Year: 2018

‘Ban conversion therapy Kentucky’ Executive Director’s call to action

For me the word queer is liberating. Growing up in Southern Indiana, where there was minimal support for LGBTQ people, I didn’t know what supportive LGBTQ spaces looked like.

Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I started coming into my queer identity and learning how my other identities influence the way I exist in various spaces. For myself, the queer community has given me purpose.

Being involved in activism and fighting for the queer community is a passion of mine.

I am heading a project to make conversion therapy illegal for minors in Kentucky. Hearing the horror stories from survivors of conversion therapy, we wanted to take action to show queer kids that someone is fighting for them. No one should have to experience this torture and should be able to be happy and celebrate who they are.

Though we have made significant strides as a community in the United States– our fight is far from over. In addition to the work we have ahead of us as a country, we as community have so much work to do.

I believe that Queer people and all people will never truly experience liberation until we as a community actively address the oppression that still exists in queer spaces.

We will not truly be a community until we fully support queer folks who are black and brown, undocumented queer folks, our queer folks with disabilities, queer folks of all body types, as well as many other identities that intersect with queerness.

I am excited for the progress that will come with future generations — it seems that today’s youth are more caring and unapologetic in their queer identities than ever before.

LYG Executive Director on Queer life and mental health

What does the word Queer mean to you? How do you identify?

I choose to identify as Queer because I find it to be the least restrictive label. For me, no matter who you are or what you do, we are called to be creative.  One of my least favorite words is normal. I want to live in a world where we celebrate and grow into our personality, strengths, and an understanding of our weaknesses. When we try to normalize something that’s different as a way to create tolerance or acceptance, we often just shift another “weirder” identity to the margins. The focus of discrimination and oppression directs its gaze toward another group.

Being queer is about more than who’s hand I hold, or who I kiss on New Years Eve. It’s about being disruptive to the “norm” and radically welcoming everyone to the table. Being queer means living into the fullness and possibility of me, and also understanding how that fits into and supports my community.

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I’m originally from Union County, Pennsylvania. It’s a small rural area in the geographic center of the state in the Allegheny Mountains that is similar to a lot of rural Kentucky.  I love my family, and I miss my home, but it wasn’t always the easiest place to grow up. I had a lot of amazing friends, but the culture in the region is resistant to all kinds of change. I lived as a guy who identified as male, loved soccer and the outdoors, and who was also actively involved in the arts. I also did well in school, and I was sensitive, and did my best to listen. I spent a lot of time in the school system being told (especially by my peers) that I was wrong for behaving certain ways or liking certain activities. I was often called “gay” as a slur. I didn’t feel shame about the label, but it created dissonance in my life. I missed a lot of school my sophomore year because I just didn’t want to deal with a specific group of guys who decided to target me for their taunting and teasing. It made me extra aware of other male identified friends who hid their sensitivity to avoid this experience, and it made me sad.

Fortunately, I was lucky to live in a community that is predominantly kind (even if my peers were not always), and to have a resource like Penn State University close by to generate access to resources and more progressive thinking. I was also gifted with a family, that while complicated at times, is unendingly supportive. As long as I wasn’t harming myself or others, I was encouraged to explore my own identity and to grow the interests and talents that fed my passion. I grew up in a working class family of farmers, truck drivers, furnace repair people and custodians.

I understand the value of hard work, and the joy of working with my hands, and I was also encouraged to create art, sing, dance, and play music.

My life has not been without difficulty or crisis, but I’ve never held much shame about who I am or the things and people I love. As an adult, I recognize the immense value of a foundation that allows me to let go of shame and live into every part of me.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

Don’t rush. Believe in your power. It’s ok to be confused or to not know. You don’t have to make a choice for anyone but yourself and it’s ok for that choice to be no choice at all as long as you’re content and love yourself. When I was a teenager, I wasn’t “manly” enough and so I was taunted and teased by my peers. When I joined the queer community, I was too masculine and I was rejected for passing or not fitting an expected mold. Everybody and every community makes mistakes. Don’t let their mistakes distract you and don’t let them convince you that your value exists in fitting a mold or choosing from the world’s narrow options. If you don’t see a path that you like, make your own. It will be harder, it will be scary, and sometimes it might even be sad and lonely. It will be worth the work.

Take healthy risks. It’s scary. You will fail. When you succeed it will be amazing. Either way, you’ll learn a lot and grow. A lot of the best things in my life are from the times I jumped into something even though logically it didn’t make sense. I’ve been hurt a few times too, but I’ve found a lot of joy in the scary bits.

There will be a lot of failure along the way, but you’ll find people and relationships that provide you with true joy and love. These people will not love you in spite of your weakness, but they’ll delight in the fullness of you. It won’t always be easy, and there will be sadness, and loss, and disagreements, but when you’re willing to work for a relationship or a community, and that person or group is willing to return that energy, you’ll create an unendingly supportive family. They’ll help you find pieces of yourself that may have never existed.

Ask for help. It was the hardest lesson I learned in my young adult life, and the most valuable. It is not weak to reach out to your community when you’re in need. When I was in my 20s, I lived out of my car for short period of time when I was in between housing and work (my mother doesn’t even know shhhh). During that time I was supported by some truly amazing friends who took turns hosting me at night so I didn’t have to sleep in my car. The memories of cold nights filled with good conversation, silliness and beer, and warm cuddles on the couch fill me with joy when the world is stingy with happiness. Those memories also help to strengthen courage and quiet fear. Fear is so often the emotion that leads us into darkness or hatred. We need those moments of light and joy to cast that fear away.

Seek out mental health care and lean into the work of that care. Talk about it with your therapist, with your friends, and with your family (chosen and birth). There is power in naming and in community.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I worry that we don’t live into a community of radical welcoming. As a group of people who know what it means to be alienated, hated, feared and attacked, my hope is that we would learn the value of acceptance, welcoming and a celebration of the weird and wonderful. However, we build our cliques, and archetypes and ask members of our community to “fit in” in the same ways the “normal world” asks us to conform to their relationship ideals and archetypes.

Despite our own oppression our community suffers from racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other forms of prejudice. Don’t assume because you’ve been oppressed in one way, that you understand the complexities of a full system of oppression.

I love the term “Queering the..” because to me it communicates a desire to disrupt the norm of that specific system. Whether it be history, art, community or just the norm in general, I want us to be a community that invites its members to do things differently.

What do you think would solve those issues?

One of the major foundations of my belief system is “All Are Welcome.” It sounds pretty, but it’s admittedly quite complicated. When you believe everyone is welcome at the table, it also means you have to believe in some level of a giving up. When you choose to come to the table, and radically welcome anyone into your community, it also means that everyone coming to that table has to leave something behind. Maybe it’s our prejudice, our sense of what is right and wrong, a belief in entitlement, our power, or a feeling of justice rooted in repayment or vengeance; we have to give up something to create space for everyone. There’s a lot of fear created by this process, and it requires a lot of trust and a willingness to make mistakes together. And maybe welcoming doesn’t hold the level of importance that I assign it to in my personal life.

Living with welcoming as a boundary creates a very grey space, and I don’t have answers to all of my questions on this topic. I had a theology teacher who taught me the metaphor of “monsters under the bed.” This is the understanding that no matter what stance or life philosophy we subscribe to, there’s a gap or weakness in that system.

In every choosing that we make, we’re choosing which monsters we can negotiate in our life.

I’m still learning what those are for me and the ways I try to live, and I’m lucky to have strong friendships to provide guidance and support in that learning.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

I’m not sure that I would even know what “mainstream” is in the queer community. I’m a white cis-gendered man. There’s a lot of privilege inherent in that identity and it certainly gets me a certain level of access that I’m not familiar with from the earlier part of my life. I’m always thinking about what it means to have that privilege and what responsibility is inherent in that experience. There’s a lot of nuance in that work, and I’m sure I’m making mistakes. I try to keep people in my life who can partner with me in that work and help me keep perspective. Even with those privileges, people don’t readily love the person at the table who wants to talk about giving up power and sharing it across the community, and that sometimes creates a feeling of exclusion. I still have the power of choice in that situation, and that’s a gift that many do not possess.

I will forever be that awkward guy, who’s not entirely certain if he’s good at the things he’s doing or just lucky. I do my best to lean into that awkwardness and delight in the parts of it that create the space for growth. When I find someone who also delights in that awkwardness, I know I’ve found something solid.  I spent a lot of my youth feeling excluded, and then I started investing in creating my chosen family. If being part of the “mainstream” of any community means excluding someone else, then I’d rather not belong.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)

I actually have a specific answer for that question: Wesley Forest Summer Camp in Pennsylvania. It’s where I went to camp for the few years that I was a camper and I’ve continued to volunteer there since I graduated. I served my 17th summer as volunteer staff this summer, and two summers ago I transitioned into a Dean’s role for my week of camp. WF is the first place I remember feeling empowered by my chosen community to be fully me. I could be quirky, awkward, funny, and sensitive and I was encouraged to explore all of those identities. I love the relationships that I’ve created in my time there, and some of the friends I have from my time at camp are where I feel most loved. I’ve been privileged to have a place invest so strongly in me and to be able to return that investment back to that community. I can’t imagine missing a week of camp.

In honor of complete honesty, I’ve been depressed recently and it’s made it hard to enjoy the places that give me rest and joy. I still practice and seek those spaces, and I connect with loved ones. That joy will return, and until it does, I have people to keep me accountable to the work that depression requires.

I have a family history of depression and bipolar disorder, along with a lifetime of crisis moments. I’ve had anxious periods throughout my entire life, but the past several years, my depression has become intense, and sometimes overwhelming, About two years ago, my anxiety moved form occasional, situation-specific anxiety, to a general state of anxiousness. This makes it incredibly hard for me to motivate or focus on anything, including the activities and experiences that typically bring me joy.

I know that some of this is circumstantial. I’ve just experienced a significant number of really difficult life events; Deaths of loved ones, loss of a relationship, distance from close friendships and family, economic stress, lack of a feeling of progress and some other difficulties sprinkled throughout. However, it’s been more difficult to come out of this state than when I’ve experienced hardships in the past. I’m by no means anti-social, but I find it almost impossible to socialize, having spent all of my energy completing the daily and weekly tasks that we all need to complete to survive.

I’m finding that it’s difficult to find a joy that used to always exist in the midst of the pain. My life has always been a mixture of crisis, and love, and while the crisis can be amazingly shitty at times, the ever-present created the ability to see Joy where most people miss that joy. What can be most frustrating about depression is that I still see that Joy; I’m just not sure how to access it for myself at the moment. I feel fractured, like the pieces and people of my life aren’t coming together in the ways that I need at the moment and I don’t have direction to figure out how to fix my own brokenness. My inability to make decisions is exponentially worse with depression (I was never very good at it to begin). A lot of my depression is rooted in my lack of success — scratch that — success isn’t the right word…Lack of growth; progression in my life. I’ve been very intentional throughout my life with my relationships, and work, and I still feel very stagnant. This makes it incredibly difficult to trust that I can make decisions.

I’m starting my own therapy back up in January and I want to work on discovering authenticates within my anxiety and identifying causes. This identification would help me start determining what I can filter out of my life and focus on the parts that that create joy.

Joy requires work. Don’t be afraid to do that work, and learn and develop the skills that help you identify when someone or something is worth the effort and when it’s best to walk away. Then learn how to end well. I intentionally use joy when I speak here because I think it’s different than happiness. Happiness is wonderful, and it is fleeting.

Joy sinks it’s heels in and weathers the storms. The more we can find joy, the sturdier we can build our foundations.

I’m also going discuss in therapy if medication might be necessary. Our bodies are amazing, and often out of our control. Sometimes we need support regulating that chemistry.

Who influenced the life you live now?

I’ve had so many valuable people and communities and that is the true wonder of my life. When you have those people, whether it be 1 or 100, they can make the heaviest loads a bit lighter, and the joy much sweeter. These relationships don’t happen by accident. You must be intentional with your love, your trust, your truth. Relationships are full of happiness, and hope and strength, and they’re also work. Find the people who will do that work with you, and your life will be fuller for the effort.

Feminist Friday: The Appalshop Part 1

 by Jordan Roach

Tucked back in Whitesburg, Ky., there is a large unassuming, wood clad, building holding a treasure trove of resources, history and culture.  The Appalshop, while it’s been a constant staple of Eastern Kentucky’s culture for nearly 50 years, there is a big chance many people haven’t heard about it.

If you are looking for an expressive hub of mountain Kentucky culture, I’d have to say this is where you’ll find it. They host events, have a radio station with many diverse shows, camps, readings, archives and workshops. You want DIY? This is the spot. The first time I found out about Appalshop was at Pikeville’s Pride. They sent up a booth and I learned about some of their histories and filled out a survey on a safe space they are creating. The next week I was at a reading of “Biscuits and Blisters,” written and read by Misty Skaggs. Afterward, I talked to her mom, who gave me earrings and told me stories about the quilt that covered their table, her artistic inspirations, and traveling to readings with her daughter. On Friday, Nov. 9, I went to see a show put on by the Girls Rock Camp benefit, supporting both the camp and All Access EKY.

Girls Rock Camp is for girls and gender variant youth who want to play music. Having gone to a similar camp in Ohio when I was a preteen, Girls Rock had a special place in my heart. This is the third year of Girls Rock Camp (hosted by Appalshop’s radio station WMMT), and this year they teamed up All Access EKY. All Access EKY is an organization focused on informing and finding birth control resources for anyone who needs either in this region. The bands Slutpill (a local band), Slugpit (a band formed during the camp), and Hedonista (from North Carolina, but with members from the area) performed. During this benefit All Access EKY was providing information on various birth control options, and also had created interlude videos for between sets detailing information on sexual health specifically as it pertained to Kentucky. What was particularly nice is this was an all ages event. There were families supporting their younger family members playing music, and families with kids dancing in the aisles to loud punk music about the necessity of safe access to abortions. There is something very comforting about the normalization of both queer culture and discussions on safe sex in rural Appalachian Kentucky.

I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to so many wonderful people who have come together to create what feels like to me, a very organic Queer space. This includes the director of WMMT and one of their staff who hosts a radio show. Really, I felt both quite blessed and comfortable in this space, which is one of the first places I’ve discovered out here in Eastern Kentucky that makes me feel that way. I’ve named this Appalshop part 1 because it is my hope to go back and speak with the people who know this place best and learn about the Appalshop’s 50 years of cultural influence in this region.

To me, it feels like this place has always been this way, but I know many people have put in the footwork to create this rural Queer space and it is in my plans to explore further what came into play to make Appalshop what it is today. This won’t be the last y’all hear about Appalshop, and if you have time, definitely check out the work they do.

Gay Gratitude, reflection on addiction and coming out

I would’ve loved the word “Queer” over the other words used to describe me when I was growing up.

It was not an acceptable thing in the 90’s to be gay in Louisville, Ky. I was sick, depressed, and full of fear my whole life.

I knew I was attracted to men as far as I can remember. My earliest memory was when I was four. I had a crush and it was not a woman. Paralyzed by fear I hid side by side with a girlfriend thinking I was fooling folks. What I didn’t know is that you’d have to be deaf or blind NOT to know and thats even questionable. I’ve always be an effeminate male and it brought discrimination, hate and cruelty from a lot of people.

My brother had my back my whole life and I’m so grateful for him. My Uncle Kenny and David accepted me even though they knew I was not like other people. So the word “Queer” and its definition may ring true. I refer to myself as Two-spirited and in the Native American culture it is a gift to walk this path. I’m at peace with who I am and I’m not any better or worse than any other creature walking our earth.

My Gay “Bible” if you will is called “The Velvet Rage” Overcoming the Pain of Growing up Gay in a Straight Mans World by Alan Downs Ph. d.

This book had a major impact on my life. It was written in 2008 & I came out in 1996. I say that to say this:

I spent twelve years of my life drowning myself in drugs and alcohol. I was drinking and drugging just so I could accept myself and it didn’t work. Coming up for air while living in New York City, I found a community of men just like me. These men loved me until I learned to accept myself. I learned to walk with confidence, self esteem and acceptance. I knew that not everyone agreed with my lifestyle but there is nothing I can do to change who I am. I would not have chosen a life of discrimination, hate, and a hell of a gay bashing in my twenties — It was time to tie up my boot straps and walk into the person that creator intended me to be.

I want anyone coming up in our community to know that you are the only you! You need to know that “YOU MATTER” and you are the only person that can serve the purpose you were brought here to do. Take risks, jump with no net, walk in faith not fear, and don’t get stuck in the box of “I can’t” — that only leads to could have, would have, and should have.

I’d like to share this poem by Marianne Williamson one of the best spiritualist of our time:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

I don’t speak on behalf of our whole community. I’ve learned that starts discussions, opinions and controversies. I can talk about my own experience and I struggled with something for years. I had internal homophobia for years, and I was afraid of my own people. This kept me feeling separate, different and alone within my own community.

I was harder on my own kind and myself. It didn’t matter what others were saying because I was opinionated, stuck in being right and political on what I thought. What I know today is we love each other where we’re at. Everyone deserves their process because that process creates magnificent human beings into voices for the ones that are coming up behind them. Shared experience and loads of hope create more and more pathways to standing together for what matters most and thats rights for everyone not a separation based on sexuality.

#unstoppable

Queer Kentucky sent two youth mentors from the Louisville, Kentucky community to the Baptiste Foundation’s #unstoppable program.

This is a training for anyone who works with youth – school teachers, school counselors, aides, coaches, community center employees, police officers, etc. Our participants learned through personal experience, a set of tools to teach basic yoga poses, breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques to youth as a part of how they already work with them. The training will also gave an introduction as to why and how these tools can help people who have experienced trauma. Our participants were given valuable tools that taught them how to care for themselves first so they can more effectively serve others.

Jefferson County Public School teacher Trina Helson works as the adviser to the LGBTQ+/alliance student group at Eastern High School and participated in the training. Also, Chris Wilson, diversity and outreach coordinator for Louisville Youth Group attended. Both participants filled out an application through Queer Kentucky and were selected based on their interaction with LGBTQ+ youth.

This training covered how yoga, meditation and self inquiry are powerful tools for self care, but also through personal experience, how it can be shared with others.

We thank 502 Power Yoga and the Baptiste Foundation for offering an inclusive space for education and self-growth.

*The Baptiste Foundation is a 501c3 non-profit organization contributing to individuals and communities in need by sharing the powerful tools and techniques of Baptiste Yoga. The Baptiste Foundation exists to bring yoga and educational programs to empower and inspire communities across the planet.

Gender, color, sexuality

Jerika Jones, Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

I think Queer means living a life that is otherwise considered different from mainstream and also heteronormative lifestyle. I choose words carefully because gay lifestyles are becoming more “mainstream,” but often tend to fall into heteronormative ideas and I’m reluctant to call all gay life Queer. But that’s an argument for another day. I don’t really identify as Queer per say. But I don’t think it would be wrong for someone to call me Queer. I definitely identify with being at least sexually fluid. But I identify more with a cis gendered feminine life style more than anything else.

Where are you originally from?

I did not grow up in Kentucky, but I do think that I spent important years here. I was mostly a teenager in Kentucky. When I moved to Kentucky, I became aware of what my skin tone really means. I never knew the gravity of being a black girl until I came to Kentucky and had people call me a nigger and threaten me because of my race.

How do you understand Ideas of gender

I have an interesting stance on Gender. I really never knew how much of a fluid idea i had of cis femininity until I went to college. I remember having the hardest time understanding what cis gender meant in relation to what I was reading because I never understood femininity to mean docile, submissive, emotional attentive etc.

I have only been around black women who provided for my family when the men couldn’t, being the pillar of strength when no one else would, speaking up when others were silent, and being the voice of authority. All of these things I have come to learn are associated with masculinity. This is the narrative for black women. In a lot of ways, I have learned that being a cis gendered black woman meant being somewhat masculine. But given my experience growing up in a Black family it is a no brainier that I would be confused.

But with that said, I have made some POC, GNC and Trans friends, and I have come to learn more of the nuances of gender that way.

And I have learned that even though I have a fluid sense of gender because of my race, my identity as a black cisgendered woman is still the normal of abnormal femininity. Gender is far more intricate of a thing than I can even understand because I don’t have the first-hand experience to know. So, I have come to understand the tricky bits of gender by being friends with people who are more oppressed than I am, who rely on my voice as a cis aligned black female to elevate theirs.

This doesn’t give a clear-cut answer to “how do you understand gender and what does it mean to you” nor does it give a sufficient answer to “how do you see your identity ” because to give a clear cut answer does a disservice to experiences that I can imagine that by siblings in race experience.

I have also come to understand gender by watching people react to my own gender performance. I kinda present tomboy but very feminine at the end of the day. I think people readily ascribe Queer to me because I don’t really perform high femme. But I’m definitely femme. And usually, it’s Queer folks that incorrectly gender me. They tend to either make me into more Queer than I actually am or not recognize being just sexually Queer as legitimately queer. It’s like people want to see a particular type of Queer performance. For me my Queerness come in a form that’s largely unseen, which is my sexuality.

Now that I think about this question more – I actually think this is the best way to demonstrate my cis privilege. Because at any time I can perform more high femme it wouldn’t make me feel a type of way at all but I want to be more tomboy-ish because I’m lazy — not because I truly identify as androgynous.

Do you feel excluded from the queer community

No, I do not feel excluded from mainstream Queer community because it is people like me who are creating the caricature of it. The actual Queer community looks different from what mainstream media would say it does. And while I don’t feel excluded from it, I am very aware of my role in relation to other people who can only find community within the queer community. At any time, I can go into non-queer communities and be OK.  And I have to be mindful of that.

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