Newly founded LGBTQ+ Appalachian fund aims to increase resources for Queer community

by Spencer Jenkins

Appalachia has a newly founded LGBTQ+ fund that will ensure queer youth and leaders have the tools and resources they need to build a more just, diverse and vibrant region.

Co-founded by Lora Smith and Baylen Campbell, the Lige Clarke Liberation Fund honors his life’s work by supporting LGBTQ+ activism, leadership, and infrastructure in his home region — Appalachian Kentucky.

Lora Smith and Baylen Campbell

Lige Clarke was born Elijah Haydn “Lige” Clarke on February 22nd, 1942, right outside the town of Hindman, in Knott County, Eastern Kentucky. He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University, then later served in the U.S. army, and began his activism within explicitly gay journalism in 1965. Lige was beloved by his family, and was consistently described as a free thinker, a dreamer, and an activist.

Lige Clarke and his partner Jack Nicols, Union Square, 1972

In an interview with KY Inno, Smith, chief strategy officer at the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky, said she was able to reconnect with Clarke’s nephew, Eric Rhein, during Pride 2019 in Lexington, Kentucky. She asked him about creating the liberation fund to help LGBTQ+ activists like Clarke.

According to KY Inno, The Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky is prioritizing supporting entrepreneurship in the coming years, continuing the work it started during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We can make grants directly to small businesses, and then that’s a great way to get them connected to the work of the Foundation, with Appalachian Impact Fund, and we also have a business accelerator called Invest 606 that sits at the Foundation, which does pitch contests and provides technical assistance,” Smith told KY Inno. “We have this whole entrepreneurial ecosystem that offers all kinds of technical assistance, zero- to low-interest lending and other grant dollars. We very much want to know that pipeline of queer-owned businesses in the region so that we have visibility.”

In a Facebook post from June 10, Smith added that she and Campbell have been met with resistance for this work, including some really disappointing and hurtful experiences with leaders in the region, but the response to the Lige Clarke Liberation Fund has been met with overwhelming enthusiasm and positivity.

“Supporting queer people — especially youth — leads to more viable and caring communities and can save lives. Love will overcome fear and life will persevere,” she said. “If you can throw some dollars our way, please do! Grantmaking starts in the fall.”

Contrary to popular belief, stated on the Foundation for Appalachina Kentucky website, Appalachian Kentucky has a vibrant LGBTQ+ community with a new generation of young leaders and nascent nonprofit organizations working to shape the region to be more inclusive. Lacking are the tools and resources to enable these nonprofits, writers, advocates, educators, and community organizers to drive this work.

Campbell, of Hazard, Ky., and director of community impact for Invest Appalachia, said the intent really is to support folks in Eastern Kentucky because there is a great, robust queer community that is often overlooked and underserved.

“Because there are fewer social services, legal protections, and community spaces that center the queer community and queer life,” he said. “Queer Appalachians, especially youth, face increased rates of homelessness, mental health issues, substance abuse, suicide, and more.”

For more information on this fund and donation details, click here.