A Queer Kentucky Safe Space: Kentucky Shakespeare in Central Park

Queer Kentucky has partnered with Louisville Magazine for our fourth print issue. We asked Louisvillians and Kentuckians at large about their queerness and its relationship to the city, where they feel at home, who was there for them when it felt like nobody else was, the biggest issues facing Louisville’s queer communities, and much more. We would love it if you — whether you live in Louisville or not — would answer the questions too. If you’d like to, you can find the interview here. In this issue, you will find stories of Queer Kentuckians telling tales of their beloved safe spaces, paying tribute to the loved ones who uplifted them when no one else would, laughing about their coming out stories, and so much more. Kentucky, and Louisville, have a lot of work left to do when it comes to embracing the queer community. But hey, it’s not as bad as people think it is. Read on, you’ll see. You can purchase the print version of this issue here.

by Tory Parker

Photo by Sarah Davis

Besides your own house — or the house of family or friends — what Louisville place makes you feel at home?

A place I feel completely at home is in Central Park in the summer during a Kentucky Shakespeare show. Some of my best friends and favorite actors are part of that company, and it is soul-healing and overwhelmingly joyful to get to see them do what they were put on earth to do in front of hundreds of people in the middle of a park. I have never seen a ‘typical’ Kentucky Shakespeare crowd; it is a mix of all ages, races, shapes and sensibilities. I’ve never been afraid to put my arm around my girlfriend on the bench.

That love of Shakespeare and that visceral need to have a space — not just accepting of queer theater artists, but created by and for queer theater artists — inspired Three Witches Shakespeare, the theater company I run alongside Allie Fireel and Clarity Hagan. This past May, we did our first-ever production, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in the woods at Louisville Nature Center. More than 20 people were in the cast and crew, and, in our own ways, everyone involved had been hurt — maybe by never being cast in a role aligning with their gender, maybe being misgendered by a director, or shamed for their body, their race, their hair, or just kept to the side or pushed out from this thing we love. But that process — every rehearsal, every performance — was overwhelmingly joyful and healing. At the end we all shed tears be- cause we didn’t even know a space like that could exist until we created it.

Who was the person you chose to come out to?

‘Coming out’ was such a casual, informal thing for me. I cringed at the thought of big, tearful declarations, and I knew that the people I had assembled in my community, starting in high school, would never care or shame me for my queerness.

In the same way, I also knew that my parents would never shame me either, that they would never hate or judge me for being who I am, that they are outspoken allies and champions of LGBT+ rights in a deeply red state, among their own more conservative family, and in our church. I knew all of that.

And still, I held out telling them, or even alluding too specifically to information that would allow them to draw a firm conclusion. After ten years, however, I realized that holding this truth from them wasn’t allowing me to live into it fully either. Our lives are fairly distant — I live in Louisville; they live in Charleston, West Virginia — and because of that, they aren’t privy to the specifics of what I do and who I do it with. But I’m also an only child, and for all the formative years of my life, they were my only reference point. I am their direct result, someone of whom they are vocally and unconditionally proud, but I was a stranger. In my mind, they still pictured me as a teenager — reserved but witty, introverted but engaged — who loved books and board games and never thought about sex or drank alcohol.

And even though I knew they wouldn’t hate the person I have grown into — a bit of an attention whore, a repressed, late-bloom- ing theater kid, an extrovert with love endlessly unspooling for every kind stranger or charming butch she meets at the bar, a steel-toed boot with a soft underbelly — I was afraid of this unapologetically queer, older person coloring the version of me they seemed to have liked so much before. And when I told them that, all of that, at the dinner table the day before Thanksgiving 2022, my sweet, soft-eyed father squeezed my hand and said, ‘Of course it does. Rainbow colors.’