LGBTQ t-shirt quilt represents all 50 states

Karen Hendricks created a T-shirt quilt made of Pride or equality shirts from every state in the nation. Photo by Mary Bishop-Baldwin.

by Sharon Bishop-Baldwin
Guest Contributor

A patchwork quilt of marriage laws long frustrated the LGBT+ community. Ironically, the national marriage equality victory ultimately played a role in leading a woman from Claremore, Oklahoma to create a beautiful patchwork quilt dedicated to equality.

Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) will dedicate that quilt December 16 at its annual Falala Ball.

Karen Hendricks had sewn her whole life, but she put the hobby away as life got hectic. Several years ago, at the urging of her doctor, she returned to it for stress relief. She began making embroidered tea towel sets – first for friends, then for causes such as the United Way drive where she works, Centrilift/Baker Hughes and for OkEq.

One set of tea towels commemorating the marriage equality fight was a silent auction item at OkEq’s Equality Gala in April 2016. Hendricks realized then she wanted to do something bigger and she had some experience to fall back on.

More than two decades earlier, she had started a T-shirt quilt for a friend made up of the friend’s softball jerseys. Before the quilt was finished, the friend moved away. Hendricks lost touch with her, and the quilt was put aside.

Hendricks decided to make a quilt from Pride and equality T-shirts from every state. “I wanted a shirt from one of their organizations that was like ours,” the longtime OkEq supporter said.

Some people said she shouldn’t set her sights so high. But “all anyone needs to tell me is ‘You can’t do it,’ and then you can just stand back and watch,” she said.

She knew she needed a strong start and a deadline. Hendricks, whose birthday is August 2, took off work the first week in August 2016 and spent 10 hours each day tracking down an equality center or Pride organization in each state and reaching out to request T-shirts.

The project nearly went international by mistake. Hendricks was looking online for a contact in New Hampshire when she found information for an equality center in Manchester. After a couple of emails and phone calls, a deal was in place for the shirt to be sent.

Suddenly Hendricks told the contact, “Your address sure is funny.” It was soon obvious that Hendricks’ contact was in Manchester, England. The person wanted to send the shirt anyway, but Hendricks politely refused, saying she had room for only the 50 U.S. states.

The quilt has a total of 54 shirts: six across by nine down. The four corner shirts are the same – the 2016 Equality Gala T-shirt bearing the words “The Revolution Continues,” the theme meant to symbolize that the marriage equality fight wasn’t the LGBTQ community’s last hurdle.

Nine shirts – including one from Nebraska with a stalk of rainbow-colored corn and the words “Corn this way” – were gathered by Stewart Wallace, a vendor who travels to Pride events across the country. In exchange, Hendricks made him cookies to enjoy during his travels.

Hendricks vowed to be done collecting shirts by the end of December 2016. Her original plan was to submit the quilt to OkEq as a silent auction item for the 2017 Equality Gala in April, so that would leave her only three months to put it together. The last shirt – one from Ohio – arrived Dec. 28.

By March, Hendricks had the front of the quilt completed. She showed it to OkEq Executive Director Toby Jenkins, who wanted the quilt in the Equality Center, not auctioned off to the highest bidder.

On November 11, the quilt was completed. Hendricks told Jenkins the news, and he said it should be dedicated at the Falala Ball.

Jenkins said of the quilt, on which various shirts pay homage to Harvey Milk and Stonewall, “I want it here in the center, where our people can look at it and learn from it about our history and struggles.”

Hendricks is happy with the plan, too.

“It’ll be an honor to have something I’ve made hanging there,” she said. “I don’t have enough money to be a big donor, so I feel like I’ve contributed.”

Many t-shirt contributors told Hendricks they want a picture of the finished product. Several said they would love for someone to make such a quilt for them, but Hendricks isn’t interested.

“I don’t think I’ve ever made anything and sold it,” she said. “I like to make stuff and give it away.”

The 10th Annual Falala Ball, benefitting OkEq will be 7-11 p.m. Saturday, December 16 at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center, 621 E. Fourth St., Tulsa. Admission is a donation of canned food, toiletries, dog or cat food for partnering agencies.

Copyright The Gayly – December 6, 2017 @ 10:15 a.m. CST.