Saturday, July 29, 2006

When you wish you weren't in Kansas any more

Posted By on 07.29.06 at 07:30 AM

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A Wichita TV report tells the sad story of a California couple, J.R. and Robin Knight, proprietors of the bed-and-breakfast Lakeway Hotel in Meade, Kansas (population 1,671). They and their business are in danger of becoming outcasts because they fly a rainbow flag. 

"Knight says the [local] radio station has called him threatening to remove the restaurant's commercials if he does not remove the flag. A local pastor stopped by [and] said it was equivalent to hanging women's panties on a flag pole. When Knight jokingly said he might consider that--the preacher said he would have him arrested.  His business has suffered--down to only a few local customers. The folks in Meade who've boycotted say it's too offensive for them to eat there."

The couple are Californians who came to town and refurbished the downtown edifice a couple of years ago. It seems unlikely that enough tolerant or pro-gay outsiders will be able to visit southwestern Kansas and spend the night to overcome the effects of local ill will.

Three thoughts:

(1) No wonder small towns are dying. I grew up in one in downstate Illinois. They're nice places to live--so long as your skin color and ideas fit in.

(2) Cosmopolitan outsiders can be just as provincial as locals. This is not to excuse the apparent prejudices of many Meade residents, but if you move to such a place you've gotta know what you could be in for.

(3) The most sensitive (and funniest) recent exploration of this kind of affair -- what happens to outsiders in rural and small-town neighborhoods--is The Real Dirt on Farmer John, a documentary on the proprietor of Angelic Organics in Boone County, Illinois. If you haven't seen it, you're missing a good thing.  (Caveat lector: I reviewed it in the Reader January 20 and consider John a friend.)

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