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

NYC Trap music artist reflects on Queer Kentucky roots

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

The word queer means to me any form.

To be honest I just found out about what the word queer meant when I moved to NYC, to me I associate the word queer with anything that has to do with being gay and extra. Identify as lesbian female.

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

I identity as lesbian because I only like females but I don’t really care too much for labels because I feel like they do more dividing than bringing people together. There are too many labels out there to keep up with when we are all the human race.

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

I am a pretty random mixed. I was born in Elizabethtown, Kentucky (so was my father) but my mother is from Cali Colombia. Ever since my baby years I have been raised in Louisville. Growing up for me in Kentucky was both good because its a part of who I am but I also struggled finding my place and people who really accepted me due to me being a mixed girl and getting “found out” instead of coming out when I was just in 7th grade. Some nights I would even get threatened by men because I’m a lesbian. That died down once I learned how to defend myself.

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

I would say live for yourself because we tend to waste so much time trying to conform to society and what other people want that we forget what we really want to do and we only have one life. Once you own your shit to the fullest, cant nobody make you feel ashamed of it!

Find people who are living their truth and surround yourself around good loving people you aspire to be so even when times are tough you will never feel alone.

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

My identity ties into apart of who I am — they go hand and hand. Especially the gay part of me. I can be very extra and I like everything over the top like a Beyoncé performance! I also tend to be very careful of who I do business with because if someone can’t respect my race or my sexuality I don’t need to be working with them, that’s what I call bad business.

What issues do you see in the queer community?

I honestly see a lot of colorism issues in the LGBTQ community, the community tends to be owned by white people and controlled even though people of color are the ones who started the gay rights stonewall movement. And it tends to be mostly gay white men who treat other black and brown people poorly in our communities. A lot of our LBGTQ night life places will only cater to more of the white side of entertainment and us black and brown people tend to feel left out…like we don’t belong

What do you think would solve those issues?

What I think will help these issues is more education to our white brothers and sisters to change their way of viewing and treating anybody else who is a different race than they are. I also think more opportunities and platforms should be provided to people of color I always say o there isn’t a way then make one! & if we see a situation that seems unfair, racist, or prejudice we ALL need to speak up!

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

At times I could feel excluded because I am Hispanic/indigenous female who makes trap music but I usually don’t run into that many problems because I tend to “sell” or “grow” on people with my personality that people love.

If anything, I tend to feel excluded from the actual “mainstream” music community because I refuse to act and pose as a super hypersexualized female who likes men. I make music that is true to myself and that’s the only thing I know how to do is keep it real.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc.) Who influenced the life you live now?

Personally I feel at my best when I am at gay pride (which I encourage everybody to go to) events because I feel so happy to see other LGBTQ people come out and celebrate who they are along with our gay allies the month of June just hits a lil different if you know what I’m sayin.

But in the real world I don’t feel as safe because our president is homophobic and half of our government is as well so even though I know I got my back I know my government doesn’t.

The people who influenced me to be myself are Ivy Queen because she was one of the FIRST Hispanic female rappers who was considered a “stem” with her tom boy style and don’t care attitude I always wanted to be just like her as a child. I also really love RuPual when I discovered RuPuals drag race it blew my mind away at so much talent in our community and with every episode I watched it made me feel more and more proud and safe to be gay.

More on Ladrea Maria- What you can expect for Ladrea Maria in the future is my upcoming EP that is currently in the making, this will be my first solo project that reflects who I am as an artist and our beautiful city the 502 I wanna show off all the raw talent we have here and put us on the map! I want to do more live performances to get in touch with more of my supporters on a more personal level & of course my voice will be on more Maybelline commercials, ya girl is securing all the bags because I deserve it. And you can follow me on Instagram- @ladrea_mariaa and on Snapchat- @ladreaa_mariaa for all my music updates

Papa John’s employee furthers company’s diversity and inclusion

Meghan Stevens

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

I don’t think we can really break down the meaning of what it means to be Queer without recognizing the historical hurt and inherent insult that comes along with it. In the past, it has been weaponized as a pejorative that’s been hurled at LGBTQ+ people for decades.  I don’t believe we can disregard its historical context as it becomes more popularized. Today, I see folks across the LGBTQ+ spectrum working to reclaim it. For some people it’s an act of healing. For others, it’s a painful memory of what they were called to their faces and behind their backs.

To me, Queer is an all-encompassing identity under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, a term used to describe people who do not identify as cisgender and heterosexual. Categorically I would fall under this header, but I personally identify as a gender non-conforming lesbian. I’m attracted to people who identify and present as female/feminine. I also identify as a woman but do not subscribe to the gender conforming binary. I believe I can identify as a woman without feeling obligated to shoulder every characteristically feminine marker society can place on us. I work hard to help people see past the binary; to look outside of what expectations the public has placed on us and how we present in association with our gender.

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

I was born into a Military family and came back to Louisville permanently when I was around 2-3 years old. I’ve been in Louisville since then and it certainly is my home. I consider myself very lucky to live in the most progressive city in the state. Attending Butler High School in Jefferson County where I was able to help start the Gay-Straight Alliance was an exciting and freeing experience. I felt like our voices, even as as teenagers, were welcomed and supported.

I attended Morehead State University in Rowan County from 2009-2013 for my undergrad degree and it was a very different experience. It’s a much more rural county with some of the unfortunate stereotypes attached to it. I didn’t come out till after I had moved back to Louisville because a supportive environment was much harder to find in a red county.

Since moving back to Louisville in 2013 I’ve had the chance to travel to different communities nationally and experience what being an LGBTQ+ person is like in much larger and more accepting cities, as well as more closed-minded and smaller communities. While Louisville is not perfect, I am so grateful for the progress this city has made and continues to make.

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

Take your time. There is no rush and no timelines matter but your own. You don’t have to have it all figured out by a specific time and there is no final answer. Our identities flex and change over time so be open to new experiences that will allow you to learn more about yourself at a deeply personal level. Research online and try to find a community with similar interests to yours. In person and online support can give you a peer group to discuss new ideas and odds are, someone has experienced something similar to what you are going through now. Be patient, trust your gut, and surround yourself with affirming family and friends.

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

For 10+ years I identified as bisexual. I told myself that I could date and have relationships with women till I got older, grew out of it, and I’d marry a man. The more time passed, the more unrealistic that seemed. This ‘phase’ of being attracted to women didn’t end and I was vehemently against marriage as a concept at the time. It took a lot of therapy and self-discovery to come to terms with my identity as a lesbian and the closet I had to come out of. After doing that personal work I was proud of the hurdles I had overcome and the effort it took to get to this place. Now that I am out in my personal and professional life, it has opened doors for me that I never would have expected.

Professionally, I’ve been with the same company for 11+ years. I started at Papa John’s when I was 17 and a Junior in high school. I worked at corporate and franchise Papa John’s restaurants throughout high school and all 4 years of college. During my time in the field I was never comfortable enough to come out to my coworkers. I was afraid that disclosing would put me at risk for losing my job or the target of unfair treatment. After completing my undergrad, I was fortunate enough to land a job at the corporate office.

Since 2014 I have worked on various teams within Papa John’s headquarters and gotten to work under incredibly influential and inspiring people. Most important to me was the creation of our Diversity & Inclusion committee. I was chosen to sit on the committee from its inception and it’s changed my outlook on what corporations and their employees can do to push for change. I’m active on committees such as corporate social responsibility and community relations. I participate actively and consult with various employee resource groups (ERG) and I’m the current president of the LEAP (LGBTQ+ for Equity, Advocacy, and Promotion) ERG. Getting to help facilitate change from the inside has been such an eye-opening experience and one I plan to grow into a future career.

Since our ERG formation, we have been relentless about examining our policies and practices to transition to a more inclusive work place where people don’t have to worry about job security because of who they are. In the past year our ERG has been fortunate enough to update our EEO statement to include sexual orientation and gender identity, added gender neutral restrooms, and confirmed compliance with the World Professional Association for Trans Health standards for employee benefits. We are also in the process of researching the creation of a gender transition workplace policy as well as completing the Corporate Equality Index with the Human Rights Campaign. Locally, we’ve sponsored initiatives with Kentuckiana Pride Foundation and Louisville Pride Festival along with the UofL LGBTQ+ center and the Louisville Youth Group. It’s been such a humbling experience to be a part of this monumental culture change that we’ve been working at for the last year. Getting to dig into corporate advocacy has been a true joy and an experience that I will continue to peruse. I’m thankful that I get to use my activism and advocacy background in a meaningful way that will impact people’s lives.

Getting to bring my whole self to work not only benefits my sense of belonging but provides the company with a deeper knowledge of LGBTQ+ experiences learn and grow from. I’m thankful that I get to leverage my identity for the betterment our employees and customers alike.

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

Thankfully, I do not feel excluded from the mainstream queer community. Being a woman in LGBTQ+ spaces mostly dominated by men can feel uneven when misogyny comes into play. But overall as a gay white woman, I don’t face the same alienation that more vulnerable parts of our community do. This is my driving motivation to create a safer and more affirming community for folks within the LGBTQ+ community.

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

I will always feel safest around my loved ones and people I trust including my close friends and family. My partner and I travel frequently and love getting to see other LGBTQ+ landmarks, hot spots, and bars when possible. I feel most powerful at work and in meetings getting to lead initiatives for social and policy change.

Who influenced the life you live now?

From the beginning my mother, aunt, and grandmother have all had a huge influence on my life. They raised me to be a self-assured, confident, and outspoken individual.

Throughout my school years, teachers who took a stand for minorities and socially/economically disadvantaged groups were superheroes in my eyes. Seeing people use their privilege to help make the world better for those who don’t have what they do was an awakening for me. Currently queer, trans, and cisgender women of color have some of the biggest hurdles and struggles facing them in society. I am continually in awe of their strength and determination to continue to show up and do the work when the system is actively working against them. The bravery they continue to show day in and day out is incredibly inspiring and strengthens my conviction to continue playing my part in making our communities safer for them. Even as queer woman, my privilege as a white person affords me opportunities that I am called to use to advocate for folks with the deck stacked against them.

Facing the Queer truth, embracing self

Sarah, Elkhorn City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘In all my Queer glory’

Spencer, Louisville

I was born in Louisville, Kentucky. My grandmother delivered me in our home on Frankfort Avenue, in my mother’s bed. Growing up I spent my time split between my dad’s shotgun in the Highlands, my mother’s apartment and my grandmother’s farm in rural Southern Indiana. The farm is called Rainbow Circle Farm and growing up there had a serious influence over my life. My grandmother and her partner used most of their 3.5 acres for organic garden. My mother worked days as a bar manager, and my father was a mechanic, so i spent most of my time at the farm. We worked in the beds on the weekends as a family and during the week my aunt, cousins and I could take advantage of the swimming pool, barn, trampoline and tall climbing trees.

My grandmother was and still is very active in her queer community so there have always been extra “aunts”, “uncles” and supportive friends around. We danced around the maypole, celebrated the equinox, attended the Womyn’s Festival in Michigan and there were always at least 6-8 of us together. My mother, aunts, grandmother, father and uncles all taught me about the importance of acceptance and love. I grew up in the sheltered cocoon of a rainbow family who were color blind and I had no idea at the time how lucky I was.  

It wasn’t until I started attending public school that I learned about racism, homophobia, and general bigotry. The first time that I got called a lesbian I was 6, and it was solely because the other kid knew that my grandmothers were gay. The disdain on my classmate’s face is something that I will never forget, and I couldn’t understand why being a lesbian would be a bad thing. I had known since I was maybe 5 that I was attracted to both boys and girls and had no idea that anything was wrong with that.  As I got older I came to realize that in public settings my aunt called one of her mothers, “aunt”. It didn’t register until later why she had to do something like that, simply to protect herself and our family.

When I was in 7th grade a friendship developed into me having my first girlfriend. A teacher discovered our secret and the school called our parents. My mother’s response was classic Mama Cat, “Why are you calling me at work for THIS, they are 13?!” My girlfriend’s family had the opposite reaction and we were forbidden from seeing each other. Our classmates slowly started to find out about us and from there the ridicule started. Even though I had been taught my entire life that it didn’t matter who you loved, nor that I had the utmost support at home, I decided to break it off with my girl and never speak of my queerness again. People at school never let me live it down and stuffing such an organic part of myself away for so long is a large part of where my struggle with depression and anxiety began. It wasn’t until much later that I realized how much internalized homophobia I had, because I never had an issue with anyone else’s choices, just my own. Lucky for me I am now in therapy and have the support system that I need to help me learn to cope with my mental illness.

When I moved back to Kentucky I realized that I have a community again. Meeting my people, including my partner, and bearing witness to their transparency about their mental health and their sexuality has truly given me the strength that I need to keep moving forward and learning to love myself. Visibility has been such an important part of my family and my life and it continues to inspire me every single day. It is my hope that with more transparency less kids will feel the need to internalize their true feelings and sexuality. I also hope that maybe someone else who is dealing with the shame that I put on myself for so long can avoid those feelings and be brave enough to live their truth. What it comes down to is while I spent much of my life avoiding it, queerness has always meant unconditional love, openness and community. I was raised to be accepting and I will never again do myself the disservice of not loving ME, in all of my queer glory. Once you love yourself, everything else gets easier.

Black, Queer and Powerful

Kaila Adia Story, PhD

What does the word queer mean to you?

To me, Queer means not letting society, institutions, friends or loved ones define who you are, or you hope to be. It means defining yourself, for yourself. It means living freely, unapologetically and boldly. It means feeling so emboldened within your queer self that you free others. That you challenge others. It means that your queer presence frees those around you. It means working from your own center and letting others know and see that you are force of freedom and light who would rather live truthfully than silenced, stifled and afraid.

How do you identify? 

I identify as Black Feminist Lesbian Femme. A Black and Queer sexual identity and gender performance rooted in embodying a resistive Black femininity. It is one that transcends and challenges White supremacist, homo-normative, and patriarchal ideas of femininity and queerness as White. My identity also to me, challenges the hetero-patriarchal assertion that power is innate to manhood, maleness and/or masculinity.

Where are you originally from? And Explain how was it moving to/living in Kentucky? 

I’m originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan. It was a great experience to grow up in Ann Arbor. I left when I was 18 to pursue my bachelors at DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois. After completing my B.A. in Women’s & Gender Studies, I moved to Philadelphia, PA to attend graduate school at Temple University. After receiving my M.A. in African American Studies and my PhD in African American Studies with a graduate certificate in Women’s & Gender Studies, I was hired by the University of Louisville’s Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies & Pan African Studies Departments as an Assistant Professor and Audre Lorde Endowed Chair in Race, Gender, Class and Sexuality Studies in 2007.

The Audre Lorde chair was created by Carla Wallace, longtime Louisville activist and one of the founders of the Fairness Campaign in Louisville, KY. Carla’s monies were matched with monies from the Buck for Brains initiative in Louisville to create the endowed chair. Dr. Angela Y. Davis, who had taught at the University of Louisville and who was longtime friend of Carla’s named the endowed chair after Black feminist activist, warrior, poet, Audre Lorde. The Audre Lorde chair was designed to have a professor come to the University and through their scholarship, teaching, and activism create an ideological bridge between the departments of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies and Pan African Studies, and also develop LGBTQ+ curriculum.

I was an integral part of establishing the LGBTQ+ Studies minor in 2009 in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Louisville. The Audre Lorde Chair has allowed me through my publications, presentations, forums, talks, and workshops, to create more visibility to my position, my departments, the University, and, ultimately, the larger Louisville community. I also served as one of the co-coordinators and members of the Fairness Campaign, when I arrived in Louisville and in 2012 me and my best friend Jaison Gardner were offered the opportunity to create a podcast for the local NPR affiliate here in Louisville, WFPL.

Our podcast, “Strange Fruit: Musings on Politics, Pop Culture and Black Gay Life,”  has recorded to date over 290+ episodes and we have been included in the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database (NKAA), and were honored by Bluegrass Black Pride in Lexington with a 2017 Trailblazer Award, and a 2015 PRIDEINDEX.COM™ ESTEEM AWARD in Chicago for “Outstanding Podcast.” The show now has international listeners ship of more than 6,000 downloads weekly and 24,000 downloads each month. We have also been able to extend our reach of the podcast through in-person events like movie screenings and talkbacks at the Speed Cinema, the “Dialogues on Gender” Series in conjunction with the Speed Museum, and our recent lecture on diversity and inclusion for more than 400 people for Creative Mornings.

Now as an Associate Professor at U of L, and after having lived in Louisville for 12 years, I can truly say that I love the life I have created here. Im grateful for the people I’ve met, the movements and organizations I’ve joined and the community that surrounds me.

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

I think everyone’s journey to self-acceptance is different. Complex. So, I don’t want this to come across as advice. I can only speak to what helped me become more comfortable with who I am. I came out when I was 16 and I found that the more I struggled internally about my identity, the more I projected that discomfort to others, I was always met with questions like: “But you don’t look like a lesbian?” or “how can you really know for sure that you’re a lesbian?”. The questions really began to infuriate me, so I decided that I needed to really do some interior work within my own spirit to begin to project the proud lesbian I felt I could become. To silence the questions and queries. I found the more “out,” I was, the more comfortable I became with who I was as Black Lesbian Femme, the more I was met with affirmation, awe and in some instances praise. Books also helped me become more prideful with who I was and what community I was now a part of. Black Lesbian Feminism and Black Queer Theory solidified this pride. There writings and activism gave me the necessary experiential grounding, affirmation, and confidence in my identity as Black Lesbian Femme. I knew after reading and studying these theories that I am a part of a wondrous and magical community. A community that has always been here and has a fascinating and compelling history. The global community of queer folk.

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

As a Black lesbian feminist femme, I have constantly had to navigate radicalized and gendered projections upon my person. Many folks in the past refused to see and/or acknowledge that they were in the presence of a Black lesbian feminist femme. While my blackness in many queer and non-queer spaces made me extremely hyper-visible, it was always the combination of my radicalized difference and my performance of intentional femininity through my chosen Black femme identity that seemed to deem who I truly was, invisible.

This to me, hinted at the longstanding tradition of racial and gendered erasure that functions inside and outside of queer spaces. As such, my incidents with hyper-visibility and invisibility do not exist in isolation apart from other Black femmes and/or other queer Black women. The racist and heteronormative politics at work, within and outside of queer communities of work and leisure, continue to render Black femmes and others as either something they don’t declare themselves to be and/or erases the many signifiers they adopt to be seen as who they truly are. Eventually I had to realize, that my identity as a Black Feminist Lesbian femme had everything to do with the way I saw myself, and not the way others saw me. I wasn’t going to be “boxed” by anyone anymore.  I found through readings and talking with other Black femmes that a Black Femme Lesbian Feminist identity was an identity with Black feminist roots and revolutionary potentials.

Audre Lorde’s work on the Black and divine feminine also helped me to recognize that not only had the divine feminine been celebrated and exalted within ancient Black cultures, but it also solidified my own subjective feelings that my Black femme identity was an identity that came out of an ancient space of strength, power, and divinity, and not an identity that was based upon heteronormative complacency and/or socialized expectations of gender. My Black femme identity is based on a Black feminist tradition of recovering and resistance that seeks to undermine the racist and heteronormative assumptions that choose to see femininity as inherently White, and power as inherently male. For me, this is the definition of Black Femme-ness that sits well with my spirit, and it’s a definition that articulated who, in fact, I actually felt I was. As soon as I began embodying and performing my newfound identity in every space I entered, I still got looks of confusion and invasive questions as to who I was, but it certainly less than before.

What issues do you see in the queer community? 

Unfortunately, racism, sexism, homo-normativity, and transphobia are still ever present within many queer communities. Ours. Theirs. Every queer community. From the racism, fetishizing, and transphobia folks experience on the dating apps. To the blatant and covert expressions of racism in the nightclubs. To the questions and queries that non-binary folks are bombarded with on a daily basis by other queer folks. These are the issues that are bringing us harm, that are hurting our community.

What do you think would solve those issues? 

Education and activism are the keys to resolving these issues to me. Folks who exist in spaces of privilege within queer communities in terms of race, cis identity, gender identity, etc. need to work on being open to receive what Black queer folks, Black trans folks, Black Femmes, and Black Butch Queens have been saying for decades. Queer Liberation can’t happen when our community is still tethered to these repugnant and terroristic ideas about race, trans identities, or non-binary identities.

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

I don’t. I don’t consider White, Cis Gay Inc. the mainstream queer community either. I recognize that the Gay Inc. queer community is certainly the most visible, the most amplified, but that Ain’t my queer community. It’s never been. My queer community that I consider mainstream, meaning that it has always been the community that I see myself as a part of is the Black Queer community. Remember, I work from my own center. That center is Blackness and Queerness. Always. All ways.

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

When I’m at home with my wife and my parents. We have so much fun and they bring out the best version of me. They are literally home for me. I love them madly and I would be absolutely lost without them.


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