appalachia

Facing the Queer truth, embracing self

Sarah, Elkhorn City

I grew up in Elkhorn City, Kentucky. My childhood was spent playing in the mountains, riding ATVs and horses, and collecting Hot Wheels. I was always a tomboy and hated wearing the frilly dresses my grandmother made me wear to church every Sunday. That just wasn’t who I was, and I just never felt comfortable in feminine clothing.  Despite that, I was expected to fit into a very traditional feminine mold and follow the status quo: grow up, meet a boy, marry him, and have a family.  

I was fortunate to grow up with friends who had same-sex parents.  Going to sleepovers at those houses taught me that two women CAN have a family and that their family was just as normal as mine.  Despite having that experience, the cognitive dissonance during my adolescence was real.  I had boyfriends and I felt attracted to them, but something was missing. My first crushes were the Pink Power Ranger, Laura Dern in Jurassic Park, Clarice Starling, Gwen Stefani, and Sporty Spice.  All powerful women, yet the idea of dating a girl seemed so foreign, so taboo, so far out of my grasp.

I suppressed it. I dated men. I married one. Then I met a woman who made me realize what was missing all along, and everything came grinding to a halt.  I realized that I’m the only one in control of my life and my identity. It was time to step out into the sunlight.

Coming out of the closet at 29 years old was not my plan, but I couldn’t stay contained in that little heteronormative box any longer. One day everything hit me: I couldn’t do this anymore. My mental health was at an all-time low and I felt hopeless. Helpless. I woke up wishing I was dead. I went to sleep hoping for another life.  I have a master’s degree, I have a fulfilling career as a social worker, and I’m a homeowner.  Why was I so damn miserable?  

The answer was staring me in the face. I had to live my truth.  I came out – and it felt exactly like the moment Dorothy steps into Oz for the first time.  My life went from black and white to color.

I’ve lived in Louisville for the last few years and I have surrounded myself with a loving group of queer folk from all kinds of backgrounds.  I can’t say how lucky I am to have this community. I have learned so much from these friends who are gay, bi, pan, lesbian, trans, non-binary, and HIV+ and I truly credit them with the courage it took to walk out of that closet with my head held high.  

My only goal in life is to be the person I needed when I was younger, and I’m finally taking steps to do that.  Embrace who you are and love yourself for it.

Pride in the Bluegrass!

“From metro streets to Appalachian trails, these are our stories.”

Queer Kentucky is beyond happy to announce THIS many Pride celebrations throughout our state in 2019!

We love watching our community come together in different regions to lift their voices in LGBTQ+ pride. We will add more events as we learn about more events.

June 2

Owensboro Pride Picnic
English Park, Owensboro

June 9

NKY Pride

Goebel Park, Covington

June 14-15

Kentuckiana Pride

Big Four Lawn, Louisville

June 28-29

Lexington Pride Festival

Courthouse plaza, Lexington

August 24-25
Western Kentucky Pride Festival

Noble Park, Paducah

September 13-15

Kentucky Black Pride Festival

Lexington

Sept. 14

Shelbyville Pride

Clear Creek Park, Shelbyville

Sept. 21

Louisville Pride Festival

Bardstown Road, Louisville

Sept. 28

Mad City Pride

Downtown, Madisonville

Sept. 28

Mad City Pride

Downtown, Madisonville

October 12

Capital Pride KY

Old Capitol lawn, Frankfort

October 12

Pikeville Pride Celebration

Pikeville City Park, Pikeville

https://www.facebook.com/bgfairness/

Oct. 12

Elizabethtown Pride

Location TBA, Elizabethtown

‘The simplest thing is – You are not alone’

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me queer has always equated with “outside of the other categories you’ve given me to choose from.” Which I like personally and I have always admired those who had adopted the label early. But then I catch the juxtaposition of choosing the “other” label (behold, it’s still a label) and wonder about the irony.

How do you identify?

Definitely queer, but my vernacular has always leaned toward “I’m gay” in conversation. The girl that I had a crush on in second grade called me gay, and I thought she meant happy. I had never heard the term before. She was right, and it stuck.

Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

Right. I don’t think about much day-to-day anymore. I’m very fortunate that I live most of my life in a set of environments that I contact more acceptance than judgement for behavior related to my sexuality.

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I’m originally from a small town of 3,000 people in WV, called Weston. It’s very similar to small towns here in Kentucky. I had a very good childhood, with very loving family, but I perceived a lack of gay men and women in town – and the ridicule and judgement that seemed to be part of the lives of those I knew. I certainly knew my predilections were something to hide or repress. I had to move away from home to feel like I could be myself openly. I transferred to Centre College after my freshman year of college. Kentucky has been home ever since.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

Shew. It feels presumptuous to even try! It’s so personal. The simplest thing is – You are not alone. The right people will love you for being exactly who you are. It takes time. It’s time worth taking.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

I think I had so much early teasing and ridicule for acting/looking “like a tomboy,” or dressing in a way that doesn’t match my personal gender, that I have learned to be confident in a fluid or non-binary gender aesthetic. I’m comfortable with my androgyny, but it’s been an evolution of years, and is still evolving really.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

No, I don’t feel excluded. I’ll quote Margaret Cho here on a somewhat related topic: “You feel left out? It’s like a group outing! Nobody’s invited. Everybody just knows to come!”

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc).

At my home, and with my loved ones.

Who influenced the life you live now?

Family (given and chosen), and a plethora of art and artists.

Kentucky’s Gender inclusive apparel brand gives back

What is BLoFISH?

We are a clothing company based in Louisville, KY. Known for our amazingly soft fabrics, All 4 All message, being gender neutral, and our 10% giveback program. We were founded in 2014 and opened our first store in Louisville in 2016. We are still small, but have a solid online presence and have sold to 20 cites, all 50 states, and 7 countries.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life. Whether that be in traditional economic opportunities, education, racial equality, gender equality, or anything else. We believe in our “All 4 All” mission. No matter one’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or abilities everyone should have the same opportunities centered around equality. The message is deeply ingrained into our company’s culture and customers, with 10% of every sale going directly to social justice issues.

How do you financially give back to communities? How do you give back differently than larger corporations?

We believe in the power of grassroots organizations, particularly those who are on the ground doing the non-profit work that has a direct visible impact on the communities they are located in. We do give to national organizations, but we prefer to give to causes that support the communities we know our money will make the most impact.

Our business model is revolutionary and much different than what corporations are doing now, particularly in our industry. To put it simply for every $100 in sales we donate $10 to organizations we believe have an impact on the world. While 10% may not sound like a lot, it is exponentially higher than most corporations. Effectively, we created the ultimate Public Benefit Corporation before it was even a thing. How can we do this? We treat our accounting as if the 10% never existed, we work 10% harder, keep lower inventory counts, don’t take (and never will take) crazy bonuses or salaries, and don’t (and never will) have multi-million dollar campuses costing even more millions to maintain.

Here are some numbers:

  • At $100k in sales, we donated $10k to organizations.
  • At $1 million in sales, we will donate $100k to organizations.
  • At $100 million in sales, we will donate $10 million to organizations.
  • As a $1 billion dollar company (knock on wood) we will donate $100 million to organizations.

To put that into comparison, a company in the same industry (and pays their top 6 positions $21 million dollars a year) did $3.8 billion last year. They haven’t released a charitable report online since 2016, but on it they show their foundation has only given on average $400K a year. With our model, alone in 2018 we would have give $380 million to charity. https://www.aeo-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AEO_CSR.pdf (page 9)

Another question we get often with this model and the look of our stores is “how expensive is it?” Our prices are in-line with all the major players, including Nike, American Eagle, Abercrombie, and less expensive than the likes of Lululemon and Bonobos while still using fabrics that are fantastic. I can’t tell you the amount of people who walk by and are surprised when they find out our prices despite the clean, expensive look of our stores.

Going a little off topic. I think one thing average Americans struggle with in terms to the wealthy in this country is just how big those numbers are. While it may seem like a company donating $400k a year, it’s all relative. Here’s what that looks like next to their 2018 profit.

$1,370,000,000

$400,000        

Try and type that top number in your phone calculator. Unless you turn it sideways it’s not even possible. That is 1,370 MILLIONS. No wonder we have a hard time comprehending just how rich the uber wealthy are.

How are your employees paid and how are you paid?

We are still a small company, but we’ve tried to build a culture here where we pay everyone a decent wage, but still work hard. Everyone we’ve brought on full-time has been paid the same, which makes for a cool work-place. Hopefully we can keep it up as we grow. One thing I really believe in is people taking responsibility for themselves, which includes taking as much time off as long as they can find someone to pick up on their responsibilities. It makes it tough being small, but so far we’ve been able to pull it off and should only get easier as we have more resources.

As for myself, I still haven’t taken a dime out of BLoFISH. Luckily I’ve been able to support myself enough in other ways. I don’t plan on taking anything out of BLoFISH so long as I see new products and expansion that needs to be done, which won’t be for a while. There are tons of designs and tons of people who haven’t been touched by BLoFISH, and until that’s done or we have enough resources I can’t see myself taking money out of the company.

What other communities would you like to reach out to?

We’ve hit on a lot of different communities, so there’s not one specific we feel like we need to reach out to. We obviously want to expand, and with that we will be able to copy some of the grassroots giving we’ve been able to do here in Louisville and extend our reach to other communities.

The LGBTQ+ community, the sexual assault awareness community, the trans community, the animal rescue community, human trafficking community, the veteran community, and many others have all been great to work with. It’s nice to be able to connect different types of people who may not otherwise meet. Many of these communities have goals that overlap, and it’s our job to not only give these communities the resources they need, but to connect them so there is an even bigger coalition to go forward and make changes the world needs, many of which aren’t that far out of reach or don’t require extreme resources.

Do you plan to bring your business to areas such as Appalachia, western Ky, etc.?

Yes. We want BLoFISH in as many places as possible, particularly in places that may not have the access to resources or support like many people here in Louisville have, and we know the power that one of our locations can have on a community. With that being said, we are limited in resources, and that’s where social media is amazing. We are able to reach people all over the country.

We recently did a podcast with a transgender veteran from Eastern Tennessee. He talked a lot about how he was surprised how many people were actually supportive of him when they found out about the transition, and while everyone was not supportive, many more than he thought were. So getting our message out in these places is so important to us, and until we can get the resources for physical locations we will do our best to reach out through social media.

What have some of the positive reactions been to your company? What have some of the negative reactions been?

The positive reactions have far overwhelmed the negative for sure. We’ve had people talk about how they wanted a place to feel welcomed, a place that is actually genuine, and some of the most emotional moments have taken place at our community events. The reaction to our products and fabrics have also been positive, which is important, because ultimately that’s the core and the reason we are able to give back so much. I would encourage people to check out our BLoFISH Speakeasy Podcast to hear some stories and see how we interact with the community.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-blofish-speakeasy/id1272938560?mt=2

As a company centered around social justice we’ve had our fair share of negative comments you might expect, but surprisingly we have had a little bit of push back from some people in the LBGTQ+ community saying our stuff isn’t gender neutral enough. Most of those people haven’t been in the store, but some are right we need to keep pushing boundaries. The key I have to balance is still making things accessible to everyone, while still being profitable on those products.  Being small is tough, and all the new designs are capital intensive, meaning we have to charge more for the products. Some of the same people complaining haven’t been in to test our more “fashion-oriented” designs so it makes it tough in this market to keep producing them. It’s still just my money so far, so we don’t have a multi-million dollar (or anywhere close) resource to tap in to. We’ve had a few people complain about price, but we try and stay in-line with the bigger brands like Nike, AE, and Gap. We will never be as cheap as somewhere like Aeropostale because of the quality of fabrics and products we have, but $46 for our joggers and $25 for hats is right in-line with the brands I mentioned. We have also had some people talk about our sizing system and how we display it, and it’s something we are looking into along with everything else, trying to be as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Why is gender neutral so important, and why does a white cis male care?

When I first started the company the idea of having a place where everyone could come in and buy what they wanted regardless of who they were seemed like a crazy idea (and to many still is today). I think gender neutral is the best way to describe what we are doing, but I’m not sure the adjective fits the way it should. I see what we are doing as label-less, we don’t care how you identify, we just think everyone should have the same opportunity to shop and wear awesome things without worrying about people looking down on them because they are in the wrong section or in the wrong class to buy things. In the past few years gender neutral has almost taken on a moniker of its own and people think it should look one way or another. I push against that, and think people should be able to buy and wear whatever they want, whether they identify as “gender neutral” or male or female or gender fluid, and that’s the perspective I design from.

As a white cis male I believe, and have since I can remember, a responsibility to step up and speak up for those who don’t have the same privileges as me. And that goes beyond being just a cis white male, into a cis white male who grew up with everything I needed. I didn’t have to struggle for a ride to baseball practice or worry about how I was going to get to school. I think we have a tendency to use labels as a way to build walls, and if everyone would look at each other in a sense of their privileges and access as opposed to their race and gender the world would be better for it. I will continue to stand up for all those who didn’t and don’t have the same opportunities I had, and am extremely lucky to have a platform and a business like BLoFISH to help spread that message.  

Who are YOU? What is Logan about?

I’m a crazy 31 year old person who is crazy enough to think it’s possible to create a new business model and flip the entire retail industry on its head while spreading a great message and making a REAL difference in the communities we are in.

What makes BLoFISH stand out among other retail companies in the nation?

You mean besides having better products, people, community, and business model? Not too much.

‘Ban conversion therapy Kentucky’ Executive Director’s call to action

For me the word queer is liberating. Growing up in Southern Indiana, where there was minimal support for LGBTQ people, I didn’t know what supportive LGBTQ spaces looked like.

Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I started coming into my queer identity and learning how my other identities influence the way I exist in various spaces. For myself, the queer community has given me purpose.

Being involved in activism and fighting for the queer community is a passion of mine.

I am heading a project to make conversion therapy illegal for minors in Kentucky. Hearing the horror stories from survivors of conversion therapy, we wanted to take action to show queer kids that someone is fighting for them. No one should have to experience this torture and should be able to be happy and celebrate who they are.

Though we have made significant strides as a community in the United States– our fight is far from over. In addition to the work we have ahead of us as a country, we as community have so much work to do.

I believe that Queer people and all people will never truly experience liberation until we as a community actively address the oppression that still exists in queer spaces.

We will not truly be a community until we fully support queer folks who are black and brown, undocumented queer folks, our queer folks with disabilities, queer folks of all body types, as well as many other identities that intersect with queerness.

I am excited for the progress that will come with future generations — it seems that today’s youth are more caring and unapologetic in their queer identities than ever before.

Feminist Friday: The Appalshop Part 1

 by Jordan Roach

Tucked back in Whitesburg, Ky., there is a large unassuming, wood clad, building holding a treasure trove of resources, history and culture.  The Appalshop, while it’s been a constant staple of Eastern Kentucky’s culture for nearly 50 years, there is a big chance many people haven’t heard about it.

If you are looking for an expressive hub of mountain Kentucky culture, I’d have to say this is where you’ll find it. They host events, have a radio station with many diverse shows, camps, readings, archives and workshops. You want DIY? This is the spot. The first time I found out about Appalshop was at Pikeville’s Pride. They sent up a booth and I learned about some of their histories and filled out a survey on a safe space they are creating. The next week I was at a reading of “Biscuits and Blisters,” written and read by Misty Skaggs. Afterward, I talked to her mom, who gave me earrings and told me stories about the quilt that covered their table, her artistic inspirations, and traveling to readings with her daughter. On Friday, Nov. 9, I went to see a show put on by the Girls Rock Camp benefit, supporting both the camp and All Access EKY.

Girls Rock Camp is for girls and gender variant youth who want to play music. Having gone to a similar camp in Ohio when I was a preteen, Girls Rock had a special place in my heart. This is the third year of Girls Rock Camp (hosted by Appalshop’s radio station WMMT), and this year they teamed up All Access EKY. All Access EKY is an organization focused on informing and finding birth control resources for anyone who needs either in this region. The bands Slutpill (a local band), Slugpit (a band formed during the camp), and Hedonista (from North Carolina, but with members from the area) performed. During this benefit All Access EKY was providing information on various birth control options, and also had created interlude videos for between sets detailing information on sexual health specifically as it pertained to Kentucky. What was particularly nice is this was an all ages event. There were families supporting their younger family members playing music, and families with kids dancing in the aisles to loud punk music about the necessity of safe access to abortions. There is something very comforting about the normalization of both queer culture and discussions on safe sex in rural Appalachian Kentucky.

I was lucky enough to get to meet and talk to so many wonderful people who have come together to create what feels like to me, a very organic Queer space. This includes the director of WMMT and one of their staff who hosts a radio show. Really, I felt both quite blessed and comfortable in this space, which is one of the first places I’ve discovered out here in Eastern Kentucky that makes me feel that way. I’ve named this Appalshop part 1 because it is my hope to go back and speak with the people who know this place best and learn about the Appalshop’s 50 years of cultural influence in this region.

To me, it feels like this place has always been this way, but I know many people have put in the footwork to create this rural Queer space and it is in my plans to explore further what came into play to make Appalshop what it is today. This won’t be the last y’all hear about Appalshop, and if you have time, definitely check out the work they do.

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