Queer Kentucky and Belle Townsend team up on a new project to offer accessible political reporting

As queer people, interacting with government and politics is as difficult as it is necessary. With so much information being constantly fed to us, it is increasingly hard to know where to access information about the political realities facing the LGBTQ+ community. Every political party has fucked us over, and few candidates have earned our trust, but nothing affects our everyday lives more than the laws legislators pass regarding our rights. Conversations surrounding national politics dominate our conversations, yet our daily lives are affected FAR more by our local and state governments. Reproductive rights in Kentucky? State. Job discrimination protections? Local. Trans rights? State. Will you lose custody of your kid after coming out to your former spouse? Local.

But, for many, local and state governments aren’t sexy. First of all, they aren’t easy to follow. Most easily accessible corporate media is focused on federal politics (and injected with bias that negatively affects the LGBTQ+ community), and so many local/ state sources are hidden behind a paywall. When stories do come out, they are normally focused on the biggest bills– leaving dozens of other pieces of legislation quietly passing behind the scenes. And here in Kentucky, we face even more barriers. Our state runs a “part-time legislature”, meaning that legislators only come together for a few months each year to discuss and pass legislation (referred to as the Legislative Session or the General Assembly). 

This short period means that there is a flurry of activity happening at all times, making it even harder for your average person to follow. In fact, in 2024, there is a new rule in effect that severely impacts transparency: legislators are no longer allowed to pre-file their bills throughout the year to give other legislators, as well as the public, a chance to review their bills prior to the General Assembly. That severely limits not only the ability of our legislators to actually read each bill they are being asked to vote on, but it also critically restricts the public’s ability to stay informed and add comment as well as giving advocates the opportunity to weigh in and/or organize against bills they deem harmful.

This is why one of my first goals as Executive Director is to kick off more civics programming at Queer Kentucky, starting with covering the 2024 Kentucky General Assembly from a queer lens. We have hired our first political correspondent: Kentucky storytelling powerhouse Belle Townsend (she/they). They will spend the next five months working to keep our audience informed of the actions most affecting the queer community, including key bills, social and cultural context, major players, and the folks on the ground doing the work. 

Belle is no stranger to Queer Kentucky, Kentucky politics, or Southern organizing circles. She is a multi-published author with a strong and influential voice, and she has garnered a passionate following of over 30k folks on social media. This is thanks to her passion for discussing complex topics in a palatable and upfront way that allows for people to take in what’s going on, form an opinion, and feel empowered to take action. 

In 2022, as a fellow for New Leaders Council Kentucky, she formed her capstone project around using Tik Tok to talk about politics in order to make civic engagement more accessible – with a focus on the intersections of rural, international, and queer politics. This project has elevated Belle to the national stage, with her videos being viewed in the millions and Teen Vogue featuring her and her work in the piece “Queer Community in the South is Worth Fighting For”. As a native of Robards in Henderson County, Belle’s motivation lies in the desire to uplift the communities most likely to be taken advantage of by offering access to the most accurate, contextualized, accessible information available to them.

As a frequent contributor of Queer Kentucky, Belle’s extensive body of work includes a number of articles covering the anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced during the 2023 General Assembly, as well as the community organizing against those bills. Her piece “Alarming “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” Bills Legislatively Introduced in Kentucky as Attack on Queer Existence” was one of our most-read pieces of 2023, and it also went viral on her Tiktok account, engaging with over 75k viewers – namely in Louisville, Lexington, and Bowling Green.

Belle’s core beliefs and approach to her career converges with Queer Kentucky on this project. We will be working together to ensure greater access to information, because this is a formative part of having a well-connected community that can be civically engaged with one another. We cannot organize around issues if we do not know what issues face us: making her the perfect person to head the inception of this project. Further on this collaboration, we look forward to Belle utilizing storytelling to make sharing information culturally accessible, and, let’s say it, sexy. When we are given context and education on political circumstances, we are better equipped to come together to make decisions for ourselves and our communities. Rural and southern LGBTQ+ stories and politics are critical to elevate because we are so often overlooked and discounted, and Belle recognizes that we have the power to hold and elevate one another. Then, we can make informed decisions about ourselves and our communities – together. What’s sexier than that?

Part of creating a world that works for all of us includes slow, sustaining work. This is why we protest, why we march,why we organize, and why we deconstruct systems of marginalization that makes us seriously question everything around us. This can make us feel so small: to recognize how much is wrong and how much needs to be done to protect us and ours. This is where politics feel “big,” and our goal with this project is to make local and state government more understandable, accessible, and interesting for our most impacted communities. Information is lifesaving, and we intentionally do not have a digital paywall for this reason. 

We look forward to sharing 20+ stories with you covering the Kentucky General Assembly over the next five months. You can follow the project and be notified of new stories by following us on Facebook and/or Instagram, as well as by subscribing to our newsletter (soon to be released in a weekly format). 

Want to support future civics programming at Queer Kentucky? Help make this project a permanent part of our operations by following this link to donate to our civic programming.

Other ways to support our programming (and our community) include forwarding our stories to your friends and family, sharing our content on social media, and tagging your friends in our posts.

We couldn’t do this without you, and we are so happy you are here. Together, we can cultivate community and civic engagement around queer politics in Kentucky. Let’s fucking go.