campbellsville

Taylor County Library pride panelist reflects on rural upbringing, asks others to share their story

Jeremy McFarland, Campbellsville

Participating in the LGBTQ+ Pride Panel at Taylor County Library was one of the greatest honors of my life so far. While growing up as a transgender man in Taylor County, I never imagined something like the panel ever taking place. As a panelist, I and four other openly LGBTQ+ adults shared our stories, advice, and perspectives to an audience of young LGBTQ+ people and adults seeking to support those youth.

Growing up in Taylor County, I did not know a single openly LGBTQ+ adult while I was growing up, there were no resources or groups available to support or guide me, and the messages I received from my community were that LGBTQ+ people either didn’t exist in our small town or didn’t deserve to. This made coming out as transgender incredibly difficult, particularly because I didn’t have the words to explain what I was feeling and no one to go to once I figured it out. 

I spent a lot of growing up wanting to die. When my family tried to find help for me, we were repeatedly turned away. Despite the fact that I was actively planning to kill myself, no therapists in Taylor County were willing to accept me as a patient explicitly because I was transgender. Later on, once I started hormone replacement therapy, our local pharmacy was unwilling to fill my prescription. When I went to have my name changed, either through malice or ignorance, I was initially turned away by the judge. Even my parents, who at first struggled to understand what I was going through, lost friends and were denied services because they learned to love me as their son. 

Like so many others before me, I left my hometown the moment I was able to. I made a new home for myself with a beautiful, diverse, and loving chosen family in Bowling Green (ironically, a town that many have had to flee for reasons similar to my own), while many of my childhood friends moved on to find homes in other cities across the state, country, and even around the world. Despite so many of us running away from Campbellsville, we all seemed to come together in response to the public library’s Pride Panel and the controversy that has followed it. 

I can’t speak for everyone else, but, for me, being so rejected by my hometown has left a painful wound on my heart. I am past the bitterness of it all, but until Campbellsville is able to heal its bigotry, I don’t think I can fully heal, either. However, this event was a vital step in the right direction.

During the panel and at the subsequent board of trustees meeting, I was able to meet older LGBTQ people who have lived in Taylor County their entire lives. A part of me feels truly healed by knowing they were there the whole time, however, I am also pained that these adults shared my fears and felt they could not make themselves known before now. I also had the chance to meet some incredible trans boys who, with the love of their families and the support of their local library, have harnessed the strength and bravery to be open about their identities in a way I wasn’t able to at their age. Even more uplifting, tons of people from the community came out to show their support and thank the library at Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

There is still so much work to be done, though. The Taylor County Fiscal Court (which includes Judge Executive Barry Smith, who publicly expressed his prejudicial views towards LGBTQ+ people in the community he was selected to serve) is at odds with library staff regarding this situation. If we want to ensure that the local library can continue to be a sanctuary for all members of our community, we must keep the conversation going.

This has been a coming out for the LGBTQ+ community in Taylor County and Campbellsville. For the first time, our existence is being publicly acknowledged. My greatest hope is that we do not allow this opportunity to pass us by. For the sake of LGBTQ+ youth currently growing up in Taylor County and Campbellsville, for the sake of those who had to leave and those brave enough to stay, and for the sake of honoring our own human dignity, we must not allow them to shut the closet doors on us again.

Please consider sharing your story by filling out this form or emailing us at stories@unheardky.com.

Feel free to reach out to this email if you would like to be kept in the loop about future responses to homophobia and transphobia in Taylor County.

 

UPDATED: Conservatives want officials in this Central Ky. town to ‘punish library’ after hosting LGBTQ+ Pride panel

UPDATE: According to The Taylor County Library Facebook account, they will be having a special session meeting to discuss the controversy in response to the library’s recent LGBTQ Pride Panel.

The event will take place in the community room at 1 p.m.

The public will be allowed to put their input in during the hour before the 1 p.m. meeting.

Queer Kentucky will keep you up to date on the outcome.

CAMPBELLSVILLE—Critics here are asking local officials to take punitive action against the Taylor County Public Library after it hosted an LGBTQ Pride panel Tuesday night, the first of its kind in this conservative central Kentucky town of about 11,000 that’s located roughly an hour and a half south of Louisville.

Queer Kentucky featured Dalton Bennett of the Taylor County Library last week who coordinated the event.

“This will be the first time merging my professional life with aspects of my personal life,” Dalton said. “Although the thought of backlash weighs heavy on my mind, I feel in my heart that this is to be one of the many pivotal milestones in my life.”

The panel, which included discussions with five openly gay people from across the state, is part of the library’s effort to offer relevant community and cultural events. But some social conservatives say the discussion puts “this Christian community on perilous grounds.”

One local woman told Taylor County magistrates at a special-called government meeting Tuesday night that the LGBTQ panel opened “a Pandora’s Box of political controversial events” and that she was offended by the library board’s “moral decline.” WATCH: Taylor County officials discuss the Pride Panel

The board of the Taylor County Public Library includes appointees made by both city and county government officials, but operates independently with funding from a mix federal, state and local tax revenue.

The woman in the video who addressed elected county magistrates Tuesday night asked Taylor County officials to consider removing library board members from their positions of power and to abolish any local tax money that supports the library and its programming.

Taylor County Judge-Executive Barry Smith, the county’s top-elected official, expressed his disapproval of the library’s Pride panel in a Facebook post earlier this month.

Smith wrote: “Regardless of what you might hear, I personally disagree with our library’s decision to host an LGBTQ pride event. While it is my sworn duty as your County Judge Executive to represent all Taylor Countians, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, my religious beliefs as a Christian teach me that homosexuality is both immoral and a sin. Thank you and god bless.”

Campbellsville resident Ashley Bell said she is close with many LGBT youth in the community, both out and closeted, and they are absolutely watching this and being hurt by it.

“Comparing the LGBT community to pedophiles and the KKK, especially in a public forum, is unconscionable and unforgivable,” she said. “Then to have elected officials agree with those sentiments is a disgrace.”

She added that her emotions are all over the place.

“Yesterday’s Pride panel was a beautiful event. I saw so many joyful tears in the room, but before it was even over, my inbox was blowing up with people talking about the fiscal court meeting. One gay friend in attendance was moved by the panel, but then had his gut wrenched by the video of the fiscal court meeting. It was heartbreaking,” Hall said.

Editors note: Spencer Jenkins, founder and Editor-in-Chief of Queer Kentucky attended this event as a panelist. The event was an amazing success within the walls of the Taylor County Library. Insightful, kind and educational conversations were had and we applaud the library in their educational and inclusivity efforts. We at Queer Kentucky believe that open conversations spark progressive movements and we hope more rural libraries follow Taylor County’s lead.

Campbellsville man advocates LGBTQ+ pride in rural Kentucky

Dalton, one day you will grow up to do great things – Dawn W.

My mom, a parent that deserves recognition, planted this phrase in my head when I was young. I suppose a mother can see beyond their child’s foggy, truth seeking eyes if only they take the time. In this case, my mother knew exactly what my purpose was before I could even consider taking a step. Our connection was, and still is, stronger than I could have ever asked for it to be; sometimes I like to think that we share the same brain, conscience, neurons, etc. This is why she probably knew I was gay before I knew it myself, but still, she persisted to care for me as if my attractions were a mere grain of sand in a bucket full of life. She is why I do; why I live; why I pursue the purpose I am slowly unfolding.

I came out when I was 17 in a car at the Skyline Theatre in Greensburg, Kentucky. Who knew Monster’s University would forever hold a significance in my life.

The choice to follow through with my heart’s decision was transcribed in the form of a letter because I knew that verbalizing it made things too quick of a reality (also, because I’ve been known to suppress my emotions and the Hoover Dam would’ve met its match that evening). Hearing the words from my mother’s lips, stating that she had already suspected, was a little strange at first. I mean, at the time, my juvenile reasoning tactics left me wishing she would have answered all of this for me and saved me from weeks of confusion. But, like her expectations, great things are to be discovered on our own. And she continued loving me just the same.

My first movement towards living my truth was during my freshman year of college. I was accepted to our local university, a conservative one at that, and anticipated 4 years of regret as leaving my small town was my only wish (some may even have said leaving was my only salvation). By chance, I attended an Art Club meeting; considering my Understanding Art class was canceled that day, I had nothing better to do. Looking back, this decision changed my life forever.

I managed to squeeze into the social bubble of the art department and later declaring myself an art major. We were a group of eclectic souls, misfits even, but we all shared the same passion for discovering our own potential and embracing each other’s individuality. One day, while decorating the department’s homecoming float, I was asked, out of the blue, if I was gay. Till this day, I can still remember the split second that time stood still as the eyes of my new friends focused on me, waiting for an answer. I said yes. I was finally free.

In 2012, I accepted a part-time summer position at the Taylor County Public Library in Campbellsville, KY with the intentions of this chapter being short lived. Little did I know, I would gradually climb the ranks, officially acquiring my own platform 7 years later as the Young Adult Services Librarian. Working for the public, as I am sure most of you know, has its moments (good and bad).

There have been numerous nights where I would lie awake at night stressing about events, to-do’s, and planning all because I wanted to meet the needs of my community. Aside from being in my head all the time, I also worried about the young adults in our community who so desperately seek identity, acceptance, and love; reflections of myself at 16-17.

But, would being gay prevent me from meeting those needs or create opportunities for learning and discovery? Would people judge my professional abilities based on the identity of my sexual orientation?  Such questions constantly preview in the back of my mind. But, I know, like my mother knew, that my purpose was to use my professional platform in order to accomplish that great thing: bringing awareness to my community and fight for an environment where people of all ages can feel accepted.

Currently, I am organizing a Pride Panel at our library this June in order to provide my community with an opportunity for education, insight, and storytelling from LGBTQ+ identifiers across the Bluegrass; a voice that has long been muffled in Campbellsville, KY. This will be the first time merging my professional life with aspects of my personal life. Although the thought of backlash weighs heavy on my mind, I feel in my heart that this is to be one of the many pivotal milestones in my life.

 We were all born to do great things, and our identities should never hinder us from accomplishing them. Rather, we should embrace who we are, and love others for who they are because you never know how they may affect your life for the better. I suppose my concluding statement is that we are unique, confident, and beautiful, but most importantly, we are all alike no matter our differences. And great things are what we share.  

 

-Dalton Bennett
Campbellsville, KY

 

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