Kansas City, Missouri – the home of bebop jazz and the self-proclaimed “Barbecue Capital of the World” – also has some of the most LGBTQ+-friendly laws in the country, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC). For the third consecutive year, HRC gave Kansas City a perfect 100 on its Municipal Equality Index, which measures LGBTQ+ equality in municipal laws, policies, and services. Residents have been working for LGBTQ+ equality for years and made major progress after the city’s LGBTQ Commission was created in 2020.
The commission’s current chair, a queer Black man named Justice Horn, was deeply involved in the fight to establish the commission and has spent much of the last year working to protect LGBTQ+ and trans rights across the region.
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Horn is young and charismatic, with an infectious laugh and a sense of humor that puts you at ease. He’s quick to praise other activists and organizers for their work and continuously highlights the role of the Kansas City community in making change possible.
Earlier this year, Kansas City became a sanctuary city for gender-affirming care, after passing a resolution saying officials would not enforce state laws targeting trans people. Horn says he wrote the resolution himself, though he couldn’t stop himself from reflecting the victory back to the community at large.
The idea came after a BIPOC and trans-led organization called Transformationsled a town hall. Horn tells LGBTQ Nation the event fueled him to look at ordinances from Minneapolis and Seattle to find the best way to protect trans and LGBTQ+ people in Kansas City. “Gender affirming care is health care access. It is life saving care access,” he explains. “It’s both health care access and not complying with state agencies to target trans folks and care providers.”
The sanctuary resolution went through the normal process and came up for a vote before the city council.
“The community came out, and I thank them for that,” Horn says. On the same day it passed, the county prosecutor issued a statement in support, saying she would “seek to protect [trans people]” rather than criminalize them. A few weeks later, the Kansas City Police Chief said in a statement that a state law restricting access to gender-affirming care was “outside the jurisdiction” of the KCPD, and they would not try to enforce it.
“I think a lot of credit comes to Councilwoman Bough or myself,” Horn says, referencing Councilwoman Andrea Bough, who introduced the resolution, “But if not for the sheer force of this community coming out – I think that’s why the dominoes fell. Because people pushed for this to happen. Without a doubt, it’s a victory. We have folks across the nation reaching out, asking how we did this.”
Leading with humility
In the last few months, Horn has spoken with officials in Lawrence, Kansas, which passed its own sanctuary ordinance over the summer; St. Louis, MO, where he says they are exploring their own sanctuary ordinance and creating a St. Louis LGBTQ+ Commission; and Springfield, MO, where they are trying to become an equality city under the Municipal Equality Index. He has also continued working with his own Kansas City government to pass a hate crimes ordinance.
“[Justice Horn] has single-handedly, I think, worked harder than anyone in City Hall on LGBTQ issues,” Merrique Jenson, a trans woman of color and activist in Kansas City, tells LGBTQ Nation. Jenson, the founder of Transformations, says she first worked with Horn approximately four years ago, and at first, she was not impressed.
“I always tell people, when I first met him, I didn’t like him,” she says. “You know, he was young and he was a go-getter. There’s a lot of younger activists who get in the work, and they just start barreling forward with what they think is needed and don’t take the time to ask what’s going on in the community or who has been doing the organizing, or what’s the history behind different issues,” she explains.
Jenson’s opinion started to change after Horn began to reveal his humility. It was after Kansas City had passed a resolution declaring it would recognize the Trans Day of Visibility for the first time, and she was slated to be the only trans activist to be honored that day. She wasn’t comfortable with that because she knew there were trans women and activists who had been doing the work for longer than she had. So she spoke to Horn about her worries.
“Justice said, ‘Yeah, I want to make sure, if this is the first time that the city is recognizing Trans Day of Visibility and trans activists, that we’re doing it right,’” she says. His openness to the conversation led her to broach another piece of the resolution.
“Somebody had actually put Justice’s name on the resolution, and I said “Hey, you know, I think you’re great. I don’t think your name has to be on this resolution recognizing trans people,” she tells us. “And Justice was like ‘Oh, yeah, I totally agree. Like, just take that off.’”
“You know, there was some humility involved,” she continues. “He leaned into it. You know, I’m a seasoned organizer. I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. I was very impressed to see him be willing to do that.”
That humility still shows up in Horn’s work today. At the start of the year, Jenson called Horn to talk about how the media was covering anti-trans legislation in Missouri. “I remember calling Justice and I was like, ‘I’m so sick of seeing, across the state, everyone who’s been interviewed, and who’s talking about trans rights, are cisgender people,’” she says. According to Jenson, Horn then started directing interview requests to trans women of color in the community. “He was de-centering himself out of those conversations,” she says.
Horn is keenly aware of the importance of letting oppressed groups speak for themselves. “I primarily identify as Black, although my dad is half Black and Indigenous. My mom is white and Polynesian,” he says. Horn looks up to his parents, who have been involved in his advocacy since the beginning. He also keeps a photo of Bayard Rustin, the Black gay civil rights activist and close ally of Martin Luther King Jr., in his office.
“I’m grateful I get to sit in so many communities because I don’t get bogged down on things,” he says. “My very existence as four ethnicities, being a young person and being LGBTQ – I fit in many groups. I like to build coalitions and consensus. I think the oppressor’s plan is to keep us divided, to keep us fighting over crumbs.”
An obligation to fight
Horn describes himself as a fighter, saying it’s a skill he learned as an NCAA wrestler. He says he is usually fighting “someone who is trying to take our rights, attack kiddos, or alienate trans people, or ban drag.” His first experience in advocacy was defending trans athletes while he was in college.
“I was actually competing in South Dakota when the state legislature – well before the current conversation – introduced a trans sports ban,” he recalls. “That was my first instance where I really made a decision. Do I just hunker down? Or do I watch out for other people who are queer, trans, who want to play sports at all levels, especially kids, and sympathize and advocate for them?” He decided to go to the state legislature and testify against the bill, and LGBTQ+ activists stopped it from passing.
The scene repeated itself this year when Horn went to the Missouri state legislature in January, where he testified, he explains, “as lead opposition expert for Missouri’s trans sports ban.” Somewhat ironically, he was honored by the Missouri House of Representatives for his work on human rights the following day. “They were fine with me being a gay man fighting for gay rights,” he laughed, “but God forbid I speak up for the trans folks and the trans kids and their right to make health care decisions.”
Horn says he fights for trans rights because he sees the parallels between the fight for trans equality and the historic fight for gay equality. “They’re using the same playbook against our trans brothers and sisters,” he explains. “They’re groomers, they shouldn’t be in our classrooms. They shouldn’t be around kids. What did they say about us [gay men] in the 90s?”
“I think as allies, especially as gay men and the LGBTQ community, we should be one of their strongest advocates. We’re part of their community.”
Horn doesn’t just direct interview requests to trans women of color. He makes sure the LGBTQ Commission is an effective tool for change. “One thing I can say is we don’t just do Pride flags around City Hall and crosswalks,” he says of the commission. “We advance policy. We expand visibility and we ensure that folks know that there are fighters for them. That they don’t ever have to suffer alone.”