Education

TODAY: Supreme Court to decide on protections for LGBTQ+ employees

By Ben Gierhart

In an era when acceptance of queer people seems to be at an all-time high, it may come as a shock that the idea of whether or not someone can be fired for being gay or trans is still being contested. That is exactly what is being decided on October 8 as arguments will take place before the Supreme Court of the United States. During the proceedings, justices will consider whether anti-LGBT discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, and thus prohibited under Title VII, which bars discrimination based on sex in the workforce.

“That’s the question the Supreme Court is set to decide in Bostock v. Clayton County,” says Dan Canon, a local civil rights lawyer and professor who perhaps most notably contributed to arguments made before the SCOTUS in 2015 that decided the legalization of same-sex marriage.

“There is no specific statutory protection for LGBTQ+ people in federal law, but some courts (and Obama’s EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Comission: a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination]) interpret existing laws prohibiting sex discrimination as also prohibiting LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace,” adds Canon.

According to Canon, the law is a mess right now: “For example, lesbians and gay men are protected from workplace discrimination in Indiana, but not in Kentucky; in Kentucky and Ohio, however, there are clear and explicit protections for trans people under the same federal law.” To be sure, this is a large part of why the SCOTUS exists, to resolve inconsistencies in the interpretation of federal law.

Donald Trump has made two controversial justice appointments in Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, which lead many to believe that the SCOTUS’ decision on this matter may very well be unfavorable. In that scenario, the result would be that the few federal courts that protect LGBTQ+ people from workplace discrimination under Title VII would no longer be able to protect those people. “The federal law would be definitively interpreted as providing protection only on the basis of sex, not sexual orientation,” explains Canon.

There is reason for hope, however.

Like other states in the nation, Kentucky has LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinances prohibiting discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations. Most recently, Versailles joined the list as the 14th Kentucky city to approve such an ordinance.

“The ruling will not likely affect those laws at all, except if there are state courts interpreting sex discrimination to include LGBTQ+ folks in a similar state act,” says Canon. He does go on to warn, however, that it is possible that state courts might be inclined to change their interpretation and not longer consider LGBTQ+ citizens protected if SCOTUS rules against the plaintiffs in Bostock v. Clayton County.

“In short, a ruling against the plaintiffs would be very bad, but not a seismic difference from what we see now. Congress can still do what it has been trying to do for about 20 years now and include sexual orientation in the list of protected classes under federal discrimination laws,” offers Canon.

Now is not a time to sit on laurels, wait and hope for the best. “Even if this President is impeached, the damage he’s done to the judiciary will last a lifetime,” cautions Canon. “The courts have not been, and are not going to be, any safe haven for working class people, and especially not minorities. We have to find different strategies to get these protections in place, both within electoral politics and outside of it.” If things do not go well on October 8, do not despair. As always, the usual calls to action of organizing, voting and running for office apply and are appropriate reactions that can foster the change this country needs.

To register to vote, please visit www.GoVoteKY.com. The deadline is October 7, 2019.

Queer owned Creative Space in Portland begins funding campaign with Kickstarter

Hoba House is a soon to open creative space in Portland, Kentucky. As an LGBTQ+ owned space we will strive to create a place where everyone can feel safe and comfortable to be themselves. We will be offering many opportunities for queer artists and musicians to share their work in a welcoming, intimate environment.

HOBA House will feature four live in art studios, a class room, an small indoor event space/gallery, and an outdoor stage. We will use these spaces to hold art classes and groups, have live entertainment, and do community outreach projects. We are most excited to feature queer, minority, and youth works with the community!

Right now we are still raising funds to collect the necessary equipment to make all of this happen. We will be holding our first big event, HOBA House Warming on October 27th.

Donate to the fund!

There is no one way to be queer: Kentucky Lesbian couple tells all

McKenzie and Colby

What does the word queer mean to you?

M: I always thought of it as existing outside the heteronormative universe—with rules about the things you’re “supposed” to do. It’s marching to your own drum and being different while not having to worry about what society says you have to do at a certain time or a certain age. C: To me, queer has become a catch-all term that can be used to describe an array of gender and sexual identities. It is a term that can be morphed and molded to fit however someone needs. I often use it when I’m trying to describe a group to be inclusive of all the variation that exists within our LGBTQIA+ community. How do you identify? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all? M: Lesbian. (Let the record show that upon answering this question, McKenzie broke out into an adorable chuckle.) A soft butch. I heard the term GNC recently and was excited because in my mind I thought oh it’s a new way to say sporty fitness gay since you know that store but I found out it meant gender non-conforming which in a way works too because I don’t exactly fit into the standard feminine mold.C: I’m queer, and I’m gay. I like “hard femme” to describe the way I present. I’m tattooed and pierced, my hair is longer but shaved up the back, I only wear black though I secretly enjoy a nice floral, and I’m not afraid to open my mouth to tell you the brutally honest truth especially if your political opinions are trash. Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky? M: Campbellsville, KY. I grew up in a very Southern Baptist family. My dad was/is a deacon at our church that my family has been attending for decades. I was in church 3x a week, youth group, and even went on mission trips around the state rehabbing homes. I was always the rough and tumble tomboy that just liked playing outside, participating in sports, I got along better with boys than girls because I didn’t want to just sit around playing dolls. Nothing seemed amiss until early high school when the usual things happen. All the girls who I was friends with would be like “he’s cute”, started going on dates and I was always like “eww, boys are gross” and had no idea why. I started to figure things out mid-high school but knew because of where I lived, I couldn’t tell anyone. There were a lot of years of listening to angry music and taking lots of art classes, and wearing what I thought was emo clothes to deal with the keeping it all in—trying to rationalize being gay but at the same listening to a pastor who said I would very much go to hell. I was determined to get out of the city and live my true self in a city far away from prying eyes. I even went to a college that I knew no one from my high school would attend. C: I grew up at the dead-end of a dirt road in Hampton, Connecticut. My graduating high school class had 50 students, and a third of them had gone to school with me since we were in kindergarten. That part of Connecticut was, and still is very conservative. In elementary school, I wore my work boots with either overalls or dresses my mom sewed from fabric we picked out together (bugs, ants, the solar system, school supplies—you name it, she was cool with it). I was often the only girl invited to an all boy birthday party, and I played on every sports team. By the time high school came around, I felt different than the other girls in my class, but I did not have the language to explain why. I liked to wear make-up, I wore dresses to semi-formal dances and proms, and I even had a boyfriend all four years (first and last time that happened). Thinking back to then, we were really just best friends who were really into being emo together. After graduating high school, I went to Smith, which is a womens’ college in Northampton, Massachusetts. It took all of about 20 seconds for me to realize why I had felt so different all those years—I was very, very queer. By the time I moved to Louisville, Kentucky five years ago, I was very confident in my identity as a queer human. Admittedly, I was scared I would not be able to find anyone to date based on my assumptions of a red state as far south as I have ever lived, but meeting McKenzie was the most perfect surprise of my life. What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity? M: Do a lot of reading and search out resources. I spent a lot time on the computer in our upstairs bonus room late at night reading and researching, then carefully curating the search history so my parents wouldn’t figure out what I was doing. I also latched on to, as corny as it sounds, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, it was the first tv show I watched with a queer character that was accessible to me. I remember reading the old TV guide magazines my mom would buy and I saw an article about all the “gasp” LGBT people on TV! I just remembered seeing the characters and knew I had to watch it! I got really into the online communities surrounding that show almost 15-20 years ago that really expanded my understanding of what being LGBT meant. There were no limits to message boards filled with questioning kids like me with people from all ages offering all kinds of advice. That was how I coped living in a community with no representation. Once I got to college, I finally could be around other queer people who were open and confident with who they were. You have to find your own tribe who you can trust, who will support you, sometimes that might be a digital tribe until you find your own space. C: There is no one way to be queer. The way you choose to be yourself is beautiful and perfect in every way. You are enough, exactly as you are right now. How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it? M: My identity has always been a part of how I carry myself. I am a butch woman who lifts weights. I have never been dainty. I don’t walk demurely, or dress how women are “supposed” to dress. I am more comfortable shopping in the little boy’s section (I’m short) than the womens. Many people tell me I walk with swagger but that is the furthest from the truth if you knew me, but I’ve been told that since high school. It’s just who I am! C: I take up a lot of space and I’m proud of that. When men walk toward me on the sidewalk, I never move to the side and sometimes that means they walk right into me. As a queer person, I know I do not fit the mold of how society would like me to act, and I find that freeing more than anything else. I’m not afraid of calling out microaggression when I see or hear something. I will be loud and I will get in your face if you choose not to hear me. People in Kentucky seem to mistake this passion of mine for aggression, but I think it’s kind of a common New Englander thing. Don’t get me wrong, I like to think I also know when to listen—but I won’t stand for anyone getting stepped on. Now that I am in medical school training to be a primary care provider for LGBTQIA+ people, I am way more open about my identity than I ever have been before. I am proud to be someone who is out and can help my colleagues learn to be more inclusive. What issues do you see in the queer community? C: I think there are a lot of ways that the queer community straight-up fails at intersectionality. Queer people are living at the intersections of multiple oppressions all at once and until each one of us is free we will not be truly liberated. People are comfortable wearing rainbows and going to (partying at) Pride, but not marching for Black Lives Matter, rallying for immigrants and refugees, or speaking out for any other marginalized groups under the queer umbrella. M: I echo a lot of what Colby says in her statement about not standing up for other marginalized parts of our community, but I also think to the overall health problems in our community. I like to exist in queer safe spaces but often times those spaces are surrounded in clouds of varying types of smoke, especially patio areas on nice nights. This may also intersect with our state problems as well. This states populace smokes way too much. Being into fitness I wish our community would take better care of ourselves. It’s hard to fight the white supremacy and the patriarchy when you have COPD. What do you think would solve those issues? C: As a white person I know I have directly benefited from centuries of enforced white supremacy. Since I have recognized that, I can use the resources I do have to unrig the system. There is a lot that I do not know, and a lot that I know I will never understand, but I am willing to put in the work to learn on my own time and read up on how I can use the skills I do have to help my community. I think we can move forward together if each of us gave what we are able to. M: I know many of the health issues surrounding the community are also connected with being marginalized by family. They are coping mechanisms for pain. I hope that over time we recognize these and steer away from unhealthy vices. As a member of the Crossfit community that sometimes gets a bad reputation as a bunch hypermasculine meat heads, I do see many gyms reaching out to the LGBT+ community. I want to see women pick up the weights and get strong, for the community to get better at finding spaces to congregate that don’t involve smoking and excessive drinking. As I’ve gotten older, I am turned off by going to bars where the goal is just get blacked out. I’d rather get sweaty lifting!

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. 

Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky Ready to Fight With New Bill

by Ben Gierhart

In 2019, The Trevor Project, the country’s leading organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people, conducted a landmark national survey. This first-of-its-kind survey is the compilation of data from the responses of over 34,000 LGBTQ young people under 25 from all 50 states, and the results are sobering. According to the survey, 39 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months. Seventy-one percent reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two consecutive weeks in the past year. Two in three LGBTQ youth reported that someone tried to convince them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity, with youth who have undergone conversion therapy more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as those who did not.

In a culture where it’s easy to believe that the worst of heteronormative culture has passed, it is stunning to know that not only is conversion therapy still being practiced, it is still such a devastating and sometimes savage practice. Tanner Mobley, former advocacy intern and director at Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, agrees: “Learning that 23 percent of LGBTQ youth who undergo conversion therapy attempt suicide, I felt that I couldn’t wait around for someone to take on the fight to protect Kentucky’s youth from these dangerous practices.”

Prior to joining the campaign for the survey, Mobley admits that he naively believed that conversion therapy was a thing of the past. It wasn’t until he heard Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project, recount his experience with conversion therapy that he learned the truth. In 2017, Mobley and Austin Adam, a friend of Mobley’s who was similarly inspired, reached out to the Fairness Campaign for guidance on submitting legislation.

What started as two co-sponsors on their bill grew to five the following year. “I created a Facebook event for folks interested in forming an organization to protect youth from conversion therapy, and in November 2018 a group of lawyers, mental health professionals, students and faith leaders came together to form Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky (BCTK),” reports Mobley.

As a result of Mobley and BCTK’s core organizers’ hard work, Representative Lisa Willner and Senator Morgan McGarvey supported BCTK’s bills in 2019 with a record number of 20 House co-sponsors and three Senate co-sponsors.

In the time since BCTK began, the Kentucky Youth Law Project has become BCTK’s fiscal sponsor. With their aid, BCTK has established a board, created a social media presence and started raising awareness on the issue of conversion therapy. BCTK has also successfully gained endorsements from over 50 organizations including the Kentucky Medical Association, the Kentucky Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers KY and the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, all huge wins for the grassroots organization.

BCTK hopes to ride that momentum into the 2020 state legislative session with four years of experience under their belt as well as a host of creative strategies to implement.

One such strategy is the inception of the Ban Conversion Therapy Ambassador program. “Ambassadors help us raise awareness through gathering petition signatures, tabling, gathering data, and other important work,” says Mobley. These positions are available to anyone living in the state of Kentucky who are able to commit one to two hours a week for at least six months.

BCTK’s goals for the future are both logistical and legislative. They are currently seeking to expand their marketing team and bring on a faith organizer to help get Kentucky faith communities involved in their work, a major shot in the arm as the majority of the facilities and institutions that offer conversion therapy are religious or faith-based in some capacity.

Mobley is also optimistic that the latest iteration of the BCTK bill will receive bipartisan support. “…nearly half of the laws passed to protect LGBTQ youth from these harmful practices … were signed by GOP governors, including states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Nevada,” he says.

As for the bill itself, per Mobley, “It would prohibit state-licensed mental health professionals from engaging in efforts to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a young person under 18 years of age in Kentucky.” The language is firm in its aims, but what’s most remarkable about the bill is perhaps what is doesn’t do.

There is nothing in the bill that prohibits competent adults from seeking conversion therapy. BCTK’s position isn’t that they believe conversion therapy is beneficial for adults, but the strategy is that the bill’s specificity may appeal to the values of conservatives who may consider the constitutional right for adults to make their own decisions regarding treatment they believe to be necessary paramount. “Because the danger posed by conversion therapy is great, BCTK is focused on protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults,” adds Mobley.

The tactics involved in conversion therapy range from bizarre to nightmarish. It is an antiquated, ineffective, deadly practice, and it is time that the citizens of Kentucky unite to relegate it to a sad footnote in the history books. With movements like Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky active in our state, that dream is truly, finally possible.

To learn more about Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, apply to become a BCTK Ambassador (applications open on September 15) and donate to the Kentucky Youth Law Project, visit https://banconversiontherapyky.org/.

To read The Trevor Project’s 2019 survey, visit https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2019/?section=Introduction.

Georgetown, KY Passes LGBTQ Fairness Ordinance 5-3

Georgetown — With a vote of 5-3 tonight, the Scott County, Kentucky town of Georgetown, population 34,395, became the thirteenth city in the commonwealth with a Fairness Ordinance prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

Georgetown is the latest in a string of Kentucky cities that have recently voted to approve Fairness Ordinances this year, including the Northern Kentucky town of Dayton last month and the Western Kentucky city Henderson in May.

After narrowly voting to table the issue more than two years ago, members of the Georgetown City Council recently encouraged Mayor Tom Prather to bring the Fairness Ordinance back before the council for another vote. For more than four years, grassroots organizers working with the Rolling Bluegrass Chapter of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth (KFTC), Georgetown Fairness, and the Fairness Campaign have called on local leaders to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. In 2016, the first Georgetown Pride Community Picnic was held by local advocates to raise awareness of LGBTQ discrimination and build support for the local Fairness Ordinance.

Twelve 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), Maysville (2018), Henderson (2019), and Dayton (2019).

2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of the introduction of a Statewide Fairness Law, which has only ever received two informational hearings in the Kentucky General Assembly. This year, nearly a quarter of state legislators co-sponsored the measure.

Scroll to Top

SUBSCRIBE TO STAY UPDATED

Stay up to date with Queer Kentucky by subscribing to our newsletter!