By: Mark Thomas
Photo Credit: Landon Vonderschmidt
"You don't know what one little statement can do to change a life."
Starzette Palmer is a Victim Advocate for the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. The KCAVP is a nonprofit advocacy organization providing services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and hate crimes within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
While the KCAVP has been in existence since 2004, it has only recently opened up a public presence. With a home base in Kansas City, and serving a four state region (Missouri, Kansas, Iowa and Nebraska), the organization helps victims find shelter and navigate the legal system.
Starzette notes the unique aspect of KCAVP, "A lot of people ask, As a gay man, where do you go if you're a victim of domestic violence. Most of the shelters are not inclusive of men or transgendered." Many clients are referred by other shelters that primarily serve hetero women.
Since opening a new office space in Westport in January, the Project has continued to expand programs to include youth outreach and education. The staff of seven (plus 3 interns) offers technical training regarding LGBTQ issues to high schools, colleges and law enforcement.
Even with Federal dollars, the organization regularly supplements fundraising locally to keep a food and clothing pantry stocked. The staff did the majority of the labor and set up of the comfortable and well decorated office.
Palmer has been with the Project for a little over a year, having initially reached out after losing a close friend to violence. It turned out that joining the KCAVP was a perfect fit; she had been a community advocate as an individual for some time, "Something that I loved to do, I was doing the work already, assisting people."
Starzette is a co-founder of OurThentic a company that has produced a number of local events primarily for lesbians of color. "You know, it was the three strikes of being black, woman and gay," she states. "All my life I looked at things and said, they don't want us...I'll create our own."
A conversation with a Mid-America Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce board member regarding the need to be more inclusive led to her become a Chamber Ambassador, " I was just wailing into him about needs. He replied he'd love to take me out for coffee, and you tell me what your issues are. He said the darndest thing to me. There are two ways to approach things... you can be at the table and be part of the solution or you can continue advocating from outside. He offered me the opportunity to come on board as an ambassador." She continues with a smile, "I took him up on his offer. And am excited about soliciting new members. Let's get some lesbians, let's get some people of color".
Starzette's enthusiasm is contagious. "I love the chambers outlook! I feel liberated coming to work! In five years Kansas City won't be the same!"
She also hints on several big announcements in the near future for KCAVP as more programs are added to this essential organization.