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New Survey Seeks Rural and Racially Diverse LGBTQ+ People Kansas City area needs assessment is the first in at least 20 years

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Above image credit: Marchers carry a huge flag during Kansas City's Pride Parade 2023. (John McGrath | Flatland)
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4 minute read

At least two decades have passed since the Kansas City area has comprehensively assessed the needs of its LGBTQ+ communities. 

Doing so is important to establish even baseline information for grant writing. The data also is considered crucial for guiding public policy efforts. 

An effort to capture the region’s LGBTQ+ voices was launched in April, funded by a grant through the city of Kansas City. 

But despite gathering about 900 online responses, researchers are doubling down on their efforts because crucial voices within the community are missing. 

LGBTQ+ Needs Assessment Survey

The Pride Charitable Fund and the University of Missouri-Kansas City, with funding assistance from Kansas City, are conducting a needs assessment survey for the LGBTQ+ community in a 14-county area. Here’s how to take part in the survey.

Rural voices, people who are above the age of 60, transgender people and a wide range of ethnicities and races still need to be gathered for the survey to mirror the demographic makeup of the area found in the U.S. Census. 

Oftentimes, those who are less visible do not trust researchers, so making connections is crucial at this point in the project, said Leah Youngren, senior research assistant with the Urban Education Research Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. 

“We’re really trying to reach the harder to reach groups,” Youngren said. “We need rapport with these groups because these are the voices that we’re trying to capture.” 

In short, researchers have successfully connected with many white, bisexual people and gay men who have completed the online survey. But they have been less successful with other groups. 

African American, Latino, Asian and Native American voices aren’t well represented in the initial wave of responses. And, because a broad definition of the metropolitan area is being used, 14 counties, the responses of people living in more rural areas are also highly desired. 

“There are some counties where we have zero representation,” Youngren said. 

The counties included in the study are Jackson, Johnson, Clay, Wyandotte, Cass, Platte, Leavenworth, Lafayette, Miami, Ray, Clinton, Bates, Linn and Caldwell. 

Opportunities to take the survey, “Voices of Pride: LGBTQ+ Community Needs Assessment,” will close in mid-August. 

Then, the second phase will begin, analyzing the data and organizing focus groups to gather greater detail. 

Those sessions, to be conducted with local LGBTQ+ leaders and advocates, will lean into dialogue and gaining insights. 

“We’re really trying to reach the harder to reach groups. We need rapport with these groups because these are the voices that we’re trying to capture.” 

– Leah Youngren, senior research assistant with the Urban Education Research Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

A final report is expected by January 2025 with key findings and recommendations. It will be available online. 

Five researchers at UMKC are leading the effort, in conjunction with the Pride Charitable Fund. 

“Our aim is to make a very accessible tool for the entire community,” Youngren said. “So they will have the data to support grant requests.” 

Planning began about two years ago. In February, Kansas City awarded a $50,000 grant to fund the work, through the Rebuild KC initiative. 

LGBTQ+ people sometimes move to the Kansas City area from more rural communities, so capturing a wide range of views and experiences is important, the researchers emphasized. 

The survey takes about 10 to 30 minutes to complete and includes open-ended and short questions around housing, medical care, transportation, education, employment, safety and mental health. 

The survey also gathers information on how people feel about their political representation and policies and laws in the cities and states where they live. 

Cursory glances at the information gathered so far shows that some people are fearful of the tenor of legislative actions in Missouri, Youngren said. 

“They think their rights are going to be stripped away and they think that the basic care that they’re already having trouble accessing is only going to get harder and more treacherous to enter,” she said. 

In recent years, efforts to limit access to gender-affirming care have been widely discussed in state legislatures. 

“This really just opens the door to the needs of the community members and then with more research, with more grants, we can dive deeper into what we find,” Youngren said. 

No information specific enough to identify an individual is being gathered. And resources are offered at the end of the survey. National resources are listed such as the Human Rights CampaignLambda LegalThe Trevor Project and Campus Pride

The last needs assessment of the local LGBTQ+ community was completed in the early 2000s and focused on health care. There have been more recent surveys focused on specific groups, such as work done by BlaqOut, assessing the needs of Black men, HIV prevention and their access to health care. 

Elsewhere, in larger cities, comprehensive surveys like the Kansas City effort have been completed. 

And the Williams Institute, based at the UCLA School of Law, publishes information from around the globe, including breakdowns for Missouri and Kansas

But a comprehensive needs assessment hasn’t been completed locally, at least not in recent years. 

The lack of information gleaned from the community allows for false narratives to develop and people to be misrepresented, said Karin Chang, Associate Research Professor in UMKC’s School of Education, Social Work and Psychological Sciences. 

“There’s this narrative around the lesbian, gay population that they are all doing fine, that they’re middle class,” Chang said. 

In more recent years, the transgender community has really helped to raise awareness that there are critical, often unmet needs, basic needs that are being challenged, she said. 

Safety issues faced by Black trans women have also been highlighted recently in the news, unfortunately when they have been harmed. 

It’s highly likely that supplemental surveys will be needed for specific groups, like Black transgender women and that can be a part of future work. Some needs identified by the findings will likely call for an even greater sense of urgency, Chang said. 

“But if we don’t even know the numbers, how can we tell the story?” Chang asked. 

Mary Sanchez is a senior reporter for Kansas City PBS.

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