At an inconvenient corner on a one-way street, in a city you’ve never heard of, across from the compound of a group you know well but whose name you never wanted or thought to learn, a rainbow unapologetically sits among the mundane neutral colors technically required by the city zoning board. They’re not going to touch that rainbow with a 10-foot pole, though; oh no, they don’t need that publicity nightmare.
You’re driving down this one-way street, 12th Street, a little concerned about how busy it is. You see the upside-down flags emblematic of the people you believe are the physical incarnation of hatred and know you’re close. That sign is hard to miss, and depending on the day, it can either cause you to see red or just roll your eyes.
You don’t see the place you’re looking for, though. You wonder if you’re actually on the right road. Suddenly, as you pass an unassuming brown fence, the rainbow bursts into view. It’s far enough away from the road that it’s a surprise explosion of rainbow, glitter, unicorns, love, and hope. It’s the Equality House, and it’s everything you’d hoped it would be.
If you’re like many others, this is your destination. And, like many others, you’ll probably swerve across two lanes of traffic to make the turn. If you’re like most people, you won’t cause an accident. It’s always possible, though, you’ll be one of the unlucky few. It’s ok; you’ll be fine. Everyone else has been able to shake it off without any injuries or major damage. So far.
I spent 550 days inside that beautiful rainbow. If you visited between March 2017 and September 2018, you probably met me. Well, may have met me. Running an organization that’s trying to save the world doesn’t leave a lot of time to hang around outside. If I missed you, know that I’m truly sorry, and I desperately wish we could have met. I hope you left a note on the porch for me.
That’s me. My hair’s usually purple, so I’m not sure what I was doing in that photo. Anyway, in my almost two years (let’s be honest, I tell people it was two years; it felt like a decade) working for Planting Peace, the charity that owns Equality House, I did so many things. All the things. The day-to-day things, the long-term things, the last-minute things, the donation things, the answering questions things, the media interview coordination things, the itinerary things, the scheduling flights things, the web design things, the blog things, the social media things…all the things. Lots of the things had nothing to do with Equality House, but the only things that brought me real joy were the Equality House things. I mean, where else can your office look like this:
Like everything, though, there’s always some dark reality. Equality House wasn’t meant to last longer than a week, and, to reveal some inside baseball, it’s technically a publicity stunt. To people across the world, though, the publicity brings them hope for a better future. The publicity doesn’t drive donations, but I honestly couldn’t care less about that – I just want everyone to know that a place exists for our queer family.
Since I couldn’t be out there to meet most people, one of my favorite things was opening the mailbox to see that someone had left a note.
It was so much fun! You could leave a little note letting us know who you were and where you were from. You could take a pin or two, which were donated to the house by and for visitors. I always asked for donations of pins and flags, because I couldn’t use organization funds to pay for them. Like I said, the house itself didn’t bring in much money in terms of donations, but people were wonderful about donating pins and flags so visitors after them would have the same experience. There was also a wall full of signatures and messages of love, facing that busy 12th Street, so the world can see the solidarity the house inspires.
Planting Peace had a lot on its plate. While the founder was off rescuing elephants in India, saving victims of genocide in Bangladesh, and conducting deworming campaigns for orphans in 3rd world countries, I held down the fort here at home. Equality House had its own adventures – we had visitors from across the world.
There were days when it felt impossible and pointless to keep up the pretense that we, as a movement, were making any headway. The world felt ready to roll over and surrender. Those days, I’d look back on the notes and see all these members of my family looking back out at me through their words and saying, “You can’t stop. You can’t let us go back to that dark place. There is power here.”
Equality House and I certainly powered through the dark times. I got to present to international delegations from the UN and US Department of State. I was shocked one morning when a hippie bus pulled up and I got to meet the most awesome people in it – members of The People’s Project.
I got to know and become friends with some fantastic people who turned out to be Satanists, that bought the house across the street and turned it into Liberty House, a sort of independent AirBnB with the proceeds going toward creating LGBTQ safe spaces in the Midwest, where there are practically none.
Thanks to my new friends, and the fact that Kansas gonna Kansas, I got to meet and hang out with Vermin Supreme when he tried to run for Kansas Secretary of State. I bought a necktie from him, which is kind of his thing. I can’t believe this is the only photo we have together! He lived across the street for at least a month; why did we only take a selfie at the local bar instead of somewhere with, oh, I don’t know, sunlight? You can’t even see the boot on his head!
Here, this’s one’s better:
This man is amazing.
I can’t choose which was my favorite part of working at Equality House – staying up until 2am making art projects for visitors:
or being invited to speak at local pride events:
I was even interviewed for a podcast and am scheduled to be interviewed on two others! I won’t name those two, since they could always fall through, but you can hear the history of Westboro Baptist Church in episode 52 and my interview in episode 53 of Can We Cult?
There’s so much more I could tell you, but I think this is already a novel. I have a degree in Creative Writing – can you tell? I’m still here in Topeka; Equality House isn’t open to the public, but I’m still around to meet you on the lawn with more information and anecdotes about the charity. I might even be able to start my own nonprofit soon, so keep your eyes open!
When I was able to have my information on Equality House’s porch, I encouraged people to reach out to me on social media if they needed information, a shoulder to lean on, resources about how to talk to their parents/partner/strangers/hateful people, and – most importantly – give them local or national numbers if they’re in crisis. If you want to reach me for those things or just to talk, you can find me on all our social media overlords @caittails – except Twitter, where I’m @caitimac. My life mission can be summed up in a cliché line from the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
The mission of Equality House (other than to be a beautiful, influential publicity stunt) is to end suicide among queer youth. The House and charity itself do not offer resources for youth in crisis, but I do; I’ll include contact information at the end of this article, but you can always talk with me. I want you to know that I love you – I truly love you, even though I don’t know you. Life can be hard, but we have to use that as fuel to make others’ lives less difficult. We have to care about each other and either act or support those who act for us.
Come see the magic sometime and see for yourself why I’m so thankful to have had my 550 days inside the rainbow. Just be careful on that one-way street.
If you are in crisis, please call 911 or contact a crisis helpline:
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
- National number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Find your local contact center here: http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/our-crisis-centers/
The Trevor Project:
- Text START to 678678
- Live chat 24/7 on their website: www.thetrevorproject.org.