One of the state's first two openly gay legislators told students gathered at an equality rally Wednesday at the Statehouse to demand respect.
"Do you know what to do to piss off the opposition?" said Rep. Susan Ruiz, D-Shawnee. "Don't let hateful words define you."
Students with the Kansas chapter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network got on a bus at 5 a.m. to attend Equality Day events. The lineup of speakers included Gov. Laura Kelly, who was cheered by the crowd for signing an executive order to protect LGBT state workers from discrimination.
"I am proud to be your leader," Kelly said.
Ruiz talked about growing up in Houston during an era in which going to gay bars could lead to violence. There were a lot of rednecks, she said, who would chase people back to their cars.
She encouraged the students to stay in Kansas, become leaders, run for office and find someone special to love.
"That will piss them off," Ruiz said, "because those who spew hate are repulsed by love."
Kansans elected Ruiz, Rep. Brandon Woodard, D-Lenexa, and U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids in November — a breakthrough moment for the LGBT community in the state.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said their sexuality turned out not to be a campaign issue.
"We finally got queers elected, and everybody yawned — except me," Witt said.
The event was held against the backdrop of a rainbow flag, which was designed by Kansas native Gilbert Baker. Witt said this particular flag was signed and given to him by Baker.
GLSEN provided results from a school climate survey, which shows 20 percent of students regularly hear school staff members make homophobic remarks. The survey shows 84 percent of schoolchildren hear those remarks from fellow students.
Sydney Beal, a senior at Wichita East High School, called on Kansas lawmakers to criminalize conversion therapy, which can lead to suicide, depression and anxiety.
"It teaches kids not to be themselves," Beal said. "The fact that it hasn't changed is revolting. When is common sense going to come to Kansas?"