In their own words, Fair Wisconsin Leadership Award winners Kathy Flores & Ann Kendzierski of Appleton exemplify the power we each have to make a difference.
Editor’s Note: Kathy Flores has multiple sclerosis and is concerned that her partner Ann Kendzierski won’t be able to visit her in the hospital or be a part of her medical care should she ever become incapacitated. She testified at a budget hearing in support of Domestic Partnership rights, and the next day their neighborhood was leafleted by Pilgrims Covenant Church. Kathy turned this expression of hate into positive action by organizing her friends to come together and support Fair Wisconsin-and 16 of them donated! This is their story.
Ann and I have been dealing with health care issues for most of the three years we have been together. Four months after we started dating, I was diagnosed with an aneurysm and shortly thereafter multiple sclerosis was confirmed. For these issues we spent many days in and out of hospitals, with many tests and dealing with the general course of my disease of MS. Since the beginning, I had a living will in place and felt that this would cover Ann and me in a health care setting.
Recently, I had to go in for a fine needle biopsy of my thyroid. I have a particular fear around issues of my throat, so I looked into this office procedure and found that I can have my partner with me when it is performed. Having some anxiety around it already, this comforted me, knowing that Ann would be by my side. The day of the procedure, despite my efforts to calm myself, I was a wreck, and I needed my hand held. When the nurse came to get me for the procedure I told her that my partner, Ann, would be coming with us. She stated, “No, it’s better if she waits out here.” I followed the nurse, thinking that she was just taking me to get ready.
I brought my iPod with guided imagery along with me just in case.
Once in the room, as she started prepping me for the procedure, I started to feel very anxious and asked her to go get my partner. She stated, “No, your friend will be much more comfortable in the waiting room.” I told her that Ann is not my friend but my life partner and that I needed her in the room. She told me that it wasn’t a good idea. I really started to have some anxiety at this point, realizing that I wasn’t being heard, and I became more anxious. I told her to please check with the doctor about this. When the doctor came in, the nurse explained to him that I wanted my friend in the room with me. I once again explained that Ann is not my friend but my partner. I then went into an explanation about how I am a survivor of domestic violence, and I have a great fear of having him place his hands on my throat. After I threatened to cancel the procedure altogether, he agreed that Ann could come into the room with me. As I waited for Ann, I felt so small and vulnerable-and for the first time in a long time, I felt like my voice was small, too.
Because of this experience, I wrote to thank Governor Doyle for adding health-care protections for same-sex couples in the state budget. You may think a living will covers you, but it doesn’t include for visitation or having someone by your side. As a lesbian, I had no rights in that room. I realized on that table that if I tried to sit there and fight it, what legal rights do I even have? This Catholic hospital has the right to refuse my partner’s access to me.
I copied Fair Wisconsin on my letter to Governor Doyle, and they asked me to speak at the Joint Finance Committee meeting, which I did. I didn’t realize that my testimony would appear later that evening on television and local radio, but many friends and community members told me they saw/heard it. The next day, I drove home from work to find my entire block littered with what appeared to be political brochures. It was titled, “What the Bible Says about Homosexuality” by Ralph Ovadal and his hate group he calls a church. The pamphlet explains how gays and lesbians need to be re-criminalized (re-criminalized because apparently we are already criminals in the bible.) So, after asking around in other neighborhoods, I realized that it was just our neighborhood that had been targeted. I remembered how this happened years ago to a gay teen’s neighborhood after she spoke out about her school’s GSA.
I have worked with LGBT organizations and diversity organizations for years. I have done protests and called attention to hate spreaders like Ralph. However, my efforts seemed to have done nothing more than provide the groups more of a bully pulpit to spread their hate. So I drafted an email to friends and asked them to combat this hate with action. I asked them to send donations to Fair Wisconsin on behalf of Ralph’s work. We raised hundreds, and Fair Wisconsin raised even more online as a result.
We face family discrimination as well. My father is a Baptist preacher who does not approve of my relationship with Ann. I’ve always wondered what would happen if I was incapacitated and unable to make decisions. I have feared that he could come in and dismiss my wishes. Luckily I have three grown daughters who would honor my wishes, but that doesn’t mean that my father would not try to challenge my living will.
I know that my health issues make me seem like someone later in life but both Ann and I are only 42 years old! I was perfectly healthy a few years ago (or so I thought). I was bike riding, taking on the world, etc. I still take on the world as a domestic violence advocate, but I’ve had to make major adjustments to my lifestyle and schedule. The facts that I’m only 42 and that I was perfectly healthy not long ago have made me realize that life is too short to live without equal rights. I always thought, “Well, some day we’ll have equal protections.” I no longer have time for some day.”
Excerpted from the Fair Wisconsin Leadership Awards
A message from Fair Wisconsin’s Executive Director
It’s been an exciting year for LGBT equality. After the dark days following November 2006, who would have thought that we’d be on the verge of so much exciting progress? Last year, we honored our past board presidents, going back to 1994. We existed then and now only because of their work and your continued efforts as a donor and supporter.
We have much more to celebrate this year. Tonight, we honor those who have led our recent successes at the statewide and community levels.
You will soon see Wisconsin enact its strongest LGBT protections in 27 years, with hopefully more positive progress to follow. This would not be happening without tonight’s statewide leadership honorees, Governor Jim Doyle and State Representative Mark Pocan.
At the community level, our state’s second largest county enacted sweeping domestic partnership protections this year. Four Dane County officials made this happen: County Executive Kathleen Falk, County Board Chair Scott McDonell, and Supervisors Chuck Erickson and Kyle Richmond.
In Milwaukee, a bold billboard campaign educated millions about their gay neighbors thanks to the work of Cream City Foundation’s visionary
Executive Director Maria Cadenas. And in Appleton, a lesbian couple, Kathy Flores and Ann Kendzierski, educated their neighbors by testifying in favor of the domestic partnership provisions in the proposed budget and in the process, faced unexpected challenges and met them head-on.
We are honored to have Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin present tonight’s awards. She epitomizes leadership. As a junior state representative in 1994, she was the driving force in our founding. Today, she is the recognized national leader on our issues. Thank you for joining us tonight to celebrate our leaders. Their work makes recent advancements and those on the horizon possible.