A Letter from Missouri Senator Greg Razer
January 30, 2024
For most of you in attendance, let me be the first to welcome you to your home away from home for the next several days. Welcome to Kansas City, Missouri.
Missouri has long held the nickname of the “Show-Me State.” The origins of this name are debated to this day. I won’t bore you with details; just know that at times we’re stubborn and hardheaded (like our Missouri Mules). At times we grow tired of fancy words and simply want the facts, so “show me.” At times we take these traits too far. At times they serve us well.
Currently, I know that Missouri has shown a side of itself that is darker than I expect from my home state. I know many of you have been apprehensive about coming to our state, and I understand that. You worry if you’re pregnant and need medical attention, will you get the best care possible? If you are an immigrant, will you be welcome? If you are a person of color, do you heed the NAACP’s travel advisory? And if you, like me, are a member of the LGBTQ+ family, you read of the attacks on our community coming from the state capitol—from “Don’t Say Gay” bills to drag-show bans, bathroom bills, and our own history being abruptly taken out of the capitol, as if the mere mention of people like me is offensive.
Like our nation’s, Missouri’s past can be ugly, messy, and sad. We were admitted into the Union in 1821 when Congress created the state of Maine and brought us in together. This maintained an even split in the Senate of free states and slave states. Our state was home to Dred Scott, the enslaved man who was taken onto free soil by the man who claimed to own him. Understanding the law, Mr. Scott knew that once he stepped foot on free soil, he was a free man. Unfortunately, the US Supreme Court decided that as a Black man and as an enslaved person, he was not a citizen and had no standing to bring the case before the court.
Those are examples of the past. However, in the last year we have made national headlines due to the majority of our state legislature taking full aim at transgender children—children—for political gain.
This is a state whose legislature passed an outright ban on abortion in any circumstance, including no exceptions for rape or incest. For good measure, contraceptives were banned as well, though that is being ignored for the time being.
Yet what is the Show-Me State that I know? What keeps me here, fighting for my state? I was raised on a cotton farm, outside a town of 450 people in the most southeastern portion of Missouri. It was a place where I was taught to help your neighbor in need. It was also a place where I heard racial slurs daily for the first eighteen years of my life. From my childhood home, I learned much about who I wanted to be as an adult—and more about who I did not want to be in life.
I was fortunate enough to obtain a scholarship to attend our state’s flagship public university, the University of Missouri. As a high school senior, I was congratulated by our guidance counselor, then told to remember where I was from. He informed me that the university was simply too difficult and no one from our small town could graduate from there. I should go for a year or two, have fun, then come home to something more on our level. After graduating I could be a farmer, or a teacher, maybe run the grocery store—all fine professions that we could not survive without, but not what I wanted in life.
That counselor reflected a small-town Missouri way of thinking. One that holds back those communities. The idea that they aren’t good enough to succeed at a high level. If I saw him today, I would remind him of his advice and then tell him that, not only did I graduate from the university, but I was also the school’s mascot, Truman the Tiger. Not only that, but today I serve in an institution where I vote to approve or reject appointed curators. I can support and publicly challenge decisions made by its administration. And each year I am one of thirty-four Missourians who vote on the university’s budget. Today, the eighteen-year-old who you thought couldn’t make it, he’s no longer that scared kid. No sir, today I am a graduate of the University of Missouri, and the kid from Cooter, Missouri has become the senator from Kansas City.
Kansas City, Missouri. My home. If Cooter taught me who I did not want to be, and the university taught me who I was, it is Kansas City that embraced me, allowed this gay kid with a southern accent to not only be a welcomed outsider, but to become an actual Kansas Citian. This place is also full of contradictions. It was a developer in our city who perfected the practice of redlining. Yet it was also our city that brought together the right people to form the historic Negro Leagues. Kansas City, like other major cities in the 1950s and 1960s, was hostile toward its LGBTQ+ citizens. Yet it was also Kansas City that served as host to our nation’s first-ever national LGBTQ+ gathering.
Our nation’s history, Missouri’s history, our own personal histories—none of them are perfect. We all have those moments we wish we could take back. We must grow from our mistakes and rebuild from what we tore down. That’s human nature, and my state is no different. I believe we are in a destruction mode today, but rest assured, we will rebuild again someday soon.
December 17, 2001—the date I moved to this city. I arrived with no cell phone. No job. And a total of $17 dollars to my name. Yet the people of this city struck me as something special. Genuine, friendly, eager to help. In fact, in Kansas City’s LGBTQ+ community, you are almost expected to help serve our community in some capacity or another. We give back, we invest, we care.
Back in 2001, my checking account and our downtown looked very similar—deserted. Unkempt buildings, crumbling infrastructure, and a tree literally growing through the formerly ornate movie theater. Yet Kansas City still believed in itself. A few years later, our city’s first female mayor set the wheels in motion in downtown revitalization with the building of the arena and entertainment area across the street. It is because of her vision of what could be, and the focus of her predecessor to make it reality, that during your visit you will ride on a new streetcar system. The city has celebrated our Royals as World Series champions and our Chiefs as Super Bowl champs. We have a world-class performing arts center. New restaurants are popping up each day. And a brand-new international airport.
Yes, Missouri is a tough place at times—and this is one of those times. Laws being passed by my colleagues are detrimental to our state and our people. But dedicated Missourians will right these wrongs, and we will once again become a deep-purple state, frustrating both the far right and left with our moderate leanings.
In Kansas City, Missouri I want you to know this: we are happy you are here. If you have questions, feel free to stop anyone on the street and they’ll be happy to help as best they can. You will be surprised by the urban sophistication you will find here. You’ll feel at home thanks to our small-town attitude. I encourage you to go eat some BBQ. Enjoy the symphony at the Kauffman Center. The finest art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. World-class shopping on the Country Club Plaza. The National WWI Museum. The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library. Live music, locally owned and produced beverages, and a unifying vibe that says, “welcome home.”
I hope you enjoy your stay. If I can be of assistance in any way, please contact me.
My hope is that when you get back to your home, you find yourself surprised at how well you enjoyed Kansas City. How it wasn’t the cow town you expected. A place big enough to be a legitimate city, yet small enough to be a hometown. I, along with all our citizens, want you to fall in love with KC just as we have, and we hope to see you again soon.