A Carter County Queer Kentuckian stars on FOX hit TV show, ‘Hell’s Kitchen’

Brittani Ratcliff

What does the word queer mean to you?

Queer to me is an amazing ‘umbrella term’ for humans who defy the societal spectrum of orientations and identities. It’s great for inclusivity and I love it for that purpose! In the past, queer has been used as a slur. But in modern age, we’ve began to reclaim that word and make it a powerful statement.

How do you identify?

Growing up, I didn’t know how to identify. I knew I had a strong draw to the opposite gender but it was rarely talked about in my small town. I had no knowledge of the queer community until I was well into my teens. I began identifying as bisexual in college, dated a few men. But quickly realized that my primary attraction was to women. I’ve been happily out as a lesbian for almost 9 years.

What are your pronouns? Why are they important?

Pronouns can be one of the most powerful ways that we portray our identities. Realizing what your specific pronouns are and asking those around us to use and respect those pronouns give us a sense of inclusion and acceptance. My pronouns are predominantly she/her but I do have days where I wake up and feel more like they/them. I’m lucky to be surrounded by a wonderful support system who respects my pronouns.

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

I’m originally from Carter County, KY. I spent most of my K-12 years in Grayson, KY. Being from such a small, conservative town, I can say it wasn’t always easy. Growing up, the LGBTQ community was almost nonexistent. Occasionally you’d hear whispers from adults, gossip about a fellow community member, using slurs such as ‘fag’ and ‘butch’ to describe them with the emphasis on negativity. Those of us who knew who we were would hear these things from parents, grandparents, preachers and education staff. That just drove us further into the closet and sometimes denial of our own person. It was better to hide than to be subjected to the judgment, knowing good and well that we would not be accepted.

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

It makes me sad to even say this, but even in our modern society, the struggle is a part of finding ourselves. Use this time to take everything in. Explore every nook and cranny of your being, don’t fear it. I know it’s hard, wondering if you’ll ever fit in or be accepted. But not to worry, when you find who you are there is a whole community of us who are waiting with open arms to welcome you home.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

I personally don’t believe that my identity has a lot to do with how I carry myself. I’ve been confident in who I am and how I identify for years. That confidence has helped to build up the other parts of me that make up who I am as a whole. My identity is only a small fraction of that.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

Even within our own community, I’m still seeing issues of acceptance. That’s not who we are as a group or what we represent. I see bisexuals who are questioned and made to feel invalid due to their identity. And when do we start talking about the T in LGBTQ and the daily problems they face WITHIN their own community? When do we start realizing that we’re hurting our own people by not wholly accepting those who identify beyond the LGB? It’s time to start looking inward and cleaning up the mess in our own backyard.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Communication is key. The more we talk openly, the more we verbalize and stand up for those who have been fighting the same battles of acceptance and love, the better off we will be. As a community, we already deal with so much animosity from society and what they expect us to be, why are we still alienating those who understand us more than anyone else?

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

I must be excluded from the ‘mainstream’ queer community, because I don’t even know what that entails! I have noticed that with the rise of certain social media apps (ie: TikTok), that there’s more exclusion within our community than I could even begin to imagine! The pressure to conform as a certain type of lesbian for example (masc, femme, stem, etc.) and the stereotypes that go along with those identities. It should be okay for me to wake up one morning and feel more feminine that usual or more masculine and those rare days where I feel I embody both genders. Why is there so much pressure to conform to baseless stereotypes, even within the community in which we should feel the safest to be our true selves?

Who influenced the life you live now?

I like to feel like I’m the most influential person in the life I live now. I no longer live a life of conformity. I’m comfortable, free and enjoying my life as myself. But I would be wrong if I didn’t give my family the credit they deserve. The love and acceptance of my mother and sisters has given me the freedom to do exactly as I please. They encourage me and support me in every aspect of my life. Without them, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t be proud or confident, I would be a shell of myself. And for that, I am so thankful.

I’m so proud to be able to represent on a National level not only the state of Kentucky but our LGBTQ community. Being on Hell’s Kitchen has given me a platform unlike any other I have had the joy to experience in my life. The confidence that I have within my identity has played a very strong part in my confidence in the kitchen. I hope to make our community and state proud with every episode. Hell’s Kitchen airs on Thursdays at 8pm est on FOX!

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