Appalachia

Climate change is important topic for this Queer Kentuckian

Casey

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?
I am a non-binary lesbian because I personally do not subscribe to a male or female identity but sexually identify as lesbian.

What does the word Queer mean to you?
It means taking a weapon (a harmful word) from my oppressor and making it my own as to ensure they can no longer harm me.

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I was raised in Wilmore and currently live in Lancaster. Growing up and living in Kentucky has been challenging (and blood at times) but it has helped me build character. I started working on natural gas lines in Hazard at age 13 and became a volunteer EMT at age 19. Now, I currently operate the first and only residential and commercial curbside compost service. As a queer person who used to work in the fossil fuel industry, my identity as an environmentalist is parallel to my identity as an Appalachian.

What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
Self care and safety is important. You might not ALWAYS feel prideful of who you are and your sexuality but remember that pride is fluid and ever-changing, but living out your true self is not always so.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I am seen as confident and blunt. My ability to be obviously queer in unfriendly spaces has helped me socially and politically.

What issues do you see in the queer community?
Climate change, fascism, and community connection.

What do you think would solve those issues?
Following your own interests and heart, whether it be focusing in climate change, veteran wellfare, racial justice, etc. It is important to do what fills your soul with purpose and joy.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
Absolutely because I am not particularly interest in club culture, pop culture, or even hipster culture. I enjoy being with my compost piles and other folks who enjoy talking about climate change.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
I feel at my best in the garden or in front of a classroom or group of politicians.

Who influenced the life you live now?
My mother, who helped gently push me out of the closet. She has always been my biggest advocate and has always pushed me to live a life of integrity and grace.

Study up and Vote y’all: Queer Kentucky Nov. Election Picks

by Ben Giehart

As I’m sure most Kentuckians are well aware, Kentucky is a red state. There are exceptions of course. As a whole, big cities like Louisville and Lexington are decently progressive – as one might expect. There are pockets of other cities and towns littered throughout the state that harbor modern civil rights laws that protect LGBTQ+ citizens from discrimination, but that covers only about 25 percent of the commonwealth. Consequently, it’s easy to lose hope that a vote in Kentucky ever really counts towards progress.

On a national scale, there is some truth to that – at least the way the electoral college is currently set up. As is most often the case however, change starts small and it starts within. 

Kentucky’s 2019 Election Day is Tuesday, November 5. If you have no clue who to vote for or would like a refresher on who to consider for governor and other state executives, QueerKentucky has got you covered. There are several big races coming down the pike whose results could mean the beginning of serious change for Kentucky.

Governor

Andy Beshear is Kentucky’s current attorney general and won the 2019 Democratic primary. He is running with lieutenant gubernatorial nominee, Assistant High School Principal Jacqueline Coleman. This race marks the most likely opportunity for Kentuckians to end Republican trifecta control (when one party controls the governor’s office and holds majorities in both chambers of the legislature) in the state.

His platform focuses on making public education a priority for the state, supporting term limits on all elected officials and improving state transparency as well as increasing wages for workers.

Beshear is running against current Governor Matt Bevin, who has been a consistent news presence during his tenure. It should be stressed again, that this race is a big opportunity for Kentucky and its citizens.

To learn more about Beshear and his campaign, please visit https://andybeshear.com/.

Attorney General

With current Attorney General Andy Beshear running for Governor, this affords Republicans the opportunity to vote in one of their own in this position, so it is important that Democratic turnout be high for this race as well.

Greg Stumbo is the Democratic nominee and is a former member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, representing District 95 from 1981 to 2005 and from 2009 to 2017. It is also worth noting that he has served as Kentucky attorney general previously from 2005 to 2007. He is an extremely experienced candidate who could bring some stability to state government.

His platform focuses on his legal experience (he has practiced law for over 40 years and written laws as a state legislator), his opposition to drug companies that he says are responsible for bringing opioids into Kentucky and improving public access to the attorney general’s office.

To learn more about Stumbo and his campaign, please visit https://www.stumboforag.com/.

Secretary of State

Heather French Henry is the Democratic candidate for Kentucky secretary of state. She is perhaps the most popular candidate in this year’s Democratic field and, therefore, the most likely to win. As always, voter turnout is essential to secure this.

Henry is a former Miss American, but more importantly, she has served both Governor Beshear and Governor Bevin as the commissioner and deputy commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. In that role, she has served over 300,000 veterans in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, making her a candidate with a fair amount of experience and possible partisan support.

Her platform focuses on voter security and accessibility, civics education and historic document preservation.

To learn more about Henry and her campaign, please visit https://www.supportheatherfrenchhenry.com/.

Agriculture Commissioner

Robert Conway is the Democratic nominee for agriculture commissioner. He has extensive experience as the current district supervisor of the Scott County Soil and Water Conservation Board along with membership to several agricultural boards throughout the state. He is an eighth generation family farmer in Kentucky with farms in Scott and Harrison County.

His priorities as commissioner will be investing in schools and educators to develop a new generation of farmers, and he is also a strong supporter of legalizing cannabis to replace tobacco as a state cash crop. He believes that this will bring revenue and jobs to the state.

To learn more about Conway and his campaign, please visit https://www.conwayforky19.com/.

Auditor

Sheri Donahue is the Democratic nominee for state auditor, and while her resume is not overtly political, it is perhaps the most impressive of all the candidates.

Donahue holds a BS in industrial engineers from Purdue University. She spent 20 years working for the U. S. Navy and served as program manager in security and intelligence. She has assisted on projects for the Navy, Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security. She also served as president and executive director for the Cyber Conflict Studies Association where she worked with government, private corporations and academia to study cyber threats.

She brings a lot of intelligence to the playing field and as auditor, promises to restore community engagement, charitable involvement and faith in government for the people of Kentucky.

To learn more about Donahue and her campaign, please visit https://donahueforky.com/.

State Treasurer

Michael Bowman is the Democratic candidate for state treasurer. He has long been active in volunteer work for local politics and ran for Jefferson County Clerk in 2018. He has served as a general manager for Yum! Brands, regional coordinator for the Southwest members of Louisville Metro Council and in 2012, was appointed as chief legislative assistant to District 14 Councilwoman Cindi Fowler.

He is currently a bank officer and branch manager for one of the largest banks in the country and is poised to jump on the political stage. 

If elected, his three priorities are accountability by providing checks and balances for the executive branch, protecting state investments ethically and investing in new technologies and finding efficiencies in how the state treasurer’s office operates.

Notably, Bowman is the only candidate listed here who is openly gay.

To learn more about Bowman and his campaign, please visit https://www.bowmanforkentucky.com/.

Each of these candidates brings something unique and valuable to the table. They each require your support in the general election. Vote for yourself and vote for Kentucky. To register to vote, please visit www.GoVoteKY.com. The deadline is October 7, 2019. 

Knox County trans woman stays true to self despite opposition

Lu Fields, Barbourville

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?

I am a Proud Transgendered Woman from the small city called Barbourville in the County of Knox.

What does the word Queer mean to you?

Queer has many meanings to me as a Trans Woman who proudly fights for all LGBT and minorities.

I’ve heard the word Queer in the derogatory form my entire life.

I have been called the word Queer many times as well in a hurtful way! I believe however the word is best defined by me personally as happy and openly proud!

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?

I grew up in Barbourville, Kentucky. My entire life I’ve fought for equality and to simply be treated as a human being. My first memory of hate is scorched in to my memory like an iron burning flesh.

I was in the fourth grade when a bully relentlessly attacked me. My father told me I had to fight back or he would whip me when I got home.

The boy started poking and hitting me first thing the next morning so I fought back “after he stabbed a pencil threw my hand” which I bare the scares of still to this day! Instead of the teacher reprimanding the student who had hit me everyday the teacher grabs my arm dragging me into the hallway! She beat me with a paddle so severely it fractured my tailbone & legs!

As I cried in pain she told me I’d learn to act like a lil boy or get beat every day!

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

Dig deep inside yourself to find your loudest voice because you’ll need it! Surround yourself with only positive people to lift you when you are challenged or have fallen!

Stay Strong like a Willow Tree as my grandmother used to tell me! The Willow branch bends but does not break she’d say! To me that meant take time to listen to understand their perception. Take time to inform and educate but do not allow them to harm you with negativity until you break!

Bend like a branch in the wind but never let them break you!

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

I carry myself with such Pride. I do so for many reasons. One of the most important reasons is there are people watching that are struggling and may see you as a light.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I hate that there is division in the Queer Community over silly things! We should all love and support each other! I also think there should be more outreach for the struggling youth! Finally, we should have an education program in place for disease prevention and drug abuse!

What do you think would solve those issues?

Love is the only answer for bringing us together to stand against such hate in these hostile times in our country! By loving each other we can stand stronger & former against these assaults!The more united we are the fewer the numbers would be caught in situations that allow abuse!These situations are not limited to verbal & physical abuSe either.

We could help solve a lot of this recruitment by traffickers who exploit our abused LGBT members! Our community feels so alone & isolated that most simply want to be loved!

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

I don’t feel excluded but it’s because I travel so frequently to other areas in the United States making new friends. These friends make my alliances stronger not only for me but everyone in my LGBT community!

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

I made a promise to myself a very long time ago to live my best life. I have never lived in true fear until this administration took office!

Now I’m constantly waiting for new laws stripping my rights daily! Even though I am fearful of the growing hate I live my best life!

We must be bigger! We must be better and we must rise!

Who influenced the life you live now?

My biggest influence was probably my Grandmother. My grandma loved me endlessly and always told me to be proud of myself! She always loved me just as I was! I will be forever thankful for feeling loved enough to simply be me!

The Queer Kentuckian behind our Twitter account: Christian from Ashland

The word queer to me can mean a lot of things. As a queer person you sometimes think about when people refer to things as queer.

Does someone who identifies as a male wearing a crop top make them more queer or one who likes football is less queer? I think it just boils down to the person identifying as queer.

There shouldn’t be a queer spectrum. I identify as a male with he/him pronouns and I haven’t really put much more thought into that aspect of my life because it’s not the most important part I’m concerned with.

I’m from Ashland, eastern Kentucky, and I loved growing up there. Being queer wasn’t something that really affected my life and friendships there.

I have a loving and accepting family and friend group from back home, I was the gay theater kid so it probably didn’t shock too many people when I came out.

Not like anything actually changed about my life and for a town in eastern Kentucky it was pretty accepting overall. You should always come out on your own terms, it’s your timeline on when you feel you are ready.

I know people who have come out super young and later in life. Start by telling one person, that’s what I did and the weight is immediately off your shoulders and you can take a deep breath. No rush in when you decide to tell the next person.

There are issues in every community but one I think I see the most in ours is just self confidence and self love. It’s something I struggle and it’s something we aren’t really open enough about. Maybe if more people were open about it, it would help but instead we see the Twitter gays with a 6 pack complaining about their weight.

Not that they can’t have self confidence issues but how would that make someone who doesn’t look like that feel? It’s a never ending circle honestly. I’m not even sure what I would refer to as the “mainstream” community. Does that mean I’m excluded? Im not really sure, but I love my queer community here in Louisville so that’s my main concern.

I feel at my best when I’m just surrounded by my friends and laughing. It’s really that simple.

My mom and Robin Williams influenced my life. My mom is the nicest person on the face of the planet and Robin Williams was just always my comedic hero and I truly thinking making someone laugh can make their day just a little bit better.

I feel like their are so many queer performers we don’t see enough in mainstream music. Troye Sivan and Sam Smith aren’t the only queer musicians. I love Tegan and Sara, Perfume Genius, Years and Years and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s important to support any queer artist and you can broaden your horizon a little bit in the process.

Happy Pride y’all — Jarred Johnson

by Jarred Johnson

Before this week, it had been years since I heard the word “faggot” used as a slur. There on a crowded subway car in New York on my commute home, a man bumped into another. “Back off me, faggot,” he said.

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.

Big Sandy LGBT+ Safe Zone to host Pride Picnic in Floyd County

PRESTONSBURG — The Big Sandy LGBT+ Safe Zone, Inc. is hosting a Pride Picnic on Monday, June 24th. The event will be held at the Dewey Dam Spillway at Shelter #4.  

Kyle May, president and founder of BSSZ, said the picnic came about because a community member suggested having a Pride Picnic so that the community could come together and have fun while getting to know the board members (leadership of the organization/those representing the area and community) and to network with one another.

“We know that socialization with other people who identify as LGBT+ or as an ally is important for people within the LGBT+ community, particularly those in rural communities, because of the strong feelings of loneliness and isolation experienced by people,” May said.

BSSZ will have balloons marking the shelter to help identify at which location we will be gathering.  

The picnic will begin around 6 p.m. and last until approximately 8 p.m.  BSSZ will be offering FREE pizza and other foods/nonalcoholic beverages.  

There will be games, activities, and plenty of time to socialize with each other.  The BSSZ Pride Picnic is a family-friendly event open to the general public, including, but not limited to, people who identify as LGBT+, friends and family of people who identify as LGBT+, and allies of the LGBT+ community.  

The Pride Picnic is important to have because it allows people in LGBT+ community to know that they are not alone, said May. It also emphasizes the fact that we belong in communities no matter where we live.

“I have noticed that LGBTQ+ acceptance has been evolving in Eastern Kentucky,” he said. “There are more LGBTQ+ resources making their way into the area and there are more people confidently and visibly supporting the LGBTQ+ community.”

Folks are more than welcome to bring sealed foods or supplies if you would like to contribute, however, it is not necessary.  For more information, please contact BSSZ at bigsandysafezone@gmail.com.

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