaceBaitr. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://racebaitr.com/2019/02/26/why-is-tv-so-afraid-to-show-black-people-loving-black-people/
[Newsletters from BWMT/MACT-KC]. (ca. 1986-1999). MACT-KC Scrapbooks. Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, Kansas City, MO, United States.
[Photographs of Douglas Reynolds]. (ca. 1990-1995). MACT-KC Scrapbooks. Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, Kansas City, MO, United States.
[Scrapbook clippings of BWMT/MACT-KC]. (ca. 1980-1999). Gay and Lesbian Archive of Mid-America, LaBudde Special Collections, Miller Nichols Library, Kansas City, MO, United States.
Stein, L. (2015, March 18). Commentary: How marriage became a federal issue. St. Louis Public Radio. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://news.stlpublicradio.org/politics-issues/2010-08-15/commentary-how-marriage-became-a-federal-issue
Williams, A. R. (2018, December 10). Jon D. Barnett. Profiles in Kansas City Activism. Retrieved June 10, 2022, from https://info.umkc.edu/kcactivism/?page_id=40