Sweet Evening Breeze Inc., is committed to Louisville’s youth experiencing homelessness by going beyond the expectations of shelter, hope, and healing. It was James Herndon “Sweets,” a Kentucky historical figure whose hospitality and compassion for others inspired our purpose and vision to offer LGBTQ+ affirming emergency shelter, food and supportive services for youth who may …
By Sarah Gardiner “Thank ya, honey” “Anything else I can get for ya, doll?” Regional language has always been a main string of Southern culture’s DNA. Every place has their colloquialisms and particular ways of speaking, but there’s something about the south that invites a friendliness in conversation unmatched anywhere else. “There are no strangers …
Brent Schanding, Bourbon County
What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?
For me, “queer” is anything different, alternative, out of the norm. It’s a counterculture — a way of life that’s on the fringe of what’s socially acceptable. As a person who’s always felt on the periphery, queer is an identity I’ve long embraced since I came out as a raucous Gen-X teenager in the 90s. I actually told my mom I was gay when I was 16, just after I’d been arrested for shoplifting. I had been running an underground retail operation out of my locker at school where I’d sell stolen clothes and accessories to my classmates. It was a pretty sophisticated business operation — I even took checks, haha!
On our long drive home from jail, I blurted out to my mother that I was gay. I reasoned she would have to deal with the larger issue of my sexuality instead of focusing on my punishment. I still got punished.
Also, I should note that I no longer shoplift, but I’m still very mischievous and have the brain of a hustling entrepreneur.
Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?
I grew up on a tobacco/horse/cattle farm in rural Bourbon County, about 30+ miles northeast of Lexington. I spent many of my summers barefoot, looking for flint rocks in fields, climbing trees, swimming in ponds and breaking green beans with my mammaw at the picnic table in her front yard.
We were very poor — probably below the poverty line at the time — but my brother and I didn’t know it because our mammaw largely insulated us from the social ills that often come with being at the bottom of the socioeconomic totem pole.
She used to tell us, “Just because you’re poor, doesn’t mean you have to be dirty.” She would scrub me in the bathtub and ferociously wash my head to the point that I’m now convinced most of my hair loss is because of her abrasive grooming techniques.
Growing up, my family went to church every Sunday; mom played piano and my mammaw prepared the bread and wine (actually it was Welch’s grape juice because the congregation was some conservative offshoot of Southern Baptists). One of my favorite childhood memories is hanging out with my mom and mammaw after church as they bussed the communion trays. My brother and I would “shoot” the remaining cups of grape juice and pretend like we were drunk at a bar!
Growing up in rural Kentucky, I often felt very isolated from civilization. We lived pretty far away from everything and if a family member was going into town, I was running to jump in the car to tag along. My FOMO was real.
I was the first kid on the school bus in the morning and the last kid off the bus in the afternoon, and the ride usually took well more than an hour.
Often I’d stand in the small space that separated my bus driver’s seat from the rest of the passengers and braid my bus driver’s hair while she drove us down bumpy country roads. Her name was Peggy George and she was more like a mentor/therapist/spiritual guru for an 8-year-old queer kid than a bus driver.
We had very adult conversations and she was probably the first person to see me for who I truly was without passing judgment.
What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?
We all feel like imposters sometimes. The struggle to find a sense of belonging is universal. But I’d encourage people to focus on defining their core values. Set ambitious goals and do whatever it takes to crush them. Try to live a life of joy and happiness. Each night, examine your day and ask yourself if it was a day you’d be willing to live again based on the choices you made.
If not, you have the power to make different choices. Too often, we let others dictate our identities based on who we think they want us to be. If people see you as a failure, you’ll likely live up to those expectations unless you stay focused on your own success. We must live intentionally and not allow others to create the narrative of our life. As a queer youth, I learned early to dismiss the haters in the hallways who felt I should act or dress a certain way.
When kids called me “fag,” “queer” or “homo” I understood that it was actually a reflection of their own identity as insecure assholes. It had nothing to do with my identity as an empowered punk queer who refused to take shit from anyone.
How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I think people are layered and complex, so I have several identities: I’m a skeptic, I’m an introvert, I’m an analyzer, I’m a planner, I’m a dreamer, I’m a creator, and I’m a stressed-out anxious mess sometimes … My sexual identity is also a part of who I am. And while being queer definitely influences my politics and worldview, it doesn’t wholly define me as a person. My identity is constantly evolving as I process new experiences and react to them. Though pockmarked and troubled, I wouldn’t trade my past for anything because those experiences have all shaped my current identity. And despite lots of mistakes, I’m pretty OK and still very proud of who I am today. And I feel comfort in knowing that I can always change the me I will be in the future.
What issues do you see in the queer community?
I’m not a spokesperson for the queer community, but I believe our issues largely mirror those in greater society: Poverty, addiction, violence, discrimination, security, to name a few. The queer community is a microcosm of the larger community, so to me, it’s not “our issues” vs. “their issues” — it’s simply “issues.” As humans, we must all work together to resolve our problems for the betterment of humanity.
What do you think would solve those issues?
Empathy, patience, understanding, communication and maybe a little bit of cannabis.
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
Yes, but often that’s because I have problems with allowing myself to feel vulnerable. I’ve also never wanted to fit in with the “mainstream.” I’ve always been pretty independent.
I’m not going to adapt or assimilate to join mainstream society if it means compromising who I am or any of my core values. No one should. This means I’m often outside the “inner circles” — but that’s a very comfortable place for me to be these days.
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
As a journalist, I often feel safe in newsrooms, surrounded by other freethinkers who are questioning the “whos, whats and whys” of our society in an effort to make sense of the crazy times we live in. I jive with idealists. I love hanging out in coffee shops with artists, philosophers, intellectuals and those who are interested in talking about ways to change the world. I also love being surrounded by nature and plants — being alone in a botanical gardens can definitely help reset my batteries. I also feel comfortable in chaos and unfamiliar settings. I love traveling to new, foreign places where I don’t speak the language because it’s very humbling. The more I learn about different people, places and cultures, the better I am at responding and adapting to adversity.
Who influenced the life you live now?
Also, I’ve always been motivated by critics and doubters. When someone doubts I can do something, it makes me more determined to do it. Proving haters wrong is like flipping them a hard middle finger — and sometimes being able to succeed and do that feels really good!
“From metro streets to Appalachian trails, these are our stories.”
Queer Kentucky is beyond happy to announce THIS many Pride celebrations throughout our state in 2019!
We love watching our community come together in different regions to lift their voices in LGBTQ+ pride. We will add more events as we learn about more events.
Owensboro Pride Picnic
English Park, Owensboro
Goebel Park, Covington
Big Four Lawn, Louisville
Courthouse plaza, Lexington
Western Kentucky Pride Festival
Noble Park, Paducah
Clear Creek Park, Shelbyville
Bardstown Road, Louisville
Mad City Pride
Mad City Pride
Old Capitol lawn, Frankfort
Pikeville City Park, Pikeville
Location TBA, Elizabethtown
by Tucker Keel
As April begins this year, you may have noticed an increase in the visibility of issues and causes related to Autism—This is no coincidence, as April is Autism Acceptance Month! Previously, this has been called Autism Awareness month. The change may seem subtle, but it is an important distinction.
In a world where people would rather expose their child to every deadly disease we’ve tried to cure for the past century than risk them having autism, acceptance is more needed than awareness. Even one of the most prominent public groups for autism focuses its efforts on ‘curing’ this part of people and ignores the actual input of those on the spectrum (your daily reminder to boycott autism speaks and use red and gold to show support rather than blue). I’m hoping this article can provide a different narrative.
Before I further explain, allow me to introduce myself. I am gay and 23. I have a BFA in Theatre and am ungracefully fumbling through young adulthood, as most twenty somethings are. I am single (howdy gents) and have started a new 9-5 job in marketing. I play video games and read Shakespeare.
I am also autistic.
Autism and being autistic can mean a lot of different things. In popular media we tend to get two main presentations: The Impersonal Savant and The Severe Case. The impersonal savant is a character like BBC’s version of Sherlock Holmes. These characters are socially inept, either callous or awkward, but practically brilliant. This sort of representation is not without its flaws (do we only value and accept these character because of their genius?), but it is generally positive!
The Severe Case is a bit stickier. This trope features a character with more visible and debilitating symptoms. Kazan from cult classic Cube is my go-to example for this character type. This version of autism is often used for the purpose of making a character ‘unique’ and ‘interesting’—a great way for a neutrotypical actor to show off their chops. However, these characters are definitely not without merit. Though these sorts of representations can be scary and uncomfortable for some, and are the kind most often used to in scare tactics about autism, it’s important to recognize the reality that autism can be quite intense. These sorts of characters are also usually positive! Often they come with the ultimate message that even somebody different can be good or helpful, especially if their personal needs are respected!
Still, just because representation is positive doesn’t make it fully representative. Being gay, it’s not uncommon to see stories of my sexuality simplified and split into simple categories. It’s often the starting block, and a very important step in media, to begin with stereotypes and dichotomies. As well, we can’t negate the stories of people in our community just because they fit a stereotype. But, much as we’re breaking molds in queer representation in media, and widening the conversation, I want to help others understand that being autistic doesn’t put me in one of these neat categories.
These images of autism are not the only way to be autistic.
So what is Autism? Well, previously, doctors weren’t all that clear about it either. There were five different diagnoses that all comprised ‘Autism’—One of these, Asperger’s Syndrome, was the initial terminology used by my college psychiatrist, and ‘Aspie’ was how I identified for a long time. This essentially put me in the category of ‘highest functioning’ autistic. However, language and medical knowledge is changing on this subject. Asperger’s, and the four other distinct diagnoses have now all been grouped as one: Autism Spectrum Disorder. ASD is then further classed by levels of care, rather than levels of functionality.
The language of ‘high functioning’ and ‘low functioning’ has historically been used for autism, and for many other disorders. This language is dehumanizing and invalidating for many, essentially putting our worth as people and the value of our experience on how effective we are in an economic system. To be ‘high functioning’ is to be pretending or complaining too much, to be making a fuss when you don’t need to. To be ‘low functioning’ is to be hopeless and tragic, to not be worth the effort to fix. I have Autism Spectrum Disorder, and would be classed as Care Level 1 of three possible care levels. This language puts the focus on our needs, not on our personal ability. Care levels can change, just as ‘function’ can, and the goal is always the personal improvement and health of the individual.
For myself, and I believe for others in the queer community, the word spectrum will resonate. We are learning more and more than sexuality is a spectrum, that gender is a spectrum, and that a spectrum is rarely a sliding scale between two specific extremes. It is much the same for Autism, with many social, intellectual, and behavioral differences between individuals. Trying to encompass all of what autism is in one article would be as impossible as briefly explaining the myriad experiences of the queer community, and it’s equally complex in its interplay with other issues and how identities.
However, what I can present somewhat more concisely is my experience with this spectrum.
Autism is classed primarily as a social disorder. For me, this has definitely been the main struggle. Social interaction has been a delicate and highly concentrated effort, fraught with fear and confusion. I am now and always have been termed ‘weird’, but I don’t think most people realize how very hard I work to seem as normal as I do. When I am confused or overwhelmed by social stimuli, I can shut down: it becomes hard to form words, and making any coherent kind of facial signal or even eye contact becomes difficult or impossible. Anything I hear gets processed literally on the first take, so sarcasm, figurative language, and hints are often things I have to guess at based on context. Sometimes people will insist that I’m clearly angry, happy, or sad when that’s not how I feel inside, and I’m often equally baffled by the emotional reactions of others. I make strange noises, I lack volume control, and I often talk too fast. There are things that are still surprising to this day with how much sense they make in the context of my autism.
Despite these oddities, I think many people would believe that I am fairly socially adept. I am outgoing, I am friendly and, I think, rather charming! To be autistic is not to fail socially, or be unrestrained. In fact, it is often the opposite—It is to have different hurdles to overcome and learn to deal with, in order to come up to the same level of others. Especially in women, where social conditioning tends to start very early and be very strong, the ‘signs’ of autism are frequently restrained or controlled. That’s why a diagnosis one would expect to be even across the sexes is given 4.2 times more often to boys than girls, with many women on the spectrum not understanding their experiences until adulthood.
I don’t think any of us have been lucky enough to avoid the circumstance of pretending to be straight, or cis, or binary. You become very careful—You notice how you hold your hands, how you cross your legs, the tone of voice you speak with. In many ways, this experience is similar to being autistic.You always have to be ‘on’. I have learned that what is natural to me is not what is expected, that it can even be hurtful, and I have had to make adjustments. I am not upset that I have learned these social skills, and though I appreciate patience and understanding, I do not expect people to take my occasional failings as inevitable or excusable. I am glad I have been held to standards and grown as a person, even if it wasn’t always in the ways I would have liked. It has been hard work but I’m proud of how well I do with people.
We all strive to be better people and do better by others, and in that sense I’m just like anybody else.
I don’t want to end this article on a note of struggle. This is how autism is often portrayed, and it’s part of why it is so feared—who hasn’t heard the argument that parents don’t want their kids to be gay or trans because they just don’t want their child to go through that kind of struggle? This too has impacted the Autistic community, and is part of why self advocates are so often overshadowed by parents or guardians ‘enduring the trials’ of caring for their loved ones. So, allow me to say it clearly: Autism is not bad!
One of the most common topics when discussing autism is ‘savant skill’ and special interests. I have certainly benefited from that! I am proud to be a national merit scholar and strongly believe that my natural skill with standardized testing comes from being autistic, along with many other areas of expertise and interest. Beyond that, I think the added effort I need to understand and empathize with others has given me unique abilities to hear and internalize other people’s struggles. Lack of empathy is often discussed when addressing autism—Hyper-empathy, another common symptom, is not.
And, though autism is often associated with ‘left brain’ skills, my experiences on the spectrum have definitely shaped who I am as an artist. I am a natural mimic: Echolalia, or the unsolicited repetition of auditory stimulus, is often associated with Autism and something I personally experience on a regular basis. Not only verbal tics, but physically, I have learned to adopt and borrow movements. This was partially adaptive, as I had noticed or been told about (read: mocked for) my unusual gait and mannerisms. I encountered one of my major acting struggles in my inability to create the faces for anger and sadness. I practiced and copied and even watched myself in the mirror. I have continued throughout my life to widen my physical and tonal vocabulary with stolen gestures and voices, practiced and rehearsed. My hyper-empathy is also an aid: Though my natural reactions to the emotions I feel from my characters might not play on stage, I can let these feelings guide me in which copied display I can pull from my wheelhouse. These things come more naturally now when I perform, but I fully believe that the intentional effort I have to put in has helped my command of them.
So there you have it. My story for Autism Acceptance. Autism is a struggle, for some much more than others, but it’s not something evil or scary. It can have real benefits, even beyond what is stereotypical. I urge all of you to look at Autism this month, not with awareness, but with acceptance.
We are people, and we are not victims struggling against some disease, but are full and developed human beings for whom being autistic is an important part of our identity.
And I think all of us in the queer community can relate to that.
What is BLoFISH?
We are a clothing company based in Louisville, KY. Known for our amazingly soft fabrics, All 4 All message, being gender neutral, and our 10% giveback program. We were founded in 2014 and opened our first store in Louisville in 2016. We are still small, but have a solid online presence and have sold to 20 cites, all 50 states, and 7 countries.
What is your mission?
Our mission is to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life. Whether that be in traditional economic opportunities, education, racial equality, gender equality, or anything else. We believe in our “All 4 All” mission. No matter one’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or abilities everyone should have the same opportunities centered around equality. The message is deeply ingrained into our company’s culture and customers, with 10% of every sale going directly to social justice issues.
How do you financially give back to communities? How do you give back differently than larger corporations?
We believe in the power of grassroots organizations, particularly those who are on the ground doing the non-profit work that has a direct visible impact on the communities they are located in. We do give to national organizations, but we prefer to give to causes that support the communities we know our money will make the most impact.
Our business model is revolutionary and much different than what corporations are doing now, particularly in our industry. To put it simply for every $100 in sales we donate $10 to organizations we believe have an impact on the world. While 10% may not sound like a lot, it is exponentially higher than most corporations. Effectively, we created the ultimate Public Benefit Corporation before it was even a thing. How can we do this? We treat our accounting as if the 10% never existed, we work 10% harder, keep lower inventory counts, don’t take (and never will take) crazy bonuses or salaries, and don’t (and never will) have multi-million dollar campuses costing even more millions to maintain.
Here are some numbers:
- At $100k in sales, we donated $10k to organizations.
- At $1 million in sales, we will donate $100k to organizations.
- At $100 million in sales, we will donate $10 million to organizations.
- As a $1 billion dollar company (knock on wood) we will donate $100 million to organizations.
To put that into comparison, a company in the same industry (and pays their top 6 positions $21 million dollars a year) did $3.8 billion last year. They haven’t released a charitable report online since 2016, but on it they show their foundation has only given on average $400K a year. With our model, alone in 2018 we would have give $380 million to charity. https://www.aeo-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AEO_CSR.pdf (page 9)
Another question we get often with this model and the look of our stores is “how expensive is it?” Our prices are in-line with all the major players, including Nike, American Eagle, Abercrombie, and less expensive than the likes of Lululemon and Bonobos while still using fabrics that are fantastic. I can’t tell you the amount of people who walk by and are surprised when they find out our prices despite the clean, expensive look of our stores.
Going a little off topic. I think one thing average Americans struggle with in terms to the wealthy in this country is just how big those numbers are. While it may seem like a company donating $400k a year, it’s all relative. Here’s what that looks like next to their 2018 profit.
Try and type that top number in your phone calculator. Unless you turn it sideways it’s not even possible. That is 1,370 MILLIONS. No wonder we have a hard time comprehending just how rich the uber wealthy are.
How are your employees paid and how are you paid?
We are still a small company, but we’ve tried to build a culture here where we pay everyone a decent wage, but still work hard. Everyone we’ve brought on full-time has been paid the same, which makes for a cool work-place. Hopefully we can keep it up as we grow. One thing I really believe in is people taking responsibility for themselves, which includes taking as much time off as long as they can find someone to pick up on their responsibilities. It makes it tough being small, but so far we’ve been able to pull it off and should only get easier as we have more resources.
As for myself, I still haven’t taken a dime out of BLoFISH. Luckily I’ve been able to support myself enough in other ways. I don’t plan on taking anything out of BLoFISH so long as I see new products and expansion that needs to be done, which won’t be for a while. There are tons of designs and tons of people who haven’t been touched by BLoFISH, and until that’s done or we have enough resources I can’t see myself taking money out of the company.
What other communities would you like to reach out to?
We’ve hit on a lot of different communities, so there’s not one specific we feel like we need to reach out to. We obviously want to expand, and with that we will be able to copy some of the grassroots giving we’ve been able to do here in Louisville and extend our reach to other communities.
The LGBTQ+ community, the sexual assault awareness community, the trans community, the animal rescue community, human trafficking community, the veteran community, and many others have all been great to work with. It’s nice to be able to connect different types of people who may not otherwise meet. Many of these communities have goals that overlap, and it’s our job to not only give these communities the resources they need, but to connect them so there is an even bigger coalition to go forward and make changes the world needs, many of which aren’t that far out of reach or don’t require extreme resources.
Do you plan to bring your business to areas such as Appalachia, western Ky, etc.?
Yes. We want BLoFISH in as many places as possible, particularly in places that may not have the access to resources or support like many people here in Louisville have, and we know the power that one of our locations can have on a community. With that being said, we are limited in resources, and that’s where social media is amazing. We are able to reach people all over the country.
We recently did a podcast with a transgender veteran from Eastern Tennessee. He talked a lot about how he was surprised how many people were actually supportive of him when they found out about the transition, and while everyone was not supportive, many more than he thought were. So getting our message out in these places is so important to us, and until we can get the resources for physical locations we will do our best to reach out through social media.
What have some of the positive reactions been to your company? What have some of the negative reactions been?
The positive reactions have far overwhelmed the negative for sure. We’ve had people talk about how they wanted a place to feel welcomed, a place that is actually genuine, and some of the most emotional moments have taken place at our community events. The reaction to our products and fabrics have also been positive, which is important, because ultimately that’s the core and the reason we are able to give back so much. I would encourage people to check out our BLoFISH Speakeasy Podcast to hear some stories and see how we interact with the community.
As a company centered around social justice we’ve had our fair share of negative comments you might expect, but surprisingly we have had a little bit of push back from some people in the LBGTQ+ community saying our stuff isn’t gender neutral enough. Most of those people haven’t been in the store, but some are right we need to keep pushing boundaries. The key I have to balance is still making things accessible to everyone, while still being profitable on those products. Being small is tough, and all the new designs are capital intensive, meaning we have to charge more for the products. Some of the same people complaining haven’t been in to test our more “fashion-oriented” designs so it makes it tough in this market to keep producing them. It’s still just my money so far, so we don’t have a multi-million dollar (or anywhere close) resource to tap in to. We’ve had a few people complain about price, but we try and stay in-line with the bigger brands like Nike, AE, and Gap. We will never be as cheap as somewhere like Aeropostale because of the quality of fabrics and products we have, but $46 for our joggers and $25 for hats is right in-line with the brands I mentioned. We have also had some people talk about our sizing system and how we display it, and it’s something we are looking into along with everything else, trying to be as accessible and inclusive as possible.
Why is gender neutral so important, and why does a white cis male care?
When I first started the company the idea of having a place where everyone could come in and buy what they wanted regardless of who they were seemed like a crazy idea (and to many still is today). I think gender neutral is the best way to describe what we are doing, but I’m not sure the adjective fits the way it should. I see what we are doing as label-less, we don’t care how you identify, we just think everyone should have the same opportunity to shop and wear awesome things without worrying about people looking down on them because they are in the wrong section or in the wrong class to buy things. In the past few years gender neutral has almost taken on a moniker of its own and people think it should look one way or another. I push against that, and think people should be able to buy and wear whatever they want, whether they identify as “gender neutral” or male or female or gender fluid, and that’s the perspective I design from.
As a white cis male I believe, and have since I can remember, a responsibility to step up and speak up for those who don’t have the same privileges as me. And that goes beyond being just a cis white male, into a cis white male who grew up with everything I needed. I didn’t have to struggle for a ride to baseball practice or worry about how I was going to get to school. I think we have a tendency to use labels as a way to build walls, and if everyone would look at each other in a sense of their privileges and access as opposed to their race and gender the world would be better for it. I will continue to stand up for all those who didn’t and don’t have the same opportunities I had, and am extremely lucky to have a platform and a business like BLoFISH to help spread that message.
Who are YOU? What is Logan about?
I’m a crazy 31 year old person who is crazy enough to think it’s possible to create a new business model and flip the entire retail industry on its head while spreading a great message and making a REAL difference in the communities we are in.
What makes BLoFISH stand out among other retail companies in the nation?
You mean besides having better products, people, community, and business model? Not too much.