Sanjay Saverimuttu, Louisville Photo by Sam English (Headshot for Choreographers Showcase 2019) What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify? Why? The word “queer” to me means expressing your gender or your sexuality in a manner that risks being disadvantaged by society. This world hasn’t been designed for our success, and yet …
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar, owner
What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify? Why? Or if you don’t identify as anything (say, with any particular label), why don’t you?
The word “queer” is one of the most powerful words we claim. There are so many types of people in the LGBTQ* spectrum, and we’ve always been proud to be an all-inclusive community. The word queer creates a sense of togetherness and community amongst all of our different “titles” if you will. The word queer has the power to bring us ALL together, challenge binaries, and allow space to breathe for those still figuring it out.
Where are you from? What was it like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I was born and raised in Richmond, KY and now live in Lexington. I’ve always been a “Central Kentuckian”. Honestly, even though Kentucky lies on the top of the Bible Belt which makes us tilt a little more in the conservative religious direction politically and culturally, no matter where you are or go it’s all in what you make it.
What would you say to someone who is struggling to come into their own identity?
I worked at a camp for a few summers and mainly mentored high school students. I always found it strange when we were supposed to just give young people information and tell them to believe it without questioning it (too much) especially at an age when they’re really figuring out themselves and the world. I always asked them… “Are you following or doing things because of tradition, or do you really believe them as truths? Maybe it’s time to explore YOUR truth. And not everyone’s truth is the same.”
That’s my challenge to everyone in almost every aspect of life and coming into their own identity. Religion, sexuality, relationships, whatever. Are you going through the motions because it’s just what you’ve always done? Or is it time to dive in and really find out who you are? Diving in isn’t always easy, but as someone who has gone through it, I’ve never felt more free, more myself, more deeply happy than when I became open to new ideas and I found MY truth.
How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I’m unapologetic in how I live my life now. It took a long time to get there, and there are some instances when I want to hide or dull down my queerness. We all experience that. But at the end of the day, I fully feel like me. There are levels of fluidity that will always be there and nothing is black and white, but I know I’m a queer cis-female that loves tattoos and drinks too much coffee. And that confidence makes the world mine.
What problems/issues do you see in the queer community? What do you think would solve those problems/issues?
Revisiting the term “queer” as an all-encompassing identity I think helps combat the labels and binaries and identities we all obsess over sometimes. We’re taken over by needing a flag that represents you when next year you could be a whole different human. Gender and sexuality are on a spectrum (lookup The Genderbread Person if you need a reference). Not all people in the LGBTQ* community are open to educating themselves about identities outside of how THEY identify. We deal with that enough with mainstream culture. We need to be more educated, meet different people, try new things, go to a new bar, to fully be the all-inclusive queer community we claim and want to be.
Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
Sometimes yes sometimes no. I think lesbians always have been somewhat excluded, and a lot of that is based on mainstream culture as well. Not being covered in makeup or wearing heels. Easy jokes based on lesbian stereotypes of UHauls and Birkenstocks. The “Lavender Menace” movement was done because lesbians weren’t included in women’s movement of the 70’s (as well as the gay movement). But, and we all know this, when it comes down to it no one can handle it or take care of it like a lesbian can. We grow up in the oppressive lives of little girls AND the oddities of being a gay kid and come out stronger. So, whatever, exclude us, we’ll be busy making sure it all comes together in the end. 🙂
Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc.)?
At my coffee shop. In my element. I own Lussi Brown Coffee Bar in Downtown Lexington, KY. My co-founder and I started the shop to bring something new to Lexington and the shop’s purpose grew into something more. It became another safe place for queer people to come. I’ve had many gay first dates, and meetups and meetings all in our little shop, and unfortunately those aren’t welcome everywhere. I’m proud to have a space queer people can come and be themselves. There’s where I feel at my best.
Who influenced the life you live now?
I’ve been involved with the Lexington Pride Festival committee for the last five years. Through the PCSO (Pride Community Services Organization), which is over the Lex Pride Fest, I have met so many amazing, dedicated, smart, open, wonderful people from all different walks of life. Those people influence and inspire me every day. Passionate people getting involved in the community inspires me to do more.
Elliot, Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky
What does the word Queer mean to you?
I think to me, queer means unique, not limited to the rules of mainstream society. it’s the freedom to be different from what’s expected.
What do you identify as, or do you identify at all?
I’m a fat, white, atheist, pansexual, agender spoonie. (The Spoon Theory)
WHO ARE YOU?! What are you up to in this world and talk about your business.
Ha! Who am I? I’d love it if someone else could answer that for me. I feel like I’m just starting to figure that out. For so much of my life, I’ve lived to make other people happy & tried to meet their expectations. When I got together with my current girlfriend, she asked me what I wanted out of a relationship. I told her that I had no idea because no one had ever asked me that before. The thought that I could just be me & people could accept me or not & even if they didn’t, that was ok hadn’t ever occurred to me.
I was constantly trying to fit myself into what other people expected I should be. Now, I’m trying to figure out who I am & then just be that person.
In my yoga life, I started change.yoga. I teach a few group classes that I work to make accessible to anyone & everyone. I like to say that I teach to people who, for whatever reason, don’t feel comfortable going to a ‘regular’ class or studio. I also do skillshares, that I call Yoga Confidence, for people who are hesitant to try yoga. They may be intimidated by the Sanskrit or the religious statues & imagery, or the usual ‘I’m not flexible enough,’ whatever the reason, I try to give them info so they can pick the classes & studio that’s right for them (or to start a home practice). And then I do skillshares for teachers that I call, “Stretching Diversity.” I do them for people who are already teachers but I’m also trying to work with as many teacher training programs to help educate new teachers before they even start. When I’m not doing yoga, I’m a freelance marketing consultant & my business is called frankHYPE. Lately I’ve been mixing the two worlds & many of my clients are yoga (or other wellness professionals). They’re also individuals or small businesses who assume that marketing support would be too expensive for them. So I work to give them a few hours of support a month at reasonable rates. I can’t take on all of their marketing needs but I can work with them to help craft a strategy that works for them & then implement a lot of the routine needs that can often bog down micropreneurs.
How did you start your yoga journey?
In college I took a world religions class & yoga was mentioned. I didn’t really know what it was but i knew it was this ‘new’ thing (at least in my world) people were doing to get in shape so I wanted to try it out. My first class was in a school gym after class. I don’t really remember much about the class other than I liked it. After that I did yoga off & on for about 15 years. I always really liked it but life would get in the way & I’d stop practicing. I eventually started going several times a week to studio classes & started learning about the 8 limbs, meditation, pranayama & all the other stuff that makes up yoga that you don’t see in the magazines. I started noticing how much it was helping me mentally & physically & was actually pretty mad.
I’d gone to countless doctors & therapists over the years for my different chronic conditions & no one had ever suggested doing asana or meditation.
It’s a little better now but still extremely undervalued. So I just wanted to shout it out to everyone. I didn’t expect to become a teacher but that’s where I’ve ended up, for now anyway, so I’m just hoping that I can help people avoid some of the struggles & pain that I experienced.
What inspired you to lean into all-inclusive yoga?
Well, I didn’t really have a choice. with my body & my life, if I was going to do yoga, it had to be all-inclusive. and I realized if I needed this, there were probably a bunch of other people who needed it too.
What do you believe the consequences are of teaching yoga without awarenss of privledge?
I think we risk doing real harm to people when we don’t try to address our privilege. We’re never going to be perfect & that stops a lot of people from trying, we feel too afraid or paralyzed.
But if we don’t put the work in to try to break down barriers that are exclusive we’re just reinforcing the marginalization that occurs in our larger society.
Often we want to think of our mats as automatically neutral spaces but they’re not. That doesn’t happen automatically. We have to do the work. If we’re going to create these spaces & invite people to them, we have the responsibility to do it as safely as possible. Otherwise, people come to us and the spaces we’ve created with their guard down, expecting to be safe, because that’s what we’ve told them, only to find themselves experiencing the same microaggressions, prejudice, & trauma they experience off the mat.
How did you come into your queerness and do you feel like a stronger person because of your journey? Why or why not?
Oh, that’s a long complicated story. I first came out to a few people 20-ish years ago in high school. I came out to a few other people over the years but it’s only been in the past few years that I’ve come out completely to my family & everyone. I kind of went in the other direction & just put everything out there publicly. I knew my queerness would be a problem for lots of people, that I would make lots of people who were close to me uncomfortable.
That’s a hard place to be. So, both consciously & unconsciously I kept it a secret. Eventually hiding who I was just simply became too much & I couldn’t keep the secret anymore. I couldn’t keep pretending I was someone else. It was a hard transition and a lot of what I was afraid of did happen. But it’s been worth it. I’ve found a community that’s been supportive more than I could have imagined. I’ve never experienced acceptance like this from anyone before. That’s not to say everything’s perfect but it’s so much better than before.
If you could tell anyone struggling to come in their identity, what would it be?
Take your time. Focus on yourself. And don’t be afraid if you don’t have all the answers right away (or ever). Obviously your safety comes first so don’t do anything that endangers you. But don’t be afraid to step away from people & relationships that aren’t supportive of you, even family. And I don’t mean ones that just tolerate you. Do what you can to find people who truly accept you for who you are. This doesn’t happen overnight, it isn’t easy, & won’t always happen for everyone.
But, looking back on my experiences, those would be the goals I’d go for if I had to do it again. I was so afraid of losing what I had even though I was, at best, being tolerated, that I couldn’t see what I’d gain by being around people who accepted me. If I would’ve known what was possible, I would’ve come out a long time ago.
Do you have a favorite yoga pose?
I’ve always really liked pigeon but lately I’ve been spending a lot of time in child’s pose. I also really, really love reclined, supported hero’s pose. A lot has changed in my practice since I had 3 surgeries in 4 months in 2017 so I’m still learning again what my body needs & likes now.
Since 2016, Tanner has worked incredibly hard to pass legislation to ban conversion therapy in Kentucky. Though in grad school AND working, he tirelessly devotes any extra time on BCTK. This year he went above and beyond, with the help of the board and volunteers, BCTK got record breaking co-sponsors and had a bill in the KY House AND Senate. Through his work with Ban Conversion Therapy KY, Tanner has have a voice to those who have suffered the abuse of conversion therapy. He is working to end these practices to protect the LGBTQ youth now and the future generations to come. He has been a fearless leader to BCTK and it has been a true honor to work alongside him. This year he was selected for an internship in D.C. with the Trevor Project helping even more of the LGBTQ community. I truly can’t think of anyone who deserves an award more than Tanner.
For me the word queer is liberating. Growing up in Southern Indiana, where there was minimal support for LGBTQ people, I didn’t know what supportive LGBTQ spaces looked like.
Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I started coming into my queer identity and learning how my other identities influence the way I exist in various spaces. For myself, the queer community has given me purpose.
Being involved in activism and fighting for the queer community is a passion of mine.
I am heading a project to make conversion therapy illegal for minors in Kentucky. Hearing the horror stories from survivors of conversion therapy, we wanted to take action to show queer kids that someone is fighting for them. No one should have to experience this torture and should be able to be happy and celebrate who they are.
Though we have made significant strides as a community in the United States– our fight is far from over. In addition to the work we have ahead of us as a country, we as community have so much work to do.
I believe that Queer people and all people will never truly experience liberation until we as a community actively address the oppression that still exists in queer spaces.
We will not truly be a community until we fully support queer folks who are black and brown, undocumented queer folks, our queer folks with disabilities, queer folks of all body types, as well as many other identities that intersect with queerness.
I am excited for the progress that will come with future generations — it seems that today’s youth are more caring and unapologetic in their queer identities than ever before.
by Jordan Roach
Tucked back in Whitesburg, Ky., there is a large unassuming, wood clad, building holding a treasure trove of resources, history and culture. The Appalshop, while it’s been a constant staple of Eastern Kentucky’s culture for nearly 50 years, there is a big chance many people haven’t heard about it.
If you are looking for an expressive hub of mountain Kentucky culture, I’d have to say this is where you’ll find it. They host events, have a radio station with many diverse shows, camps, readings, archives and workshops. You want DIY? This is the spot. The first time I found out about Appalshop was at Pikeville’s Pride. They sent up a booth and I learned about some of their histories and filled out a survey on a safe space they are creating. The next week I was at a reading of “Biscuits and Blisters,” written and read by Misty Skaggs. Afterward, I talked to her mom, who gave me earrings and told me stories about the quilt that covered their table, her artistic inspirations, and traveling to readings with her daughter. On Friday, Nov. 9, I went to see a show put on by the Girls Rock Camp benefit, supporting both the camp and All Access EKY.
Girls Rock Camp is for girls and gender variant youth who want to play music. Having gone to a similar camp in Ohio when I was a preteen, Girls Rock had a special place in my heart. This is the third year of Girls Rock Camp (hosted by Appalshop’s radio station WMMT), and this year they teamed up All Access EKY. All Access EKY is an organization focused on informing and finding birth control resources for anyone who needs either in this region. The bands Slutpill (a local band), Slugpit (a band formed during the camp), and Hedonista (from North Carolina, but with members from the area) performed. During this benefit All Access EKY was providing information on various birth control options, and also had created interlude videos for between sets detailing information on sexual health specifically as it pertained to Kentucky. What was particularly nice is this was an all ages event. There were families supporting their younger family members playing music, and families with kids dancing in the aisles to loud punk music about the necessity of safe access to abortions. There is something very comforting about the normalization of both queer culture and discussions on safe sex in rural Appalachian Kentucky.
I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to so many wonderful people who have come together to create what feels like to me, a very organic Queer space. This includes the director of WMMT and one of their staff who hosts a radio show. Really, I felt both quite blessed and comfortable in this space, which is one of the first places I’ve discovered out here in Eastern Kentucky that makes me feel that way. I’ve named this Appalshop part 1 because it is my hope to go back and speak with the people who know this place best and learn about the Appalshop’s 50 years of cultural influence in this region.
To me, it feels like this place has always been this way, but I know many people have put in the footwork to create this rural Queer space and it is in my plans to explore further what came into play to make Appalshop what it is today. This won’t be the last y’all hear about Appalshop, and if you have time, definitely check out the work they do.
Queer Kentucky sent two youth mentors from the Louisville, Kentucky community to the Baptiste Foundation’s #unstoppable program.
This is a training for anyone who works with youth – school teachers, school counselors, aides, coaches, community center employees, police officers, etc. Our participants learned through personal experience, a set of tools to teach basic yoga poses, breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques to youth as a part of how they already work with them. The training will also gave an introduction as to why and how these tools can help people who have experienced trauma. Our participants were given valuable tools that taught them how to care for themselves first so they can more effectively serve others.
Jefferson County Public School teacher Trina Helson works as the adviser to the LGBTQ+/alliance student group at Eastern High School and participated in the training. Also, Chris Wilson, diversity and outreach coordinator for Louisville Youth Group attended. Both participants filled out an application through Queer Kentucky and were selected based on their interaction with LGBTQ+ youth.
This training covered how yoga, meditation and self inquiry are powerful tools for self care, but also through personal experience, how it can be shared with others.
We thank 502 Power Yoga and the Baptiste Foundation for offering an inclusive space for education and self-growth.