gay

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.

Gay, not lesbian

Lindsey Norris, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me, it’s an umbrella for anyone who does not identify as heterosexual.

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

I identify as gay, just because that describes that I am interested in people of the same sex, but I could also identify as lesbian or queer. I am most comfortable with gay because it’s what I’ve always identified as. When I was growing up, people just said we were “gay,” I didn’t hear lesbian very often. Sometimes people are like “you’re not gay, you’re a lesbian” and I’m like “no, I can identify however the fuck I want to.”

I am fine with being called a lesbian, but I hate being told that I’m not gay, I feel like that’s an identity that I can, and do, claim. At first I said I was bisexual because I was still trying to figure it out and I felt like other people might be more comfortable with the idea of me being bisexual than me being gay. I think being bi-curious/bi-sexual was more accepted because it was, and still is, sometimes, more fetishized and objectified.

What matters most to me about how I identify is that people realize I’m
exclusively attracted to women, and they aren’t using a derogatory term. Like dyke, I would not want a straight person to call me that, but I’d be okay if another queer person called me that jokingly.

It really depends on who’s saying it and how words like “dyke” and “homo” can be
friendly or they can be meant to hurt.

Where are you originally from? What has been your experience growing up and/or living in Kentucky?

I am from Louisville, Kentucky. For the most part my experience has been good. I am a white, privileged female who grew up in the South. But, as a gay female growing up in Catholic schools, that wasn’t the easiest but it also wasn’t the hardest. When I said I was a bisexual, some people took that negatively. A lot of people just didn’t accept it. So I chose to conceal it. But, when I came out in college, most people accepted it. I felt free to be myself.

When I was 19 or 20 I started to get more involved in the LGBT community and realized that there are lots of people like me. Which there were in high school too, at least some, but they were ostracized or not out. I grew up in Fern Creek and felt more able to come out to my friends in my neighborhood than in my school. I told my parents I didn’t want to go to Catholic school, they said I could go to Male, but there was a waiting list, so I couldn’t go. I was popular at Catholic school. I had a lot of friends, but if I’d have gone to public school, I know I’d feel a lot more comfortable being myself sooner.

I still feel some prejudice because of my identity, here in Louisville. I work with kids and a parent said that they didn’t want me working with their child because I’m gay. I definitely feel prejudice here. Not that often, but it’s still there. I feel it less than I thought I would when I was a teenager. I was a little scared of how I’d be treated, but my family, especially my mom, really worried how people would view me and that scared me even more.

Me coming out to other people helped me, and my parents, see that most people don’t care. I am a therapist, and so there are boundaries with my clients, but I’ve chosen to share my queer identity with people no matter what their beliefs are, no matter what they’ll think of me. I don’t share tons about my personal life but I do share that I’m gay, because if I choose to hide it, that’s telling myself that it’s something that needs to be hidden.

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

No matter who you are, no matter who you identify as (not just sexuality, but all aspects of your identity), there will be people who support you and people who hate you. Depending on your community, it could be harder or easier. Hopefully every person can find at least one support person or community, whether it’s online or whatever. With that support, each person should figure out for themselves what they need to do. It’s my hope that everyone can choose to not hide their identity, but I also recognize the importance of hiding or not disclosing your identity for safety reasons or because you don’t want to or don’t feel ready.

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

For the most part it doesn’t, but in some ways I feel like I carry myself with more pride because I’m gay. For anyone who has a marginalized identity, they face some discrimination. With that, I think comes a heightened sense of pride. Pride for an entire community really. I’ve learned to be proud of who I am. Sometimes I feel like I need to prove myself. Like I am gay, but I do great work, as a therapist and with kids. I’m proud of myself, and so I want even the people who don’t like me or approve of me to like me and recognize my good work.

It’s hard because I am conscious that people sometimes see me differently, but that makes me even more proud of myself. I know I don’t have to prove anything, but I still want to.

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

The whole “gay vs. lesbian” terminology is problematic. We need to accept each others
identities.

Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?
I don’t feel excluded, but I happen to have made friends with people who are heterosexual. Out of my close friends, probably two-thirds happen to be straight. Not that there’s anything wrong with seeking friends who are in the queer community, but I just haven’t really done that. It probably is harder to meet women if I’m hanging out with mostly straight people, and sometimes I feel like I’m missing out.

A lot of my straight friends will come to events like Pride with me, which feels
good because I have support and I’m not alone.

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

With my friends and family. And at work, actually, we have a great community that feels like family. Sometimes I go into work on the weekends, just because I feel comfortable being there.

Who influenced the life you live now?

This might sound like an annoying answer, but everyone. I think everyone around me has influenced me, whether I knew them for a long time or not so much. Teachers, fellow students, people who have supported me, people who were just jackasses and showed me who I didn’t want to be, random acquaintances. Everyone I’ve met has influenced who I am now.

Remy, Writer for Queer Kentucky

 

What does the word queer mean to you?

What I love about the word “queer” is that it can mean anything you want it to; it can be as much or as little of a label as you need for your identity, and its fluidity and freedom I think are really beautiful. When I first came out, I identified as queer because I wasn’t really sure what I was, but I knew I wasn’t “straight.” Hanging on to an open and fluid orientation really helped me make sense of who I was without compromising any authenticity.

How do you identify?

I’m a gay cis male.

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

To me, my sexuality just started to really become clear once I accepted that I wasn’t “straight.” After calling myself queer for a while, I’m now confident in asserting myself as gay because that’s who I am and I’m proud of it!

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

I’m from this area and while I went away for college, the bulk of my adult maturation happened here. I think Louisville is an amazing place to explore your sexuality and identity, and it has ample resources in both organizations and individuals to help you do so. But I know that that’s rare for a state like Kentucky. I’m hoping with the work that important organizations like the Fairness Campaign are doing across the state, smaller town questioning folks will be able to discover themselves without fear or inhibition.

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

I would say that the first step is to just be open to the possibilities. I know how it can feel when you think you’re straight, or want to believe you are, and then you realize you’re not; unfortunately, there can be some fear with that realization, which of course is problematic in its own way. But once I called myself queer and then gay, I was able to take the deepest exhale of my life and I subsequently found such a beautiful community that I feel so fortunate to be a part of. Some of the best things in my life stem from being gay, and once you navigate past the anxiety of the unknown, you will find those things too.

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

I think it just helps me be more confident because I am certain in who I am. By embracing my identity, I inherently feel more at peace with myself, which I suppose can translate to confidence, comfort and even assertiveness at times.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I think the biggest, or certainly one of the biggest, issues facing the queer community is that we do not always fight for each other. Yes, white gay males are perhaps more “accepted” by mainstream society, but what about trans folks, or LGBTQ people of color? White gay men are often the culprits of this: of feeling like the war is won because we can walk down the street holding our boyfriend’s hand. But we must continue to fight for those who still are uneasy walking down the street; we must give a voice to them and use our privilege to increase their visibility, which I hope will lead to a more inclusive, diverse and loving society.

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

I really don’t feel excluded because, whether I like it or not, I am pretty “mainstream” gay. I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, but like I said, I have to be cognizant of my privilege and utilize it to make better the lives of those aren’t as privileged.

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

I am at my best when I’m on the couch with my boyfriend, at dinner with my best friends or in a theatre. My boyfriend Charlie is the greatest person I have ever known and he constantly pushes me to be the best version of myself, for which my gratitude is endless. My two best friends are always there for me – to hear me complain, to help me with tasks, to field my anxieties or to pour me shots – and I cannot express what that unconditional support means to me. And acting, directing or producing in theatre is where my truest passion lies. Being a part of creating the magic of live theatre is one of the most rewarding things I’ve discovered in life, and without it, I don’t really know who I’d be. Theatre, in its intrinsic collaboration and artistry, has also been a space in which I feel safest, and I think it’s provided me, along with myriad LGBTQ individuals, with a sort of haven.

Who influenced the life you live now?

I’d like to say that I’m a blend of myself, my parents, my brother, my boyfriend and my friends, but I know there are community role models I look to for inspiration on how to always be better. Fairness Campaign Director Chris Hartman has been pretty influential as far as using his position of privilege to give a voice to those who are relentlessly marginalized. Also, Theatre [502] Co-Artistic Directors Gil Reyes and Amy Attaway are two arts professionals I would be happy to emulate if I could find the talent, professionalism and creativity they both possess. I’m sure the list is endless of those who have impacted my identity, but for every single of them, I am truly grateful because, for better or worse, I kind of like who I am.

Queer casual

 

Jaremii, Louisville, Kentucky

What does the word queer mean to you?

I used to see the word queer as an insult, and in most cases it was used for that purpose. These days there’s a warmth, familiarity, and pride that I never expected with the word.

How do you identify?

I suppose I’m gay. That’s what a group of people at some point in time decided is the best word to describe someone like me. But I forget 1,000 times a day that I’m “gay” because what I’m attracted to is so choice-less and uncontrollable that… it’s natural. How could a few vowel sounds possibly describe someone?

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

You will find your way. Those who seek, find. Don’t try to please the masses. Find 1-2 people who get you and sharpen yourself with them.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself?

My emotions, instincts, and attractions feel like basic human emotions, instincts, and attractions. They don’t feel like some sort of queer motive or intention. They feel… natural.

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

Homosexual or heterosexual or asexual, people naturally try to find a sense of belonging. “Issues” in the queer community are just people who are trying to feel or create a connection.

Who influenced the life you live now?

I have a great best friend who knows me inside and out and chastises me when he knows I’m in the wrong with someone and defends me when he believes me to be right. You can conquer the world with that kind of support.

Q&A with Queer KY Seminarian

How do you identify?

I identify as a gay man.

What does the word queer mean to you?

I think queer is a word that is used to describe a community that is hard to fit into one label. People are used to saying, “the gay community,” but “the gay community” is exclusive because gender identity and sexual orientation has complexities. The word queer, however, does justice by defining a community for what is it not, not being cis-gendered and/or heterosexual.

Growing up in Kentucky?

I have grown up with an appreciation for Kentucky, most notably from the Kentucky YMCA Youth Association. Through the organization I was able to meet people from all around the commonwealth, and I was able to do community service throughout the commonwealth. There is a lot to take pride in for Kentuckians. For me, I take a lot of pride in horse racing, and the natural beauty of eastern Kentucky.

However, I recognize that Kentucky can have a negative connotation for some, particularly for its associate with the south and the Bible belt. I’ve received a taste of this for four years when I lived in Murray, Kentucky. While I love Murray, Kentucky, being close to rural Kentucky was a cultural shock for someone who grew up in Louisville, and while there were aspects of rural Kentucky that I did not like, I also gained an appreciation for rural Kentucky. I love the religious landscape (as someone who was part of it); I loved continually running into people I knew, and I loved experiencing how knitted a small town can be.

What would you say to someone who is struggling with their identity and religion?

I think a lot of Christians are drawn to Christianity because Christianity speaks into the depths of us, and makes us confront the parts of ourselves that we wish to bury- our anger, lust, jealousy, failure to do justice, prejudices, etc. Christianity brings to us a message of salvation, through the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And it is through our salvation that we are able to live into new life in Jesus, however, I do not believe that our queerness is what we need salvation from. Instead, I think the depths of us that we may need salvation from is our unwillingness to see the image of God in us. I think we need salvation from believing that our sexual orientation and gender identity is not God’s imprint on us. I think salvation looks like a queer person saying, “I am queer,” believing that being queer is okay, and living authentically. Salvation is not the condemnation of ourselves that may lead to self-harm and suicide.

Rather, you, along with all queer people, are beloved children of God, created in the image of God, and nothing of this world can separate you from the love of God.

How does being gay affect how you carry yourself?

For the most part I wear my gayness on my sleeve. If someone can perceive that I’m gay by how I walk, or how I talk, then that is pretty awesome. Having that confidence definitely takes time, and it is not something that I’ve always had, however, if a stranger were to call me a faggot I would flip my imaginative long hair.

I think worrying about how I carry myself comes more from being gay and religious. The queer community has come a long way in overall society, however, the church has a long way to go. While the majority of mainline protestant denominations have affirmed the queer community church wide, the universal church has not affirmed queer identity. As someone who cares for the entirety of the universal church I still feel as if there is pressure on me in carrying myself the “right” way, as someone who is becoming an openly gay pastor.

Issue within the queer community?

We do not have enough queer coffee shops. Queer bars and clubs have become sanctuaries for us because they are one of the few places where we can live authentically without judgment, and they are a place where we can be social and find people just like us. I love them, and I probably go to them too frequently. With that said, my gayness needs to go somewhere at noon.

Queer identity, especially for gay men, has been centered on the bar scene, and while that is okay, it is also exclusive. It is exclusive for those who are sober, and it is exclusive for those who are not into what the bar scene brings. I go to the bars semi-regularly; I see the same people and I know I’m not seeing all the queer people of Louisville.

So, in a mid-size city, let’s have a queer coffee shop where we can be queer, read queer books, and listen to Cher. And in rural Kentucky, let’s get a gay bar. Baby steps.

Do you feel excluded from the queer community?

Not really. My piety is either an enigma or a weird fetish, one being understandable the latter being annoying. I would not say that my religiosity has made me feel excluded because I have also found many queer people who I am able to be with in fellowship. Being Christian isn’t counterculture in the queer community; it is more of a subculture.

How do Christians feel about me being openly gay?

It’s a mix bag, and when I lived in Murray, Kentucky I always had to prepare myself for any response when a Christian was to find out that I am gay, especially since I was doing ecumenical work in the community. Typically, I get three responses. 1. I immediately get this figurative trophy for being opening gay and Christian, particularly as someone who has some status as a faith leader. 2. They don’t care, or seem to not care. 3. Unspoken but noticeable change in the air due to their un-affirming views (And in some cases I would hear what they have said about me later). No one has ever tried to make me think differently, and I think that’s because they know I’m not going to change my opinion, and because they know I can debate them.

Addressing God of Christians and Queer people?

The God of queer Christians is the same as the God of all Christian’s, but just as denominations may differ in theology that they emphasize, I think the queer christian (Queerstians) community does the same. As a community that has been on the margins, and many of us having to deal with harm from our Christian community and family, we cling to the identity markers of Jesus.

The God incarnate, Son manifested, chose to come to us as Jesus Christ, a man born of a refugee woman in first century palestine- Jesus Christ- a poor man who hung out with the outcaste and blessed the poor, meek, and persecuted. Queerstians cling to a God who is their advocate, and who’s love for them is radical, so radical that an all powerful – all knowing – all present God was willing to be part of humanity, and take on human suffering for the sake of the world.

Say to Christian families struggling with their child’s queer child?

Addressing Christian families who are struggling with their child being queer is challenging. I think many people within the queer community want to not care for them, which is understandable considering the pain that queer people go through. However, families often struggle because of their deep love for their child, which is why empathy is important.

For many Christians, faith is a cornerstone of their identity, and Christianity emphasizes the passing down of the Christian faith. And if a Christian from an older generation is struggling, it may be because the institution that has been part of them for their entire life has been uniformal on queer issues for the most of their lifetime. For a parent to simply question their entire spiritual upbringing is monumental and difficult. And conservative Christian parents are struggling because out of love they are afraid of what being queer means for their child’s faith, child’s salvation, and child’s daily living. With knowing this I have sympathy, and I address them as siblings in Christ.

To conservative Christian parents struggling with their child being queer:

“Siblings in Christ, while you may be reading conservative authors and listening to conservative pastors as a way to make sense of your child’s queer identity, I hope that through your child you are able to see that your queer child is the child that they have always been. And at what may be a difficult time in their life, love and support is detrimental for their faith and overall well being. As you may lean on your faith for comfort, as you should, I hope that you are also willing to challenge you faith. Through challenge our faith is deepened, and if you’re willing to listen to Christians who affirm queer identity you may find that their queerness is truly a gift.

In love for my siblings,

Alec.”

Progressive denominations?

In all honesty, there is no “progressive denomination” because queerness is still debated in ALL Christian denominations (including conservative denominations), however, some denominations have made monumental strides in support of the Queer community, such as Old Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and Disciples of Christ.

How does Christianity help me come to terms with my queer identity?

When it comes to Christianity helping me come to terms with my identity I caught myself in constant pondering. I knew of the teachings of evangelical Christianity, and because of them I struggled at early age. However, despite my struggle with religion, my faith was my rock. In my struggle I took comfort in knowing the love of God. By recognizing God’s love for me I knew that my fears and distress were not because of good discipleship to resist sin, and because of this, I was then able to ask, “what other thoughts are out there?” Upon studying I found comfort. I found salvation from my fears, which looked like me saying, “God loves me, and it’s okay to be gay.”

He’s beautiful

 

Tyler, Edmonton, Kentucky

Queer kind of just means I can do whatever I want. If I want to be butch one day I can butch it up. If I want to be femme I can. It contains no boundaries.

It’s a word that means freedom. You can do whatever you want

I kind of grew up in a bubble. I didn’t have to come out, I wasn’t the first person to do it in my family either. It was always understood that I was gay. All my friends were older and I was around people that made it OK for me.

I had an ideal group around me and I never felt out of place or unwanted. It could feel a little alienated in my hometown because of being the only one open about being gay.

A major issue right now with the current political environment, young people and kids see this administration and what is said about Queer culture and its detrimental to them. They’re just bombarded with negativity on who they are. If kids are thinking that something is wrong with them, I hope they realize that NOTHING is wrong about them. Some of the stories we see in the media right now could be hard for a young Queer person to interpret.

My identity used to run how I carry myself.

I thought, “Oh I’m gay. I have to be a twink. I have to be skinny.”

I felt that I had to fit specific stereotypes. As I’ve gotten older everything is more authentic. I know myself now more than I ever had. I do what I want when I want and I don’t ever think about how that fits into my identity.

The “mainstream” Queer community is not a part of our community that I choose to partake in. I don’t like how vapid it is. I feel like that side of the community tends to be very egotistical and self-centered. I love being around people who are genuinely weird without trying to be. I always feel more at home at alternative Queer spaces.

I am the happiest when I’m out of my comfort zone. I like the unknown of it. For me if something scares me, I’m going to do it and it’s never as scary as we make it out to be in our heads. I’m really happy when I’m by myself too. I love being social, but I am a loner. I love traveling alone, eating dinner alone, etc.

If something will make you happy and it doesn’t physically hurt people do it, because life is short, and you can’t live for others. As long as it’s authentic for you, people will respect you more because you’re living your truth as opposed to hiding.

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