On Friday, June 28, GRLwood released “I Hate My Mom,” an angsty song about hating life as a teenager. Bandmates Karen Ledford and Rej Forester are natives of the Bluegrass and Queer Kentucky caught up with them today.
Q: Where are y’all you from?
A: Rae is from Louisville, and Karen is from Hardin County.
Q: How has being in Kentucky influenced your music and persona?
A: We could say one million things as a response to this question. Kentucky has a very strong southern culture aspect to it, and it molds everything about how we communicate especially being queer in the Bible belt. Our music is a direct reflection of our experiences growing up in this area, so I would say Kentucky influences everything for GRLwood.
Q: When and how did your band start? And has it been a struggle at all?
A: As a two-piece, we began in August 2017. Working with somebody as close as we work with each other has its ups and downs, however it has been a great pleasure creating together. We get along really well and make one hell of a team.
Q: How do you feel about performing at Kentuckiana Pride?
A: Performing at pride was very surreal. We feel very honored to be a part of such an incredible opportunity. That was the first pride either of us had seen people moshing, so we felt very well received and supported. We love queer Louisville.
Q: How are you furthering the Queer community?
A: This is a very complex question. Our music is a diary of growing up in Kentucky as queer persons and that gives platform for other people to relate and create discussion, which in turn creates community.
Q:What is your favorite part about what you do?
A: Playing music with eachother and connecting with people in the crowd. But mostly being best friends and working together.
Q: What does the word queer mean to you?
A: It is a safe all encompassing term which allows us our queer identities and maintains privacy.
Q: What does the word feminist mean to you?
A: A person who believes in the equality of all people regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, class and disability.
Q: What is the importance of Queer artists?
A: Representation really really really matters. People need to know they aren’t alone.
Q: Who/what Influenced your work?
A: Our experience of growing up in this climate in Kentucky influences everything we do. Everything around us is constantly influencing us. Same for you.
Knocked back, bones rattled, fear webbed out in my gut. Muscle memory took me back ten years.
The word spit at me in the locker room before soccer practice, yelled at me by boys in my neighborhood, breathed down my neck by the player I guarded in middle school basketball. It was a poison, a parasite, an image of myself I ran from for twenty years and parts of which I am secretly still running from.
I grew up gay in the Christian south, in Appalachia, in a culture where masculinity was strong, rugged, calloused and emotionless. Exclusively. This view carried over into the church. Every Wednesday while I led worship in youth group, men from the congregation met for a class called “Man Up” about being the godly authorities they were commanded to be.
This map shows Appalachia. The pink heart is home.
“Our culture is attacking what it means to be a man,” the pastor said from the pulpit. “We have to take that back.”
The ad printed and hung on an easel in the foyer each week showed a black-and-white photo of a man’s flexed back. Entering church each Sunday, I was reminded of my sinfulness: my stomach bottomed out when I saw that picture. I liked those muscles. I was an abomination.
In church and school I was taught to “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” My whole life I went to a private, nondenominational Christian school. Five days a week we had Bible class. I remember a lesson in 8th grade in which my teacher compared queer people to pedophiles. “If homosexuals can say they were born that way, so can a child sex offender,” he said.
Church and school were my only social circles. Since I went to a Christian school, this meant I was taught about god six days a week. Even in poor eastern Kentucky, privileged parents would pay a hefty price to send their kids to Christian school. These parents, including my own, wanted their kids taught Christian values and protected from a threatening secular worldview invasive in our culture through academia, politics and media.
In my rural, Christian bubble, homophobia was rampant. I was called a fag for liking volleyball, for the clothes I wore, for the way I spoke and walked, for liking music and theater and for writing. I cannot decipher to what extent my interests were innate and to what extent they were products of homophobia itself — my attempts to find environments where masculine predators were absent.
I first downloaded gay apps when I was sixteen. My first crushes were on boys I met on Tumblr from other states and countries. With no prospect of actually meeting them, I fully dove into the fantasies of being with them, exchanging regular photos and messages.
My first date with a guy was at the local mall in 10th grade when I dragged one of my best girl friends and the only liberal in my high school along with me to meet a boy from a different school who had messaged me on Facebook. The rumors about my sexuality obviously reached further than just my social circle.
He was too feminine. Convinced being with someone like him would out me, I never saw him again. Years later and much more comfortable with myself, returning to Somerset to visit family, I found him on Grindr. “I’m much more masc now,” he bragged.
Despite all of this, I denied my sexuality until I was twenty. I pursued girls and had girlfriends. I understood my feelings for men to be deviant and shameful — something I should deny and squelch.
The spring semester of my sophomore year of college I studied in Berlin. Distanced for the first time from home and culture, I allowed myself to try on gayness for the first time. I went on dates. I told my new friends I was gay. I knew then I would never try dating women again. Interestingly, at the same time I was embracing my sexuality for the first time, I started loving where I was from, even though I grew up convinced I was different than everyone else there.
Shortly after my return from Germany I came out to my parents. In dramatic fashion, the three of us seated around our kitchen table, I told them I was gay. Their response was simple and has not changed: “You’re not,” my mom said curtly. “You’re confused.”
City Hall in Saarbruecken, Germany, where I lived in 2017 when the country legalized gay marriage.
That night as I sat in the bathroom mulling over the traumatic events of the night I listened to my mother and father talk downstairs. “Should we cut him off? Stop paying his car insurance and his cell phone bill?” my mother asked.
“No, Annie. We can’t do that,” my dad answered.
That moment pulses like an electric wire in my head, coming back to me occasionally uninvited and unannounced. How different things could have been had that question lingered in the air longer, had my father answered differently.
I love my family and my hometown, but because I am gay I am exiled from them. I would not be welcomed by many in the community or in many workplaces. Since there is no law protecting LGBT people from workplace discrimination, I could even be fired for it. Since I am single, finding a partner would be incredibly difficult. The mental and emotional stress of being surrounded by people who deny my existence and scoff when I am being my most true self would make me miserable.
In some ways I am lucky. I still have a relationship with all of my family. My mother and I talk every morning. My father writes me letters inside Christmas cards mailed to his mattress store months ago, and we chat on the phone. But beneath the surface are underlying tensions that sometimes rip to the surface and push us apart for a time.
Recently, on a day I was home sick from work, my mom called to tell me about a dream she had the night before. In it she saw an older gay man kiss me, opening his mouth so wide that my entire head fit in it, replacing the head of her son with his unrecognizable, distorted, sideways face.
“I was yelling ‘What happened to my son?!’” she said. “Where is my son?!”
This is how she feels about me. That I have lost my way. That I am completely different than I was before I came out.
Events like these happen often with my mother. When she visited New York and found out the volleyball league I am in is a gay league, when my sister showed her a photo of me in makeup, when visiting her and she caught me looking at a shirtless man on instagram.
My first gay volleyball team; my first vibrant gay community.
These moments are not isolated. They are strung together tightly, an undercurrent rushing beneath every laugh we share and sweet word we exchange. Beneath our love for one another is the knowledge that I am something that hurts her deeply — that she will never accept the fullness of who I am, will never acknowledge that pivotal, intimate part of me as anything other than a sinful misunderstanding that I wrongfully decided was my identity.
“Disgusting” and an “abomination” are the words my mother most often uses when describing me and this vital part of my identity. When I have tried arguing with her about why I do not believe being gay is wrong, attempting to show her scholarship refuting traditional interpretations of the Bible verses she uses to justify her fears and hatred, she refuses to even look at my sources. Fully convinced she is right and that nothing can change her mind, the conversation is left with nowhere to go. From a majority of Christians this is the same attitude I have encountered.
The same goes for most of my immediate family: my sisters, my nieces, aunts, uncles, cousins. We love each other. That is understood. But we do not talk about my being gay. They do not support this. The politicians they elect create laws and policies that make life more difficult for me.
I recognize things will get worse. The day will certainly come when I want to be home for Christmas or Thanksgiving with my boyfriend or husband, and that will not be possible. I do not know what will happen then.
One Sunday while living in Chicago I tried going to an open-and-affirming church. In an indie theater I worshipped besides queer and trans folk. The pastor invited me to coffee that week. “I am so sorry for the way the church has treated you,” she said to me while we chatted in a café. “The church has denied itself all the contributions of the LGBT community.”
Being fabulous at Chicago Pride. Clock the eyeshadow.
I thought back to my times leading worship in high school. Perhaps I could have continued this had I not felt unwelcome.
It is time the church recognizes that its stance toward homosexuality is not commanded by God. The “Christian” stance toward homosexuality is based in culture and fear, not in the Bible, which is merely used as a justification for many Christians’ culturally-imparted disdain, misunderstanding and fear of queer and trans people.
For centuries, the church’s stance on homosexuality has sank its fangs into the way we see queer people. The church is directly to blame for tearing apart the families of queer people and for the deaths of members of the LGBT community: the lives lost to suicides and addictions, homelessness, severe depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.
Responding to a Facebook status I created in June 2018 about the bullying I endured in school, a former teacher of mine who was also a pastor messaged me. “I am so sorry,” he wrote. “If I had known that was going on, I would have done something.”
But what would you have done? It was your religion and your leadership that cultivated the hatred and fear of me that my peers expressed. It was your Bible that they used to justify their actions. It was the culture you created in the hallways of that school, in the locker rooms and bathrooms, in your classroom, even, in your textbooks and assignments, that allowed their cruelty to thrive and blossom. Your indifference toward this hatred, your denial that sexual orientations other than heterosexual even existed, your ignorance of queer people and how they lived, your prudishness toward sex in general, the blind back you turned when you heard a student say “That’s gay” as a pejorative — these actions condoned my predators and encouraged their actions.
This Pride season I reflect back on the long, painful journey that has led to me where I am: from Christian eastern Kentucky to Germany to Chicago and now to New York. To me, Pride contains all of that story.
Unabashedly and irrevocably, I am an Eastern Kentuckian, an Appalachian and a Southerner. I carry these identities in my blood and on my tongue: “Howdy,” I like to start emails; “Tschüss, ya’ll,” I say to my German coworkers when I leave for the day.
I often think about the subtle ways that falling asleep each night to the sound of beagles barking and cicadas singing — waking to the smell of switchgrass and little bluestem, the sun rising over the rolling foothills of the Appalachians, barely another home in sight — affected me and made me different from my friends who grew up in suburbs and cities. That will always be who I am and where I am from, and I trust that one day I will return someplace close to there.
This is not much different from my sexuality. Reflecting back on my boyhood, I recognize I am different now. Now, without shame and as unchangeable as where I am from, I embrace my queerness. I wear it in the gait of my hips, the flick of my wrist and the lilt of my voice.
This weekend, wearing a rainbow button-up, daisy dukes and a rhinestone belt, I will celebrate Pride in New York in 2019, the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots where queer and trans people of color paved the way for my own more subtle liberation: the recognition that being who I am and from where I am from are not discrepancies, but interwoven identities, tangled tightly together like strands of DNA or the tributaries of the Cumberland River.
Like the cicadas of my boyhood or a church choir, my voice rises, joining the thousands of queer folk surrounding me, becoming a chorus. “Happy Pride, Ya’ll,” I sing.
PADUCAH – Many small rural communities are creating safe spaces and pride events for their communities. Western Kentucky activists with OUT Paducah are leading this movement and were asked to be the guest of honor for a large Pride event.
On June 29, Smedley Yeiser is hosting Pride Riot, a one night only pop-up venue to honor 50 years of pride since the Stonewall riots. OUT Paducah is the guest of honor for the event.
It’s also to celebrate where Paducah is now, where it’s been, and where it’s going with LGBTQ+ Pride, said Pride Riot event coordinator Jeremy Byassee.
“With political, religious and moral debates, especially here in the Bible Belt, I don’t think there’s any other way to get fairness and equality without coming together despite those issues with diversity,” Byassee said. “I genuinely feel everyone is seeking support from one another with that common goal of tolerance and freedom.”
The mission of OUT Paducah is to provide an accepting environment to enhance the personal growth of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth in McCracken County. OUT Paducah advocates for community awareness and acceptance of young people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Through outreach, OUT Paducah, service providers learn about and increase their sensitivity to the needs of sexual minority youth. OUT Paducah provides LGBTQ youth with positive role models. It promotes their self-esteem and the integration of these youth into the larger community. OUT Paducah assists families with resources and referrals.
“There will be a stage set up with 12 various entertainers, plus me, your host,” he said.
There will be Pride Drag King and Queen of Southern Illinois, and the rest are all local queens, belly dancers, a few burlesque artists and a fire breathing act!
“My event, PRIDE RIOT, has had very little backlash,” Byassee said. “And it doesn’t faze me a bit. It’s beyond humbling for me to have an outweighing amount of support. When I was 21, I know things would have been a lot different if I could go to space to see or maybe even perform in a drag show”
After show party will include dancing and karaoke! The show cover is $10 and the entire event is for 21 and over.
HENDERSON — With a vote of three to two tonight, the Western Kentucky town of Henderson, population 28,657, became the eleventh city in the state to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations. ,
A press release from the Fairness Campaign said that tonight’s Fairness Ordinance vote comes 20 years after the Henderson City Commission originally passed a Fairness Ordinance, which made it only the third Kentucky city in 1999 with LGBTQ protections alongside Louisville and Lexington.
In 2001, a new Henderson City Commission repealed the ordinance and did not consider it again until former Mayor Joan Hoffman brought the issue back up to commission last fall.
Many cities in Kentucky still don’t have laws protecting LGBTQ+ citizens. Earlier this month Queer Kentucky reported on Taylor County officials and conservatives protesting against a Pride Panel that took place at the Taylor County Library.
“Tonight’s historic vote for Fairness in Henderson should give hope to every LGBTQ Kentuckian that fairness can come home for them too,” said Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign. “Even after Henderson repealed their original Fairness Ordinance, the issue never died here, and tonight is concrete proof that persistence pays off.”
Mayor Pro Tem Brad Staton, Commissioner X.R. Royster, and Commissioner Austin P. Vowels cast votes for the ordinance, while Mayor Steve Austin and Commissioner Patti Bugg voted against it.
Last month, nearly 100 Henderson residents attended a city-moderated town hall on the Fairness Ordinance, with most in attendance speaking in favor of the ordinance.
Ten other Kentucky cities have adopted local Fairness Ordinances, covering just over a quarter of the state’s population–Louisville (1999), Lexington (1999), Covington (2003), Vicco (2013), Frankfort (2013), Morehead (2013), Danville (2014), Midway (2015), Paducah (2018), and Maysville (2018). Statewide Fairness Laws are annually introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly, but have never received votes in nearly 20 years. This year, nearly a quarter of state legislators co-sponsored the laws.
What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?
The word queer means to me any form.
To be honest I just found out about what the word queer meant when I moved to NYC, to me I associate the word queer with anything that has to do with being gay and extra. Identify as lesbian female.
Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?
I identity as lesbian because I only like females but I don’t really care too much for labels because I feel like they do more dividing than bringing people together. There are too many labels out there to keep up with when we are all the human race.
Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?
I am a pretty random mixed. I was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky (so was my father) but my mother is from Cali Colombia. Ever since my baby years I have been raised in Louisville. Growing up for me in Kentucky was both good because its a part of who I am but I also struggled finding my place and people who really accepted me due to me being a mixed girl and getting “found out” instead of coming out when I was just in 7th grade. Some nights I would even get threatened by men because I’m a lesbian. That died down once I learned how to defend myself.
What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
I would say live for yourself because we tend to waste so much time trying to conform to society and what other people want that we forget what we really want to do and we only have one life. Once you own your shit to the fullest, cant nobody make you feel ashamed of it!
Find people who are living their truth and surround yourself around good loving people you aspire to be so even when times are tough you will never feel alone.
How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
My identity ties into apart of who I am — they go hand and hand. Especially the gay part of me. I can be very extra and I like everything over the top like a Beyoncé performance! I also tend to be very careful of who I do business with because if someone can’t respect my race or my sexuality I don’t need to be working with them, that’s what I call bad business.
What issues do you see in the queer community?
I honestly see a lot of colorism issues in the LGBTQ community, the community tends to be owned by white people and controlled even though people of color are the ones who started the gay rights stonewall movement. And it tends to be mostly gay white men who treat other black and brown people poorly in our communities. A lot of our LBGTQ night life places will only cater to more of the white side of entertainment and us black and brown people tend to feel left out…like we don’t belong
What do you think would solve those issues?
What I think will help these issues is more education to our white brothers and sisters to change their way of viewing and treating anybody else who is a different race than they are. I also think more opportunities and platforms should be provided to people of color I always say o there isn’t a way then make one! & if we see a situation that seems unfair, racist, or prejudice we ALL need to speak up!
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
At times I could feel excluded because I am Hispanic/indigenous female who makes trap music but I usually don’t run into that many problems because I tend to “sell” or “grow” on people with my personality that people love.
If anything, I tend to feel excluded from the actual “mainstream” music community because I refuse to act and pose as a super hypersexualized female who likes men. I make music that is true to myself and that’s the only thing I know how to do is keep it real.
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc.) Who influenced the life you live now?
Personally I feel at my best when I am at gay pride (which I encourage everybody to go to) events because I feel so happy to see other LGBTQ people come out and celebrate who they are along with our gay allies the month of June just hits a lil different if you know what I’m sayin.
But in the real world I don’t feel as safe because our president is homophobic and half of our government is as well so even though I know I got my back I know my government doesn’t.
The people who influenced me to be myself are Ivy Queen because she was one of the FIRST Hispanic female rappers who was considered a “stem” with her tom boy style and don’t care attitude I always wanted to be just like her as a child. I also really love RuPual when I discovered RuPuals drag race it blew my mind away at so much talent in our community and with every episode I watched it made me feel more and more proud and safe to be gay.
More on Ladrea Maria- What you can expect for Ladrea Maria in the future is my upcoming EP that is currently in the making, this will be my first solo project that reflects who I am as an artist and our beautiful city the 502 I wanna show off all the raw talent we have here and put us on the map! I want to do more live performances to get in touch with more of my supporters on a more personal level & of course my voice will be on more Maybelline commercials, ya girl is securing all the bags because I deserve it. And you can follow me on Instagram- @ladrea_mariaa and on Snapchat- @ladreaa_mariaa for all my music updates
In a standing room only event, community members of Taylor County came together on Thursday to tell their heart-filled LGBTQ+ stories to the Board of Trustees of the Taylor County Library.
This public event arose after backlash from conservative community members concerning an LGBTQ+ Pride Panel that took place on June 18 at the Taylor County Library.
The panel, which included discussions with five openly queer people from across the state, is part of the library’s effort to offer relevant community and cultural events.
The community members who spoke to the board of trustees are hoping to keep LGBTQ+ programming alive. Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman came out to show support as well.
“It sounds like its time to start talking about a fairness ordinance,” Hartman said.
Folks who have long left Taylor County showed up to support their hometown. Wes Phillips, Lexington, said he was disappointed that this backlash even happened, but is excited to work towards progression.
“I’ve always taken a back seat to it [LGBTQ+ advocacy],” he said. I felt like anything I would say wouldn’t matter, but after today I see things a lot differently. This kind of has me amped up, and wanting to do more”
One after one, LGBTQ+ youth and adults told their stories to the board of trustees. Stories of transitioning trans youth to mothers of gay sons pleading to keep programming like the Pride Panel going.
Alex Brockman, Campbellsville, said she’s grown up next to the people on both sides and has had to bite her tongue on numerous occasions when controversial topics have arisen.
“Being a future educator, I have to really be careful about taking a stance in politics, but for me this isn’t a political issue; it’s a moral one,” she said. “Many people have tried to condemn those that identify as LGBTQ+ by spewing Bible verses that are taken out of context. As a Christian, I believe that it is our duty to love one another as Jesus loves us. It is not our place to judge others (Matthew 7:1-3). Furthermore, there should be a clear division between church and state. Our country was built upon this fundamental principle.”
This is the only safe space I am aware of in Central Kentucky, Brockman added.
The public event wrapped up when the board of trustees needed to meet in a closed meeting with city officials.