by Jordan Roach-Calderone
Kyle May has always wanted to help people at some capacity, in college he studied counseling. Now he’s currently working in mental health at the Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, as their Healing Program Clinical director, focusing on getting grant assistance to help people in this region who have survived trauma. That’s pretty much just the tip of the iceberg of Kyle’s dedication to helping create a more healing environment in Appalachia. May talked about the stigma of mental health struggles and how people in this area, even though largely affected, are simply just not getting the help they need. From this dream and motivation to sustain and uplift rural Appalachian people he has recently begun another journey, The Big Sandy LGBT+ Safe Zone.
What’s interesting about the creation of this center is, it was not something he had always planned on doing. His idea grew from a class he took a few years ago while getting his Masters degree, during a class on grant writing they had to create a program they wanted to get funding for. About a year ago, after hearing from and meeting like-minded people he realized that this center could be made into a reality. Folks around here, both allies and queer people saw a need, so the work came off the page and into the world. May said he’s been very excited by all the support he’s getting from the community, and that when he started putting together real plans and telling others about the center, “It just snowballed and got way more traction than originally thought,”
Kyle said he didn’t receive very much support growing up and realizing he was gay and it didn’t really make him feel any less isolated. This center could change that for many younger queer people in the community, who just need a place to go to find help and support. May hasn’t just thought about the immediate future of getting the center started, he has a whole plan for the future and hopes of what could be.
“My goal is to have a brick and mortar location that people can come to that will house a variety of different services like events or resources in that location.” May said. “Eventually if it grows big enough, have different locations so that there are different services and resources across the region.”
Currently, the goal is to service the Big Sandy region, which includes Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike counties. Now, he is only a few days away from being officially incorporated, he and a board of three people will then file for not for profit status. Even while the dream has not been fully realized, he and his center have also come in to support Pikeville’s first Pride celebration. He hopes that next year once the Big Sandy LQBT+ Safe Zone is really off the ground that they can do more by either being the parent organization or a financial sponsor for the event. It’s not just the center that Kyle sees as being his goal, it’s creating a sustainable and supportive community for people in this region. He hopes one day it grows beyond him, maybe even being able to hire staff and creating job security for some of the folks around here. By creating a hub that all the various LGBT+ groups, clubs, and organizations can maybe find a home together.
As for now, their small board is looking to expand from three to nine members, and maybe some folks who just want to help actualize this dream. Right now they are keeping a low profile, and building a strong foundation. The organization’s Facebook group is private, but Kyle said if you find him on Facebook and message him about wanting to help he’ll add you to the group. If you aren’t on Facebook and still want to throw your hat in the ring to help, email them at BigSandySafeZone@gmail.com.