By Ben Gierhart
It’s almost 2020, so it may seem to be a foregone conclusion that most if not all communities are accepting of LGBTQ+ people by now. The truth is that unfortunately many rural communities in the country are still not as progressive as one might want. Kentucky has a reputation for being a backwater state, but overall, it’s more queer-friendly than one might expect. Numerous communities in Kentucky sponsor Pride events several counties boast Fairness ordinances that don’t exist in law at the state or federal levels. But what is there for those communities that still don’t offer those protections and visibility?
“Western Kentucky, northwest Tennessee and the southern Illinois area is a deeply conservative area where the LGBTQIA+ community is constantly attacked, both physically and mentally,” says Dustin Havens a gay man and director of operations at the Paducah LGBT Welcome Center, a new addition to the city of Paducah in western Kentucky in September 2019. “[LGBTQ+] youth and young adult suicide is on the rise, STI’s are spreading like wildfire due to health services having the right to refuse service to LGBTQIA+ people and gay bashing is a routine part of life.” Havens continues to say that due to this reality, the welcome center becomes a necessity and not just a want for the area. “We no longer want to sit back and let progress pass our area up for the comfort of those who would oppress us.”
The welcome center’s mission is simple: to build a world where LGBTQ+ people thrive as healthy, equal and complete members of society. To that end, they embody a host of core values that Havens says they strive to exemplify and include in every event and interaction.
Respect: “We provide a workplace and service environment where individuality is seen as a strength and all people are treated with fairness and dignity.”
Excellence: “We dedicate ourselves to the highest quality in all our programs and services and seek employees, volunteers and supporters who have a passion for helping others.”
Inclusiveness: “We believe in the need for different perspectives and commit ourselves to representation from all members of our diverse community.”
Innovation: “We vigorously support pioneering programs and advocacy to meet community needs.”
Integrity: “We work together to advance the Center’s mission, and we honor and apply these values in what we do and say.”
Some of these tenets may seem elementary, but that is because they each go back to the basics, to a time when most people were learning human decency and compassionate behavior at a formative age.
Beyond words, the welcome center has already committed themselves to action in their short existence. “We put on the first ever Western Kentucky Pride Festival this past year with thousands in attendance, and in 2020, we will be expanding the festival to three days with activities and fun for all ages,” says Havens proudly.
On January 17, the welcome center will be putting on “Drag me to Dinner,” an all-ages drag show and dinner at Soirées Events & Catering in Paducah. In February, they will host an “Anti-Valentines” Valentine’s Day dinner and show. In April, there will be the “Western Kentucky Pride Gala,” and May 29 through 31 will see the return of the Pride festival. At the moment, their list of upcoming events concludes with a community picnic in June, but Havens promises that people have countless events to look forward to throughout the year. “We offer the ‘Friends of Pride’ package that gives you free access to all of these events for as low as $12.50 a month,” he says.
Progress is not passive. It requires a fight from the oppressed every step of the way, but with these inclusive events already in place, and a strategic five-year plan that includes but is not limited to health services, a community thrift store, transitional housing, a childcare facility, social welfare programs, trans support services, youth enrichment programs and more, it appears that the Paducah LGBT Welcome Center is taking itself and the needs of its community seriously.
The learn more about the Paducah LGBT Welcome Center, please visit paducah.lgbt. They are always accepting donations as well, which you can do through the site or through Paypal at email@example.com.