Pikeville man, Big Sandy Safe Zone advocate to be honored at Queer Kentucky Awards in June

Kyle May

Kyle lived in a small eastern KY town that does not have a big acceptance to the LGTB community. Struggling himself with feeling comfortable in the community Kyle took it upon himself to create the Big Sandy Safe Zone. It started out as him as some member and now is compete with a full board and is awarded grants. He offers others in the LGTB community a safe place to speak and socialize and feel accepted. He has great plans for expanding and creating a center for everyone to meet at and offer counseling, etc.

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?
I identify as a gay male because I am attracted to men and I identify as a man.

What does the word Queer mean to you?
Queer has several meanings to me and usually depends on the context in which it is used. It could be used as an umbrella term, similar to the word gay, when referencing the collect LGBTQ+ community. Additionally, it could be used as a way of describing how one identifies typically with people whose gender and affectional orientation do not fit into distinct categories. Lastly, it could be used in a derogatory manner which is how I mostly heard the word queer being used in my home town growing up.

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I am from Pikeville, KY. I was raised in a conservative Christian home where deviating from the mold was forbidden. I was taught over and over again that homosexuality was a sin, I was going to Hell, I was an abomination, and I would contract AIDS and die. I never heard anything positive about the LGBTQ+ community which made me grow up in a cloud of depression and anxiety trying to hide and change who I am.

What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
I would say “Live life for yourself and be happy.”

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I don’t think my identity alone runs how I carry myself. I think how I was treated because of my identity is what motivates me to live the way I do now. If I had grown up in an environment where I was encouraged to explore and accept who I am, I doubt I would have such strong passion or drive to advocate on behalf of the LGBTQ+ community today. I hold fast to the belief that if I could just help one person get through life without having to feel the emotional pain I endured growing up, or at least help ease the pain for someone, everything I have done will be worth it.

What issues do you see in the queer community?
I think our community experiences issues with trauma and a lack of resources made available to them throughout the state to help them heal from these experiences. I also think that our community experiences significant amounts of mental health conditions as well as severe loneliness and isolation.

What do you think would solve those issues?
I think increasing access to mental health treatment, physical health treatment, and other community resources that are LGBTQ+ affirming would help.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
Not necessarily. I believe that I am very much a part of the mainstream LGBTQ+ community when I want to be.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
I spend a lot of time at home alone, with friends, or at the gay bars. I also feel safe at my place of employment. They are very LGBTQ+ affirming.

Who influenced the life you live now?
Honestly? Myself. At some point I decided to stop living the life everyone else wanted for me and started shifting my focus toward the life I wanted for myself. I guess if I had to give credit to anyone, my family influenced who I am today due to the ways they have already treated me and the way I processed and reacted to it all. I tend to live an opposite life of how they have lived which, I must say, tends to work out pretty well for me. I have had minimal role models in my life. I have navigated most of life on my own with the help and support of friends.