QKY Feature: ‘When I first came out, this word (Queer) made me feel uncomfortable ‘

Zack Flanagan, is the owner of Board and You Bistro and Wine Bar. They are a proud sponsor of Queer Kentucky and as an LGBTQ+ owned business, they understand the importance and power of LGBTQ+ visibility. Every Saturday, the bistro throws their weekly drag brunch! Drag Brunch at the Bistro will be an experience like no other! As always with our brand, we take every single detail into account. We want this experience to be memorable, exciting, and delicious. Our brunch menu, developed by chef Aaron Flanagan rivals some of the most upscale brunch scenes around. Our custom cocktail menu is equally as delicious with refreshing brunch cocktails that are sure to please. Oh, and did we mention? Drag Brunch is coming to southern Indiana for the first time EVER! Remember, bring your #dollabills and get ready for a one of a kind experience!

What does the word Queer mean to you?
The word “queer” to me has taken quite the journey in recent years. As with anything, growth is important. Growth allows us to see things in a new light or perspective. When I first came out, this word made me feel uncomfortable. I wasn’t comfortable with standing there and saying a word that described me. When someone would ask if I was queer, I immediately felt that hot flash feeling right to the face. I felt this feeling because I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand how empowering the word “Queer” was. I didn’t understand that it made me different in all the right ways. It took me 21 years to finally come out. I was in committed relationships with women whom I adore and love to this day. I felt like coming out as queer would make them, and others, disappointed in me. I thought they would view me as a liar. As time went on, I became more and more comfortable with my sexuality. I slowly started to feel empowered. I tried to never let victimhood or the thoughts of being “different” even come into my mind.

Although being different is BEAUTIFUL, I think it’s important for all of us to remember one very important thing — under all this skin, we look exactly the same. We’re all human. The word Queer has such a different meaning today. It reminds me of those who paved the way for equality. It reminds me of the people that fought to make our lives as Queer people much more equal than what it was even 20 years ago. Queer is a beautiful word and I am proud of it.

What do you identify as? Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything?

(Cisgender gay man) He/Him. My identity/pronouns reflect how I feel as an individual. It reflects how I feel in my own skin. Pronouns are so important for everyone because they allows us to express our true gender identities.

Where are you from and explain what it was like growing up/living in Kentucky?
I am from New Albany, Indiana! Growing up in New Albany was, for the most part, very normal! I am 1 of 3 children (the oldest). My parents are both relatively young (49) and have been super involved in my life and my siblings’ lives. I was fortunate to have the support of my family throughout the many trying times of life. I did not come out until I was 21 so I experienced a very “normal” adolescence.

What would you say to anyone struggling to come into their own identity?
Soooo much! I actually never really had the honor of “coming out” to the world. I had it done for me via Twitter. Thinking back, I wouldn’t change a thing. It made me QUICKLY learn to pick myself up and move forward. At the time, I was president of my fraternity at the University of Louisville and heavily involved on campus. Yes, I was humiliated, but I couldn’t just stop. I would tell anyone struggling to come into their own identity to find just one single person to hang onto and confide in. Let that person be someone you trust. Talk to that person multiple times a day and lean on them when you feel weak. The best thing/piece of advice I received was to not allow myself to be a victim. Once you become a victim, your mentality shifts to defense. Don’t ever let someone make you feel less than.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?
I think my identity has a lot to do with how I carry myself. My leading attribute in life that I strive to live for daily is “kindness.” This is the single most important word to me in the dictionary. Kindness is the map to how I try to live daily. I try to treat others with kindness, dignity, and respect. I think when you live your life with a strong and cohesive identity, you’ll notice a much stronger mentality. I am a firm believer in not letting those “negative thoughts” control your daily habits.

What issues do you see in the queer community?
I think the queer community has two issues. The first issue is passing judgement onto others. While I do believe the queer community is one of the most accepting and loving communities, I also think a large sector of this community tends to pass judgement very quickly without having dialogue or understanding. I think communication is the key to solving this issue. Trying to UNDERSTAND rather than passing judgement is so much more healthy for the soul. The 2nd issue I see in my community is a lack of empathy. I love seeing how passionate this community is about equality for all – as we ALL should be. What I think we sometimes struggle with is pointing that finger too quickly to label someone. This goes hand in hand with my first point… If we take the time to understand WHY someone thinks a certain way, it is so much easier to start that much needed dialogue.

What do you think would solve those issues?
Oops. I think I answered them a little. I think just an overall sense of communication can really fix both. Learning to respectfully speak to one another within and outside of our community is crucial. If we viciously attack those that do not think EXACTLY the same way we do, I believe that will do nothing but further the gap between us.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I do not. There are certain topics/discussion points within the queer community that I challenge, but as a whole I feel very accepted. As a business owner, I feel it is very important to understand all areas of my business related to financial matters. There are certain areas of business where my personal beliefs do not align with the “mainstream” queer community. As I mentioned in previous answers, I feel like when I am given the opportunity to explain why I feel a specific way, a mutual understanding is always met and that is extremely refreshing. All in all, I appreciate the Queer community so much for welcoming me after 21 years of not being involved.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)
This sounds so corny but I feel my best and most at home during a Drag Brunch at Board and You Bistro & Wine Bar. I’m obsessed with drag right now. I love how powerful and unapologetic it is. I love the freedom and creativity it allows people to feel. One day you may see me in thigh high boots and a sexy ass body suit. 

Who influenced the life you live now?
My fiancé, Sean Lara. I can’t say enough how happy I am to be with someone who is completely comfortable with themselves. That is my single favorite quality of Sean’s. He doesn’t care AT ALL what others think and I just find that to be the most amazing thing ever. His heart is pure gold and he would do anything for anyone. He and I have grown so much these last few years and I am eternally grateful for our community allowing us to grow. Sean is definitely my inspiration into learning how to love myself for who I am.

Board & You was created in the most humble of beginnings, a charcuterie competition between two co-workers. Deciding to go ‘all out,’ Sean created the most amazing board without any experience. Later realizing that his coworker had forgotten about the whole thing. Not letting the board go to waste, Sean and Zack took the board to Zack’s family gathering — and it was an absolute hit! 

Sean and Zack noticed everyone gathering around their board and how it essentially became the center-piece of the party. After a lot of thought (and many blocks of cheese), they decided to give that same experience to other people in the area. Giving families a conversation piece during parties, events, and gatherings. 

They wanted to give all of YOU something special. Thus, Board & You was created.