Jae Moyer wants to recruit you for the queer political revolution against bad actors
On a warm evening in late August, we sat down with local LGBTQ and women’s rights activist Jae Moyer (they/them). They grew up in Johnson County, attended Shawnee Mission North High School class of 2017, and most recently were hired onto Mark Holland’s Senate campaign staff.
We talked about how crucial it is for the future of queer children to keep bad actors out of the Statehouse. We grooved on the necessity of inclusion and waxed poetic about the future of Kansas politics. We also touched on the key role community involvement plays in enacting more immediate change to our regional political landscape.
The Pitch: So to begin let’s talk Jae 101. Tell us about the steps that led you into a career in politics and activism, and a bit about where Jae Moyer comes from.
Jae Moyer: I went to Shawnee Mission North High School, raised as a Johnson County kid. I came out as gay in middle school, and spent my time in high school learning about the community. When I was a senior at North, I became president of my high school’s equality club. We partnered up with Olathe North, there was a bill in the Kansas state legislature at the time that would’ve put a bounty on transgendered students’ heads. The bathroom bill stated that if any student were caught using the “wrong bathroom” their parents would have to pay a fine.
We went to protest and we held signs that coincided with GLSEN’s Day Of Silence. Students from Shawnee Mission North and Olathe North went to Topeka together. We stood in front of the state capital building with signs stating how we didn’t want this bill to pass. I went to college in New York City.
Throughout high school, I was very involved in music, theater, choir, band, and I wound up in New York studying music theater performance, which was really exciting. I volunteered as an organizer for the women’s march and did the same for the March For Our Lives in New York. After I graduated in 2018 I moved back here.
Shortly after I got back there was an event called Women in Politics, and I thought, cool, I’m into politics. I’m into getting women elected. And so I attended this event. Two of the women there were registered Republicans at the time, they’ve both since switched to Democrats.
They had a Q&A and I asked them this, What are you doing about the fact that it’s still legal to fire gay people in the state of Kansas, soley based on their sexuality.
Little did I know that there were a bunch of folks from local politics in that room. Susan Ruiz who’s one of the first openly LGBTQ legislators in Kansas. She hadn’t been elected yet, but she was elected later that year. There were also several representatives from Equality Kansas. And I started going to their meetings after that. When I got involved with Equality Kansas I started advocating with them for NDOs, which stands for non-discrimination ordinances. Which the federal government wasn’t taking action on banning discrimination, the state government wasn’t taking action-this was in the middle of the Trump presidency. So we got NDOs passed throughout all five major cities in Johnson County, as well as many other rural communities. To this day most of Johnson County is covered by those ordinances, because of the work done by Equality Kansas.
In 2019 I was also working on local campaigns for city council members and school board members that I knew would stand up for LGBTQ rights. In 2020 I went on to serve as a delegate at the Democratic National Convention. In 2020 I was also involved in BLM protests in Kansas City. In 2021 I ran for the Johnson County Community College Board Of Trustees. I was a student at the time at the college, and I would’ve been the first openly nonbinary elected official in the state of Kansas. I did not win, but I did get 33,161 people in Johnson County to vote for me.
Then at Washington Days this year in Topeka, I was elected as president of the LGBTQ caucus for the Kansas Democratic Party. I have served as a member of the caucus since 2019. First as treasurer and then as one of their two delegates to the KDP’s delegates to Kansas Democratic party state committee, but now I serve as the president to the caucus. Which also gives me representation on the KDP’s executive board. And it also gives me representation on their DEI committee.
My big news today is that I just took a job as the director of organizing and outreach for Mark Holland’s United States Senate campaign.
I obviously do a lot. All of that doesn’t even include the work I do with music. I’m one of the music leaders at Indian Heights United Methodists Church in Overland Park. and I host karaoke at the Piano Room in Waldo twice a week.
What fuels you to keep growing and going in this community? What’s the end goal for you, going into the next few years?
Number one is representation.I think people can’t really be acclimated to a better society unless there are leaders being vocal about supporting the LGBTQ community. And I think a good portion of those leaders should be LGBTQ. I believe that when you put those people in the room, the problems of the community and the things that the community are facing can be heard. People with the power to effect policy and change will understand some of those problems better if there is representation in the room.
Then we have to look at policy. What are the laws that are in place now? What are the policies that are actually harmful to the LGBTQ community? We need to also address the lack of anti-discrimination laws that don’t yet exist that could bring more justice and equity to the LGBTQ community. Who as we all know by now are disproportionately affected by societal burdens, such as homophobia and transphobia.
Jointly creating awareness for both what is and is not on the policy agenda for the state of Kansas, and making sure that we have people in the room who are concerned about changing those things is very, very important to me.
I saw an interview with Kathleen Sebelius and she’s stated, rather famously at this point, that Kansans didn’t just vote no, they voted “Hell no!” And I’m wondering what your reaction to that is, being so close to this battle yourself?
I would amend the former governor’s original statement and say Kansans didn’t just vote Hell No, they voted Fuck No.
There were a lot of organizations working their booties off in Kansas. I should mention Kansas For Constitutional Freedom. I should mention there was a campaign out in western Kansas called Vote Neigh. Which was an appealing aspect for those who are in more rural areas. There was Vote No Kansas, and there was Trust Women.
The one thing I noticed about the Vote No campaigns that were happening is that it wasn’t just the Vote No campaign, it was the Vote No campaigns. It was this patchwork of interest from so many different groups of people.
I think that this election was a little bit different than a lot of other elections we’ve had in Kansas. Which is why people showed up to vote on a sleepy Tuesday in early August. The biggest difference between the Value Them Both campaign, and the other Vote No campaigns was that there was a lot of interest in Kansas, from Kansans about protecting access to abortion and other forms of reproductive healthcare.
I think that this was an issue that made Kansans wake up and realize that this was happening in our state. We saw a wild increase in voter turnout after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling by the Supreme Court after Roe v. Wade was overturned. 70% of those new voter registrants were women.
I’ve always thought that if you allowed things in Kansas to be voted on a ballot initiative, Kansans would turn out and vote for things like Medicaid expansion, which we still don’t have. Marijuana, Kansas is one of only four states where marijuana is still completely illegal, but to be honest I’m not sure who supports it within the state legislature as well as the populace. I don’t know if that’s something that people would support. I’m still on the fence about whether or not I support it, because I could see it opening the floodgates to more opportunities for extremist groups to push their agendas of hate and discrimination. It would allow groups like Kansans For Life to put abortion on the ballot every single election.
When it comes to LGBTQ rights I feel that Kansans would vote to protect other LGTBQ Kansans if some of those issues were on the ballot. We proved it with our vote on August 2nd. Everyone in the media and the rest of the country talked about how shocked they were at what Kansas did. Kansas is this red state where we always send Republicans to the legislature, but five out of the last ten governors the state has elected were Democrats. We’ve also had all of these Congress people like, Sharice Davids, an American hero. Kansas is a nuanced state.
If you’re close to Kansas, you probably haven’t been able to read the signs of progressive change from within the state itself. Explain some of that to me if you can.
In the state of Kansas there have been generations of Republican gerrymandering, and there’s been a lot of action from conservative groups. State legislatures have referred to Kansans For Life as a terrorist organization. It doesn’t surprise me that they feel that way. Because Kansans For Life spends money practically bullying people telling them who to vote for. We also in Kansas have the Westboro Baptist Church, and the Koch brothers from Kansas. Bill Bar, Trump’s guy, is from Kansas. Kansas had Sam Brownback for nearly eight years. While he virtually collapsed the state economy and tried to fund the entire state with the bank of KDOT. He destroyed the state of Kansas’s public school system, and I was going through that education system while Brownback was governor.
Kansas has had a lot of recent history with really influential politicians, and as a result a lot of dark money comes through our state. But also remember Kansas is the home of Brown v. the Board Of Education. We’re the home of John Brown, the abolitionist. We’re bleeding Kansas, we voted to forever be the Free State in times of slavery. Kansas also was the first state to allow women to run for office and the first state to elect a woman to the position of mayor, over in Abilene. They were the first state to vote to protect abortion access after the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Kansas has had many political issues in front of us, and a lot of chances to tell the country who we really are. I think that sometimes gets lost in the noise.
Kansas also hasn’t sent a Democrat to the Senate in nearly 100 years, which is what I’m working to change this year on Mark Holland’s Senate campaign, who I will be pushing for and vying for until election day. Kansas is such an interesting and nuanced state that I want to see it progress past the noise of politics that are loud, but just not good for the citizens of Kansas and the United States.
I think right now there’s a lot of people who want to keep control of Kansas, but I don’t think they’re going to get to do that.
Governor Kelly vetoed the trans sports bill in April. How important do you think it is for the future of our kids to have that kind of representation in the Statehouse?
Oh my goodness, it’s everything. Kansas has to do two things in November in order for it to continue being a safer place in the future. It’s that they have to reelect Governor Kelly. They have to break the Republican supermajority. The entire legislature in the state of Kansas both in the Congress and the Senate are over two-thirds Republican. And every single Republican who is in the statehouse now voted to put the abortion bill on the August 2nd ballot. Every single republican running would’ve done the exact same thing. Derek Schmidt supported everything single one of them. Jerry Moran donated $50,000 to his PAC so that they could donate it to the, Value Them Both campaign. This is not just about Republicans and Democrats. It’s about a corrupt party and the people who want to take them on and say, you don’t get to bully the state of Kansas anymore. You don’t get to be in power because you don’t have our best interest at heart. And it’s why I’m going to vote Democrat up and down the ticket this coming November. Because in the state of Kansas Republicans want to take your rights away, and the Democrats don’t. It is that simple for me. It’s because the Republicans have always wanted to play culture war. I feel as if I’m saying all of these buzzwords and “lingo” terminology, but a spade is a spade.
It’s crazy when you think about how much of the political landscape in America has been choked out by identity politics. It’s all sort of turned into this theater of identity. How do you keep from succumbing to shouts and pouts from the theater company of American politics? I also feel like Kansas is a prime example, of an entire state that is so fatigued by the last generation of identity politics. And I feel like Sam Brownback was the lynchpin in delivering progressive votes to Kansas. Unfortunately, it took the decimation of the state economy and education system for voters to turn to each other and say maybe we should think about this a little more…
I definitely think Kansas is fatigued, I think you got it right when you said that. In 2018 you could just tell that Kansas didn’t want Brownback anymore. They could not handle Browback which is why we elected Governor Kelly. You could tell that Kansas, at least in the 3rd congressional district, was tired of Trump. Because folks from Johnson County and Wyandotte, and Miami said, no we’re gonna send Sharice Davids to Congress, Cause Kevin Yoder isn’t doing a good job. By the way Amanda Atkins would be like Kevin Yoder 2.0, except far more Trumpian.
This is why it’s so important to reelect Governor Kelly, it’s important to reelect Sharice Davids. It’s important to elect Mark Holland to the US Senate. I’m gonna go through as many names as I can remember!
It’s important to elect Chris Mann for Attorney General because he’s running against Kris Kobach who’s on the ballot, again. Kobach has proven again and again that he doesn’t deserve to serve. And Kansans have now voted him down twice in the past four years. We need to elect Jeanna Repass, who’s running for Secretary of State. She’s the first black woman elected by either major party to be the nominee for Secretary of State in Kansas. She’s also the only candidate in that race who will actively protect our right to vote, because that is the job of the Secretary of State; they’re the state’s chief elections officer.
What do you have to say to our young readers who are enthused and full of fight after four years of Trump and two disappointing years from President Biden? Where can they put their efforts to use before they too become fatigued by the continual inaction at the state and federal levels?
First I would tell them that change happens slowly. You mentioned Biden as a disappointment. I don’t think he was anyone’s first choice, but he has done some things. I would encourage people to learn how to knock on doors. People need to be canvassing. People within our communities need to take their passion and turn it into action. Many of these candidates who want to get elected, especially the statewide candidates, need help because they’re the decision-makers. They’re the ones in power. They’re the ones that can vote to effect policy and make changes that will protect our communities. They can’t get elected if they don’t have volunteers. They can’t get elected if they don’t have donations. They can’t get elected if they don’t have people advocating for them.
I know it’s hard to put all your trust into one person. And to put all your time and energy into getting one person elected, but that’s also how we get wins like what happened on August 2nd in Kansas. That didn’t happen just because people were pissed off about abortion. That was not the only reason Kansans showed up. It’s not how we got Sharice Davids elected, nor how we got Laura Kelly elected.