Jackie Carter in front of a food truck.
Jackie Carter and her church Table of Hope run a food pantry to help members of the Wichita community who need support. (Alex Unruh/The Wichita Beacon)

Jackie Carter is a longtime Wichita resident and LGBTQ advocate. She is the senior pastor at Table of Hope, formerly known as the First Metropolitan Community Church of Kansas. It is affiliated with the Metropolitan Community Church group, which was designed and created as the first religious community that would ordain, marry and include gay and lesbian people in leadership in the United States. 

Carter is best known for performing 15 same-sex marriages on the steps of the Sedgwick County Courthouse in 2014,a year before a Supreme Court ruling struck down the Kansas constitutional amendment prohibiting such marriages in Kansas but during a period in which a court injunction temporarily allowed them. She and her church received death threats. 

Carter is also the board president of Camp Sunflower, an LGBTQ+ youth summer camp, a previous business owner and the executive director of her church’s food pantry. 

The Wichita Beacon asked Carter her thoughts about whether LGTBQ rights are under assault again and how she wants to make Wichita a safe space for members of the community. 

This year Kansas legislators have been trying to place restrictions on trans youth, ban drag performances and repeal locally enacted laws designed to protect LGBTQ+ people. And in 2020, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito hinted that Obergefell v. Hodges, the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriages, might be reconsidered now that the court has a conservative majority. 

Carter’s answers have been edited for clarity and length.  

How is the climate for the LGBTQ+ community here in Wichita?

Well, honestly, it’s not favorable at all. I talk to parents every day of transgender youth, who are especially concerned. I mean, they’re just terrified that their children are going to get so depressed and so feel so excluded that they take their own lives.

Would you describe it as safe?

Not necessarily. I think we’re seeing a wave of people that are going back into the closet because they are afraid, especially our trans folk who are there living in fear that somebody is going to call them out. 

I mean, I don’t look typically female and I have issues going into bathrooms often. And I do not identify as transgender. It’s gotten to the point that in today’s evangelical area that we live in that people seem like they have some freedom to be able to say to you, when you walk into a bathroom, “You don’t really belong in this bathroom, do you?” “Aren’t you in the wrong place?” So, it is frightening. 

Your church was known for performing gay and lesbian marriages, and now we’re seeing a push to overturn the 2015 Supreme Court ruling Obergefell v. Hodges that allowed them nationwide. What is your reaction? 

Well, I’m afraid we’re gonna go back to the same place that we’ve been before, which is people that have to go to certain states to get married. And then, what’s going to happen when they retire? How is that going to affect Social Security benefits that get passed down? All the same fights that we’re going to have to go through to ensure that all people have the same rights? 

What do you think the local government in Wichita could do to help the LGBTQ+ community?

Well, we can continue to ensure safety for all of our residents. You know, we did a great thing. Our mayor and our City Council worked together with our community to pass the nondiscrimination ordinance. 

But, things like if you believe that your religious rights are being infringed on, then you don’t have to serve dinner to a gay couple, or you don’t have to bake them a wedding cake, are still allowed. I think we should expand to fix that. 

We need to be electing better local officials and state legislators. We need to encourage our youth to get politically involved so we can change things. 

What about at the state level? 

We need to stop trying to legislate morality. I mean, we decided as a state that women’s health was going to be protected. And yet, we have legislators that are still trying to overturn that. The people said, “This is how we want it to be.” And we’ve got legislators there saying, “Well, that wasn’t really a good vote. And if it hadn’t really been this way or that way, it would have been different.” And well, the people spoke. And I think it would be the same thing with LGBT rights. 

Would you say it’s unfair to use religion as a reason to deny LGBTQ rights that everyone else enjoys?

Yes. People would understand if they did any research, other than this whole, “God says, blah, blah, blah,” because most of what is being said on his behalf, I suspect God is rolling over thinking, “How did you misunderstand that? How did you ever get that wrong?” We continue to say that God says, blah, blah, blah. But if we really go back and do the work and look at modern-day scholarship, God didn’t say those things at all. But it’s an easy out. 

What positives do you see right now in the LGBTQ+ community in Wichita?

We are just in the beginning stages, but I think that the community is coming back together as an entire community, rather than being so splintered and divided. And there are many allies that are gathering with us to stand up and speak out. There are more and more allies that are coming on board that are saying, “This isn’t OK. I may not understand it. I may not agree with it, but it’s not OK to single out these people and treat them this way.” That’s a plus. 

Trans Day of Visibility Rally
Friday, March 31st, 3 – 7 p.m.
Chainlink Gallery Place, 121 E Douglas, Wichita, Kansas

More and more faith communities are reexamining their stance on hatred, or exclusion, if you will, and are taking a new look at interpreting Scripture in a way that is more true to the intent of the words. We do have a nondiscrimination ordinance. It is weak, and it is not everything that I want it to be, but it’s a start. And we didn’t have that before. 

I do think that we have many organizations in place that are working hard to support our youth, so that we don’t end up with such high suicide rates in our youth. Because, you know, we have GLSEN out there. Now we have Camp Sunflower. We have several churches doing youth programming. 

What would you say to the young LGBTQ+ kid who’s maybe reading the story right now who feels alone?

Please, please, please reach out to somebody that knows and loves you and listen to them. There will always be haters, there will always be people that think you’re doing something wrong. But the truth of the matter is, you’re probably doing 99% of the things right. 

If you are struggling with your mental health, please go to our story on mental health resources in Wichita. 

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Trace Salzbrenner is a community journalist for The Wichita Beacon. Follow him on Twitter @RealTraceAlan.