cis male

12th Kentucky city adopts LGBTQ+ Fairness Ordinance!

DAYTON — With a unanimous vote of 5-0 tonight, the Northern Kentucky town of Dayton, population 5,338, became the twelfth city in the Commonwealth with a Fairness Ordinance prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.

“Dayton is extremely excited to be able to join the other eleven cities, out of 419 in the Commonwealth, to continue to be the welcoming community we know and love,” said Dayton Mayor Ben Baker upon the ordinance’s passage. “If any other river cities need help in embracing the Fairness Ordinance, please reach out. We urge our state leaders to adopt these protections—in Kentucky, y’all means all.”

Dayton City Councilman Joe Neary added, “I genuinely hope this carries up to the state level so cities don’t have to deal by this city by city. I can’t believe we’ll only be the twelfth in the Commonwealth.”

“We expect Dayton will be the first in a series of Northern Kentucky cities to adopt Fairness Ordinances,” shared Northern Kentucky Fairness leader Bonnie Meyer, who also helps run the Northern Kentucky Pride Festival. “We were proud to see Covington challenge its peer cities to follow their lead on LGBTQ rights.”

Eleven other Kentucky cities have adopted local Fairness Ordinances, covering just over a quarter of the state’s population—Louisville (1999), Lexington (1999), Covington (2003), Vicco (2013), Frankfort (2013), Morehead (2013), Danville (2014), Midway (2015), Paducah (2018), Maysville (2018), and Henderson (2019). 2020 will mark the 20th anniversary of the introduction of a Statewide Fairness Law, which has only ever received two informational hearings in the Kentucky General Assembly. This year, nearly a quarter of state legislators co-sponsored the measure.

Night life entrepreneur, Louisville’s ‘Cherry’ Bomb blazes a Queer trail

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

Queer to me is the defiance of gender and sexuality. It’s anarchic. It’s as equally controlled or chaotic as you want to be. Some people use the term queer as an umbrella term for all people in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, and some people dislike the word because of it’s pejorative roots. But let’s get one thing straight – we aren’t – and anything we want to call ourselves shouldn’t be considered anything less than what we want it to be, even if it originated as a rude or hateful term. Being queer to me is not needing to be masculine or feminine or anything beyond or between. It’s absolving yourself of the guilt of saying “this isn’t what boys do” and allow yourself to express your feelings without any boxes. It’s moving past concern about what others may think about what makes you happy, or who makes you happy. It challenges what a partner or partners means for you, they can be masculine or feminine presenting, non-binary, trans, or any other identity or a combination of. I identify as queer.

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

For a long time I identified as just gay. Like a lot of young people growing up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s – I assumed for a long time that I was bisexual because of society telling me I should be one way, and my brain and heart telling me another. But as I have grown to love myself, and those around me more – I have identified as queer for the abilities to make the word what I want it to be. I am attracted to more than just cis males, I have built strong friendships and romantic relationships with people who identify all over the spectrum, and I don’t think just saying I’m gay can withhold my identity anymore. Though sometimes I use gay and queer interchangeably, I find less of an issue with reclamation of queer than I do gay, having grown up in the heyday of teenage boys calling everything under the sun gay when they disapproved. I have never been called a queer in a derogatory way, not saying this is the same for everyone, just my personal experience.

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

I am born and raised in Louisville KY. I grew up in a somewhat bizarre upbringing – as I can’t remember my parents ever being married (I think they divorced when I was 3?) and my mother raised myself and my sister in Louisville, while my dad had joint custody of us and lived on a farm in Elizabeth Indiana until I was about 9 or 10. We moved a lot, my mother got remarried to a wonderful man who taught me a lot about loving people who are not your blood family, but chosen family – and I gained two siblings from this marriage. My dad eventually remarried again and moved to the Highlands where I spent my teenage summers riding skateboards down Bardstown Road, going to shows at Pandamonium and the BRYCC House, and immersing myself in punk culture – where I learned a lot about saying fuck you to rules and boxes. I also learned a whole lot about queer theory, vegetarianism, anti – capitalism, atheism, and a whole bunch of other subjects through those older than me who were always quick to teach young kids that punk was more than just angry music – it was about fighting against what society says you should do. Living in Louisville is such a wonderful experience and I am so happy to see how the city has grown and become super accepting almost everything. I would see the artsy and

forward thinking thriving city during my custodial weekends spend in the Highlands, and the down home southern family experience with my mother in the south end. I feel like these two parts have made me who I am today.

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

Only you can decide who you are. And what you may be right now doesn’t have to be your final form. Humans are constantly evolving, your tastes will change as you grow, you will experience things for the first time and maybe hate them and years later you’ll do it again and love them. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers RIGHT NOW, some things just come with time. Your friends and family have must listen to your desires in identity when you speak about them, and you do not have to maintain a relationship with anyone who is toxic or blocks your happiness. There is always someone out there for you to connect with, and luckily in 2019 we can do so via the internet much easier than approaching someone in public.

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

My identity allows me to wear whatever I want, to connect with people over so many different topics, and to make strong bonds with my chosen family. It gives me an excuse to be me in whatever way that is for the day.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

If your fight isn’t intersectional, it isn’t a fight to be had. We create a lot of spaces for white, cisgendered, able bodied people without the second thought on if the space is welcoming, accessible, or comfortable for someone who is POC, non binary, trans, disabled, or any combination thereof. As a white queer man in society, I am afforded a lot more liberties than someone who is anything else. People fought so hard for gay marriage, but some forget that our battle will constantly assume new forms and we must continue to fight until everyone is on the same playing field. LGBTQ+ people (especially QTPOC) are more likely to commit suicide, be assaulted or murder, or find themselves homeless than their straight or cis counterparts.

While I have been lucky to not see much in my own community, I still see a whole lot of racism, sexism (that goes for y’all “vaginas are gross” gays out there), transphobia, and ignorance (especially involving HIV) in other places and it really bums me out.

What do you think would solve those issues?

Besides cis white gays pulling their heads out of their asses? Probably people educating themselves on how we have evolved and grown as a culture, as a community, and as something more than just a “disease” that they used to kill us for. Ask people their pronouns, work on volunteering your time somewhere, create a safe space for your friends to meet and enjoy themselves, recommend your friends you trust for jobs, check in on them (IMPORTANT!),

and most lastly, if you see something (and it’s safe) say something. Remove problematic language from your vocabulary, get tested and don’t refer to being HIV negative as “clean”, and that you vote with your dollar aka stop giving shitty companies money!

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

I don’t really know what I call mainstream anymore? Sure I love drag performances (support your local queens as much as you do Ru girls!), I enjoy the first couple Lady Gaga records, I saw Cher perform earlier this year, I’ve been to gay bars in other cities and gay weddings here and far. I probably still know most of the words to La Vie Boheme from RENT. I go to Pride most years and sometimes in other cities. I think most things that are “typically queer” can be fun, and some of them I don’t care for. Just like I enjoy listening to Beyonce as much as I do Converge, watching MS3TK as I do ANTM, and seeing bands play in the basement of Spinelli’s downtown as I do travelling 3 hours to watch Lizzo perform – I don’t expect everyone to enjoy the things I do, and what they enjoy (so long as it isn’t hurting anyone) doesn’t bother me. My only hope is that mainstream queer culture is inclusive to ALL LGBTQ+ people as it grows, and not just the white ones.

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

Some of you probably know me from my proclivities as DJ, or playing an instrument in a band – and that’s a feeling I always find to be one of the best. Expressing my art for people to consume and enjoy themselves. I feel at my best surrounded by friends dancing, watching drag, sharing a meal, or relaxing at someone’s house. My chosen family makes me feel as safe as my real one does, and I would give my last dollar to any one of them should they need it.

Who influenced the life you live now?

My mother. She’s always accepted me for who I am. She let me be a weird theatre kid (bet you didn’t see that coming, did ya?) through middle school, a wild and loud music playing young adult, and has always told me she loves me for the person I grew up to be. She taught me a lot about compassion, about putting others before yourself when need be, how to listen, how to laugh things off, how to cook, and most importantly, how to accept everyone for who they are no matter who you think they should be. She was always letting 5 and 6 of my same aged step-brother and I’s friends stay the night on weekends. She drove us to Bardstown road to go to shows or terrorize the neighborhood. She’s accepted every partner I’ve brought to a family function and still reminds me constantly that a smile is the best gift you can give to someone you don’t know yet.

I’ve met a lot of people over the years, probably too many to name, who have shown me new and exciting things in the world and expanded my mind in how people evolve and grow. I am truly blessed to have such a great partner, friends, and co-workers. To work for a company who gives young LGBTQ+ a place to serve good food, listen to Panic At the Disco and connect with all kinds of people local and visiting. Bars and spaces who give me the room to throw parties focused for queer people, drag shows, or a space where people can enjoy themselves. Older LGBTQ+ people who show me that getting older shouldn’t be something we’re afraid of, but something we should look forward to. And those who have educated me and given me the opportunity to learn about the way other people are and present themselves, you are the true stars.

I invite all of you reading this to connect with me, let’s build a stronger network of queer people to create our own spaces and allow ourselves to celebrate life together. Let’s bounce ideas off each other. Let’s all remind each other that we are not alone in this world, and that our uniqueness is what makes all of us incredible people.

Catch me at any of these and come say hi. Let’s be friends!

Titty Tiki Tuesday at the Limbo (a weekly drag and variety show, every TUESDAY) Qiergarten at the Limbo (a LGBTQ+ patio party – June 1st and July 6th are the next ones) House is Home at ALEX&NDER (a super cute day party June 9th thrown by some of the best DJs in the city – Rhythm Science Sound)

Emo Nite (yes, like you used to listen to in 8th grade) at Barbarella – June 14th

HAUS Louisville at Barbarella (a monthly drag & burlesque show & dance party) – June 15th

Activist and entrepreneur works to transform lives, shift culture

Josh Miller  

What does the word queer mean to you?

I love the phrase “a glorious amalgamation.” Partially, because it just feels extra – in the best kind of way. And, because I think it encapsulates what it means to be queer. It’s a mashup of cultural underpinnings, of expressions from across the spectrum, a makeshift celebration that pulls from many lived experiences to create the way I show-up, and you show-up.  

There is a general sense to me that being queer is daring and great. It’s also dangerous. Let’s not pretend that when new and different ways of thinking and appearing come together, it doesn’t challenge the status quo. But isn’t that part of why it’s important? To slowly chip away at the very limiting idea of what we can be.

How do you identify?

I identify as a queer Kentuckian. A cis-gender gay man whose physical appearance could be considered androgynous or non-binary. There isn’t a specific niche into which I fit. That can be empowering and isolating at the same time.

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

My family lived on Lookout Mountain, a 15-minute drive from Chattanooga, TN. I’m the oldest of five kids, and was homeschooled until my 10th grade year of high-school. We grew up in a small neighborhood that was primarily conservative and religious.

Being gay was not ok, it was a sin.  

I remember spending Sunday mornings getting my three younger sisters ready for church. From hair to nails and outfits, it was one of the ways I was able to enjoy the creative and beauty loving side of myself. It was a time we shared together that I’ll always cherish.  

I was outed at the beginning of my Junior year as I turned 17. For a year, things were extremely tense.

My parents, the church, the school I attended, all trying to dictate what parts of Josh were acceptable. Being gay was not one of them.

After a year-long power struggle, there were two paths forward. Move out and figure things out on my own with no car, savings, job, or place to live. Or, move to southern Indiana with family. Graduating from high-school and attending college was the stepping stone I knew was necessary to move forward in life, at least for me, so I moved to Indiana, and I’m continuously grateful for my aunt and cousins who have and continue supporting and loving me.

It was in the art room at Floyd Central in Indiana during my senior year, where I started wearing makeup. I was introduced to it through my friend Amelia, who painted me for the first time as a work of art. It was an enlightening experience, and I’ve worn makeup pretty consistently since then. I’m thankful that I had family, related and found, who embraced me. Not the perfect year by any means, but a great step forward.  

And that’s how I got to Kentucky, hopping over the river from the Knobs to attend Bellarmine, being part of NFocus Louisville Magazine, completing my MBA through IU, and meeting my partner Theo Edmonds and launching IDEAS xLab.  

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

My dear friend, team member at IDEAS xLab, and poet/author/activist Hannah Drake wrote a poem called “Power,” in which she says, “There is someone waiting for you to be all that you can be, so that they can be all that they can be.” I think about that statement a lot. We let fear drive so much of how we show-up. But what does it mean for us to courageously embrace our intersection of identities, knowing that it may not only improve our quality of life, but that of others as well?

I also think about how much my understanding of myself has evolved since leaving Chattanooga.

As we continue to learn about the world, we’re able to make space for better understanding who we are – and what we want and value. I would encourage people across all ages to take an approach rooted in curiosity.

Seek to understand the people you interact with, challenge the stories you tell yourself – both about who you are, and about others. All of that allows us to show-up more authentically.  

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

Over the past 12-16 months, a few major shifts have taken place for me as I strive to find balance and better understand how my identity relates to and impacts all facets of my life.  

One was that I stopped drinking alcohol. For years, well, since high-school, drinking was one of my primary coping mechanisms.

There was something cool about chugging vodka in the woods by the fire in high-school, which people found impressive.

Turns out – it impacted how my brain processed alcohol – something I denied for a long time. And, the story I told myself was that I needed it to be social, needed it to show-up in the way I wanted, needed it to belong. In fact, it undermined all of those things.  

I remember standing on the bridge over the creek at Theo’s parents house in Eastern Kentucky, and having a “meeting of the minds” so to speak. Half of my brain prioritized the things I’m proud of and want to excel at. The other half made a list of the things in my life that could undermine what I’m working toward. Alcohol was at the top of the list.

Derby day 2018 was my last day of drinking. It was a great day. Got to enjoy a Mint Julep, spent time with Derby Diversity & Business Summit (DDBS) attendees, and that was it. No drama, no blackout. A year later, and DDBS had a featured mocktail during social gatherings, and The Mocktail Project (founded by Jesse Hawkins) had a booth at Churchill Downs for Oaks and Derby – so I’ve shifted my energy to supporting making spaces welcoming for those who do and don’t imbibe. I recognize how fortunate I am that it was not because of a DUI (or worse) that I stopped, I’m grateful that it didn’t take something like that to help me reevaluate how to move forward in my relationship with drinking.

That shift also required that I relearn what it meant to be social, to recognize that I did have the power to show-up without a martini in my hand, which is why I’m thankful that Theo and I were able to participate in the Aspen Institute Executive Seminar last year.

Through text-based dialogue, I was able take a hard look at my inner motivations, values, leadership and their connection to my identity. During the seminar, I was reminded that, “Being visible can shift culture, often requiring that we trade comfort now so that future generations can excel beyond current limitations.” That’s the analect I wrote, inspired by Confucius, that I shared on the closing night. It isn’t just about showing up as someone who gets misgendered most of the time, because my long hair, makeup, and clothing fit into society’s generally outdated mental model of traits that are solely feminine. It applies to being the only Black person in a white space, being the only Woman in a predominately male industry, being LGBTQ+ in a majority straight space, etc.  

This year, our team of artists at IDEAS xLab – which is the nonprofit Theo and I co-founded and I now lead, focused on leveraging the power of community creativity and culture to transform lives – launched Our Emotional Wellbeing, a project in partnership with organizations including Louisville Youth Group, which serves LGBTQ+ youth under 21.  

It was a mashup of my experiences and our team discussions that informed the creation of the first activity I led – Showing Up 100 – which combined portraiture and collage as a way for participants to visualize the person they are inside. The person they are when no one is watching. The person that brings them joy. As I thought about my relation to the project during one of my early morning runs – and it’s connection to identity, to being in Kentucky – I reflected, and wrote the piece below which I read to the young people before the arts activity.  

Hot pink and burnt orange  

Josh Miller #WrittenWhileRunning #runJMrun

I ran across the bridge  

Pausing to capture the whisps of hot pink cotton candy  

and lavender sky  

My camera refused to acknowledge its beauty  

Depicting hues of burnt orange instead  

 

I wondered how my camera’s struggle to grasp what was so visible to me  

Reflected how people’s lived experience  

Colored their perception  

Their interaction with me, with us  

 

With those of us who  

Show up  

Wondering if people see the greatness  

Emblazoned across our being  

 

I thought back to high school  

When the emo boys in girls jeans were cool  

But the gay in girl jeans was suspended  

 

The look of someone I knew  

Standing in my way as I went to enter the men’s room  

Questioning my gender, my intelligence  

Do you know where you’re going?  

“Yes,” I said greeting him by name

Someone I had worked with for years

“Have a great morning”  

Invisible flames of resentment immediately licking my back

 

The thought of needing a drink  

A way to cope  

It was only 11am  

Thankfully, sobriety has been a welcome relief this past year  

Breaking from the idea that drowning those feelings made things better  

Those thoughts of standing at the conference room table for work  

Wondering if the (mostly straight white men) staring back at me  

Were making decisions about my worth, my capacity as a professional  

Based on the visible difference of gender and expression  

Makeup and androgynous attire  

 

All of these things required  

Naming them  

Challenging them  

That is what creates change and power  

About Josh Miller:

Originally from Chattanooga, TN, Josh is the co-founder + CEO of IDEAS xLab – an artist-led nonprofit based in Louisville, KY that leverages the power of community creativity and culture to transform people’s lives in support of a more healthy, just, and hopeful society.

He is an artist with a background in entrepreneurship, art and business administration, and editorial production – and explores the world through photography (and a lot of running), documenting his journey through joshmiller.ventures. In addition to his outdoor explorations, Josh celebrates the brilliance and strength of marginalized people including LGBTQ+ and Black communities through photography and collaborative storytelling.  

Josh was selected for Louisville Business First’s Forty under 40, and is a distance runner, the Co-Chair of the Louisville Health Advisory Board’s Communications Committee, a TEDx speaker, an advisor for the Derby Diversity & Business Summit, and founding Board Member of Civitas: Regional LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce headquartered in Louisville, KY.  

“Blake Writes”

Blake Reichenbach, Lincoln County, Ky.

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify? & Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

I see queerness as a claim of liberation. In fact, I generally refer to myself as “queer man” rather than a “gay man” even though gay is the label that I see more commonly. I grew up in a very conservative, religious environment in which even accepting that my sexuality was something other than straight was a huge struggle. Into my teens, as I finally did accept that the gay couldn’t be prayed away, I was convinced that the best way for me to live my life was as a straight-passing, masculine gay man. It was such a narrow box to try to cram myself into and it never really fit. It wasn’t until I got to college and got to spend time with fabulously queer, liberated people that I realized that there didn’t need to be a box at all. I could just BE. That is what it is to be queer to me. Queerness is about living without the box of being confined to the expectations of a specific sexuality or gender identity. When I launched my website– BlakeWrites (www.blakewrites.com)– that was my core focus: creating content for guys and masc-identifying individuals that didn’t set expectations about how one should live or who they should be.

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

I’m originally from Lincoln County, which is a very rural county in south-central Kentucky. Like so many others in the Bible Belt, I grew up in the church and even went to a private, Christian high school with very conservative Southern Baptist roots. Growing up, the only narrative of queerness that I heard was one of shame and violence. Kids at school would brag about the fact that their youth ministers would play “smear the queer” at church; classmates lamented the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell because they believed “everyone in the military would get AIDS”; if someone else was perceived as being gay, they were mocked relentlessly behind their backs and I didn’t know how to protect myself without laughing along at their jokes. In fact, the first person who I heard speak up on behalf of gay people was Lady Gaga in 2008. Prior to the words of an inescapable megastar, I heard nothing but derogatory and hateful comments about the queer community.

Naturally, as a byproduct, I spent my teenage years deep within the throws of pretty severe depression and anxiety, and it’s something that I’m still medicating and working through today. At the same time, having lived in a position of privilege that has allowed me to venture out of the state, out of the country, and to come to terms with and embracing my queerness, I no longer resent or fear my homeland in the way that I once did. In fact, I chose to move back to Kentucky from Los Angeles, and have settled close to home in Richmond (Madison County). Once again, it goes back to understanding my identity as a queer person– I’m free now, and I know that I’m strong enough to make an impact and help other queer people by being myself and being visibly, proudly queer.

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

Don’t let others’ expectations cloud your perceptions of yourself. Coming to terms with your own identity is rough, especially in the Bible Belt, but I promise you that at the end of the road, living authentically will be worth it. In all things, be true to that voice in your heart, and be willing to see yourself change and adapt over time. Virtually every queer person I know goes through phases of discovering themselves– the wild hair phase, the bad facial hair phase, the militant phase, the angry phase, the promiscuous phase. They’re all valid and they’re all a part of figuring out who you ultimately are. What’s important is that in each stage of your journey, you listen to yourself and do what’s good and what’s right for you, not what others are expecting of you.

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

Now that I’m an adult, I try to be the adult who I needed in my life when I was a kid. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I launched my own website– www.blakewrites.com. I spent a while doing freelance writing and content marketing full-time, and most of my clients were in the men’s fashion industry. Feeling incredibly burnt out with the content I was writing, I took a step back and realized that it was draining me because I was writing about an experience of masculinity that wasn’t my own. The audience I was tasked within writing for was white, heterosexual, wealthy, and lived in places like New York City or Los Angeles. I was betraying my identity and my community each time I silently let an editor erase my efforts to include trans men, plus-sized men, black men, Asian men, or low-income men into my content. I finally got fed up with it and resigned from those jobs, launching my own platform to create content for men and masc-identifying folks that doesn’t assume anything about their experiences with masculinity, and that actively seeks to break down the walls of toxic masculinity.

What issues do you see in the queer community? & What do you think would solve those issues?

There is a lot of work that needs to be done within the queer community. You can’t scroll through a gay dating app, or even walk through a gay bar or gay event space, without seeing clear signs that racism, misogyny, transphobia, body shaming, and classism is deeply engrained within the way in which the queer community. As a cis-gender, white man with a comfortably middle-class job, I find it painfully obvious that the way I’m treated is quite different from the way my trans friends, queer PoC friends, and lower-income friends are treated and viewed by the general public as well from within the queer community. As a community, I think we need to work extra hard on educating each other and speaking to each other about privilege and the role that it plays in the dynamics of the queer community. We are a community– we’re not siloed groups within our own, separate spaces. If we are to rise as a community, it has to be all together as a community, and we won’t be able to do that without learning to use privilege as a way of lifting others up rather than pushing them down or elevating ourselves.

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

I’ll confess that I wrote out an answer to this question and erased it three or four times. To be honest, I don’t know how to answer this question. While I’ve never felt particularly excluded from the queer community, I also don’t have a local, queer tribe yet. My big gay family lives on the other side of the state from me now, and it’s been a challenge for me to actually find a queer community where I now live. If you would have asked me two or three years ago, my answer would have definitively been that I wasn’t excluded. Today, I’m in a position where I find myself wondering if I’d have a more solid community if I was thinner, more muscular, wealthier, more outgoing, or something along those lines; I essentially remind myself on a daily basis that being queer is having a permission slip to not fit into any of those “If I was more ____” definitions, and that my community will come in time.

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

Maybe it’s a symptom of working for a tech company, but I feel like I’m at my best when I’m out at a coffee shop or cafe on my computer creating content that can empower and uplift the queer community.

Who influenced the life you live now?

I don’t think I’ve ever told her, but the first person I ever met who was openly and proudly black and queer was Arielle Clark. She was an upperclassman during my freshman year at Bellarmine University, and she was a leader within the school’s gay-straight alliance. There was something very magnetic about her– she was powerful and smart and proud and visible. Eventually, I realized that the power she possessed came from her pride in her identify. She embraced it, she lived it, and she celebrated. I wanted what she had, and couldn’t have it without embracing my queerness as well.

What Arielle set in motion, my friend Haley Adams saw through to completion. Haley has been by my side and supported me through all the various phases of my journey to live authentically… even the weird facial hair and “maybe I should present myself as masculine and kinda conservative” phases. I don’t know how she was always so patient and able to gently guide me and educate me.

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.

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