appalachia

Free mom hugs in Pikeville

Marty Wayman, Frankfort

I have a son with autism, a gay son, a “son of my heart,” who came out as trans at the beginning of the year. He’s 16, and one of the reasons Free Mom Hugs has been an organization which I choose to support with all of my energy.

Free Mom Hugs, and assorted offshoots, is an organization started by Sara Cunningham, a mother in Oklahoma. Their goals are:

To be a group of affirming parents who love their LGBTQ+ kids unconditionally and take those hugs of love and acceptance to others. For some, those hugs can be the difference between life or death. We aim to eliminate LGBTQ+ prejudice, and end the abusive practice of conversion therapy. We stand with and love our LGBTQ+ children.

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They started out with parades, but have since branched out into larger, more inclusive efforts. Churches can often be the basis for these offshoot groups . At our events, we often hear:

I haven’t been hugged my mom since I came out.”

My Grandparents won’t talk to me anymore.”

I didn’t find out until after the funeral that my dad died, no one told me.”

Those comments broke their hearts, and mine.

To support and share hugs and love in a judgement-free embrace is a vital thing for individuals of all ages.

Moms, dads, grandparents, big sisters, little brothers, chaplain hugs, a dog to hug—we’ve done it all.

Our volunteers often come from FB pages and one-on-one conversations between people who just want to give back in some small way. We’ve had nothing but happiness and love from our volunteers who often feel they get back even more care than they give.

We try to ensure everyone gets 2-3 hugs, a sticker that says, “Hugged and Loved,” and beads for a “hug to go!” We build mirrors built with self-affirming quotes and signs welcoming people of all religions, sizes, and cultures. All are welcome in our arms.

This is the best and most important thing that I’ve ever done.  The feeling I get by sharing my love is better than any of the opening night excitement I’ve felt on the hundreds of plays I’ve been apart of.  It makes me want to do more for community. In the coming months, we are planning events to support young LQBTQ+ people through the holidays, as family gatherings are a tough time for many people.

One of the things that most encouraged me to get involved with Free Mom Hugs is the work they do outside of festivals and parades. They sit with those who need a friend at the hospital. They will fill in as a parental figure at a wedding. They are astounding.

I’ve worked on assorted boards and fundraisers for LGBTQ+ groups over many decades, but this organization just fit. We all need a hug sometimes.

My favorite part of events is the surprise, big hugs I have with people who may not seem they need one. I will often ask them to, “Bring it in here,” with my arms wide open, and off we go. This has led to amazing hugs with people of all ages, sizes, colors, genders.

My other favorite part is the comments. “Can I have another, my grandma won’t hug me anymore,” and baby, I sure will! I give great hugs.

I’ve yet to have a difficult moment working with the group. I’ve heard about other festivals where some trouble was brewing, but the Free Hugs people helped to diffuse it. I’d like to think that I could help do that as well. I have not had anyone put me in a difficult situation, or need help, but I feel prepared to do so if the need arises.

And when you are wearing the Free Mom Hugs shirt, you will be asked to hug everywhere, even in massively crowded restaurants. When asked, I always say yes. A hug always calms people down!

Pikeville Pride was tremendous. We had had our second Capital Pride here in my hometown of Frankfort the week before and doubled size from year one to year two! I think that will happen in Pikeville as well. The brightness and excitements in the faces of attendees was amazing. Many couldn’t believe it was happening in their town, and the opportunity to hug them was such a gift.

Wow, what an amazing group of festival organizers and participants! We were so delighted to be included!

For us “huggers,” the important thing about Free Hugs is love and acceptance. We want LGBTQ+ youth to have a pair of warm arms, and to come back for more whenever they need.  We want LGBTQ+ adults to know that we love them.  We want festival goers, families, couples, seniors, and kids to know that they are welcome, accepted, we are glad that they are here.

Let your worries go if this is your first time at an event like Pride! If you have any pain in your heart, let me lend you mine for a bit to carry that weight.

 

Making an LGBT+ Hub in Appalachia

by Jordan Roach-Calderone  

Kyle May has always wanted to help people at some capacity, in college he studied counseling. Now he’s currently working in mental health at the Mountain Comprehensive Care Center, as their Healing Program Clinical director, focusing on getting grant assistance to help people in this region who have survived trauma. That’s pretty much just the tip of the iceberg of Kyle’s dedication to helping create a more healing environment in Appalachia. May talked about the stigma of mental health struggles and how people in this area, even though largely affected, are simply just not getting the help they need. From this dream and motivation to sustain and uplift rural Appalachian people he has recently begun another journey, The Big Sandy LGBT+  Safe Zone.

  What’s interesting about the creation of this center is, it was not something he had always planned on doing. His idea grew from a class he took a few years ago while getting his Masters degree, during a class on grant writing they had to create a program they wanted to get funding for.  About a year ago, after hearing from and meeting like-minded people he realized that this center could be made into a reality. Folks around here, both allies and queer people saw a need, so the work came off the page and into the world. May said he’s been very excited by all the support he’s getting from the community, and that when he started putting together real plans and telling others about the center, “It just snowballed and got way more traction than originally thought,”

Kyle said he didn’t receive very much support growing up and realizing he was gay and it didn’t really make him feel any less isolated. This center could change that for many younger queer people in the community, who just need a place to go to find help and support. May hasn’t just thought about the immediate future of getting the center started, he has a whole plan for the future and hopes of what could be.

“My goal is to have a brick and mortar location that people can come to that will house a variety of different services like events or resources in that location.” May said. “Eventually if it grows big enough, have different locations so that there are different services and resources across the region.”

  Currently, the goal is to service the Big Sandy region, which includes Floyd, Johnson, Magoffin, Martin, and Pike counties. Now, he is only a few days away from being officially incorporated, he and a board of three people will then file for not for profit status. Even while the dream has not been fully realized, he and his center have also come in to support Pikeville’s first Pride celebration. He hopes that next year once the Big Sandy LQBT+ Safe Zone is really off the ground that they can do more by either being the parent organization or a financial sponsor for the event. It’s not just the center that Kyle sees as being his goal, it’s creating a sustainable and supportive community for people in this region. He hopes one day it grows beyond him, maybe even being able to hire staff and creating job security for some of the folks around here. By creating a hub that all the various LGBT+ groups, clubs, and organizations can maybe find a home together.  

  As for now, their small board is looking to expand from three to nine members, and maybe some folks who just want to help actualize this dream. Right now they are keeping a low profile, and building a strong foundation. The organization’s Facebook group is private, but Kyle said if you find him on Facebook and message him about wanting to help he’ll add you to the group. If you aren’t on Facebook and still want to throw your hat in the ring to help, email them at BigSandySafeZone@gmail.com.

QKY Writer Jordan takes on Appalachia

Queerness to me is the ability to talk about a marginalized identity across several cultural lines, it leaves room for identities outside of colonial standards and binaries, even for those of us who don’t have the words in our ancestral languages to talk about them. My identity continues to evolve as I come to understand myself, I’ve pretty much always known that I’m bisexual, more recently I’ve come to recognize that I’m non-binary. Through my journey to reclaim my identity I feel kinship to the Pan Indigenous role of being Two Spirit. Hopefully, as I reclaim more of my history I will be able to find what role my peoples would have had for me before colonization displaced some of my ancestors from here and enslaved those from Africa.

I use those terms because it’s kinda the easiest to convey where I stand, I always had these feeling I just lacked the ability to articulate what I’ve felt.

My sense of self is constantly evolving as I learn more, but I really didn’t think about my sexuality and gender identity until recently. I was kinda busy surviving and recovering from alotta childhood trauma. I’ve always had a very supportive Dad, so like that helps a lot. That part of my family is very pro Queer, and frankly anyone who’s known me for any period of time isn’t surprised when I come out to them. Anybody who is, wasn’t paying attention or way too uncomfortable with themselves to recognize, that’s their problem. For me and most people who really know me, this is not a surprise.

I feel very protective over younger people especially younger queer people. If anybody is mean to you or you don’t have any support, just know, I’m your big sib now.

Find me on social media, we can talk, I’m the much eldest of four kids so I got some experience. You don’t have to have sharp teeth or tongues, embrace whoever you are, if you are gentle, don’t worry people like me got your back.  Even if you aren’t sure what your identity is. You deserve room to figure that out. I hope that anybody who hasn’t found the space to come out yet can find people to become their true family. My advice to them is to take their time, I’m taking mine, there’s no rush, stay safe, and when you buck wild once you do come out, use protection haha.

I hope that when little queer kiddos and young people see me they see the badass I’ve grown into. I five feet tall and full of fury, I love without restriction, space is created around me, because as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to demand it. BIPOC, especially women and femmes are told we aren’t allowed to do that. I want create space where we can. I’m clearing the way cause I want to be a good ancestor.  My identity as I see it, is carried on the shoulders of the people who came before me, to do less than them wouldn’t suit me. When I was younger and didn’t understand myself, I tried to make myself less, shrink inward, I was born with these broad shoulders, it’s time to grow into them. That means I gotta draw some fire for those who have less privileged than myself, I’m not rising up without bringin the whole hood with me. The first fear I had to conquer was the one of myself and my own strength. People say they hear me before they see me, that used to embarrass me, now I say “Good. You had warning then.”

Things got better for me in my early 20s when I realized that there are many other Black and Brown queer people to be inspired by. Being marginalized within a marginalized community was very confusing to me for years, learning about and understanding intersection helped me out a lot. As far as solving problems in the queer community, basically I take my privileges of being lighter skinned than other Black folks, not being visible genderqueer, having a college education (for some reason people take you more seriously, which is nonsense) and stop bullshit in its tracks. All the time, not only when visibly marginalized people are around, hasn’t made me a ton of friends, but people understand I’m serious business, and humanization of people is serious business. People’s lives and safety aren’t a game to me. My ferocity is inspired by a deep and abiding love for people.

I’m kind of a rambler, I spent a large part of my childhood in central and north east Ohio. I’ve lived in South Dakota, Arizona, and a van as it travelled the country. Recently my partner got a job at a university here, a lot of my mom’s family is from the Ohio part of Appalachia so I was excited to come have this experience, adventures are always good. It’s only been a few weeks so I’m not sure how I feel so far. Last year post graduating college, I shaved my head, got back on reclaiming my Indigeny, took a break from pretty much everything. I let myself mourn things, my lost and miserable childhood, family members who died before their time, pain I had never had the room to articulate. I went to counseling to learn how to control my anger and to direct it into better things.  It’s a new start for me on the other end of these here mountains and I’m ready.

 

 

 

 

 

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