“Y’all means all”, the motto of LGBTQ Pride, means inclusion instead of fear.
I began work as associate at the Appalachian Community Fund (ACF) in the spring. As a gay man, I am happy to do work that includes support to the LGBTQ communities of Appalachia. That is why I am writing to you today.
2019 was the 50th anniversary year of the Stonewall Uprising in New York. Stonewall was the beginning of the modern movement we now know. Part of my work as a member of the organizing team at ACF is to work with Out in Appalachia. We marked the anniversary year by participating in LGBTQ activities and sharing why we think Appalachia is part of the Stonewall story. Appalachian folks helped build the movement from its beginning. Our June #ThisIsAppalachia’s article featured Lige Clark, a pioneer gay leader from Hindman, Knott County in Eastern Kentucky. Clark was a product of the hills where he is buried. He helped create a liberation movement long before Stonewall. There are others, many others, doing the work today creating an emerging Appalachian LGBTQ equity movement.
Despite the dark news we hear every day, LGBTQ people in Appalachia give us many positive stories to share.
ACF’s Out in Appalachia project brings that mission to LGBTQ folks. As Margo Miller, executive director of ACF, says, “You can be gay and Appalachian and find acceptance from neighbors and friends. We support efforts to create awareness and welcoming here in the region of Central Appalachia.”
This growing movement shows the impact of organizing. We have supported gatherings of activists. We have given grants to LGBTQ organizing. We have been part of Pride events. We are working to end isolation. Bullying can isolate you even in a crowd. Today, decades after Stonewall, LGBTQ Appalachian youth are still too often facing isolation with lack of community and family support.
ACF’s LGBTQ Fund supported several Pride events this year.
- support visibility to new LGBTQ organizations. Examples include Blount (County, Tennessee) Pride, TriPride held in Kingsport, Tennessee for the first time, and the second Pikeville Kentucky Pride. Similar Prides have taken place across West Virginia and Central Appalachia. We partied for Out in Appalachia at the Birdhouse in Knoxville, Tennessee and Big Stone Gap, Virginia.
I mentioned to a member of the Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus (KGMC) that I was going to Big Stone Gap, Virginia to hold a party fundraiser for our LGBTQ Fund. He looked at me a bit surprised and said, “I am from Big Stone Gap.” Cultural groups like Knoxville Gay Men’s Chorus are rooted in the region. Many chorus members come from small towns where their first singing was in a church choir. KGMC gives of itself to other forms of artistic activity. Sign language translation has given the deaf community access to the choir and in turn the choir includes signing songs.
Blount County’s Pride had planned for 500 people. 700 attended. The event kicked off with a community panel. Matt Pennington, who leads the Gay Straight Alliance at Heritage High School, also spoke to the crowd. “I’ve never had any negative comments from the kids,” he said. “The future is a lot brighter than the past.” Maryville Daily Times, August 24, 2019 Pennington is not the only teacher we met along the road this year. Teachers are supporting LGBTQ youth throughout Central Appalachia.
When we moved to Blount County thirty-one years ago, anti-gay hate was openly expressed, and our courthouse was used to spread hate to other courthouses. Organizers found allies and united a community that embraced and welcomed LGBTQ folks.
The Knoxville LGBTQ Pride community has created a massive parade and festival that have become destination features of the city. An Out in Appalachia contingent marched in Knoxville and at the large Pride parade in Kingsport, Tennessee.
Small town Prides give hope to LGBTQ Appalachian residents by modeling a welcoming environment. Pikeville, Kentucky’s Pride in October drew five hundred people in a festive, celebratory and inclusive event deep in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. It opened with a blessing of the land by a Cherokee Indian woman welcoming all to celebrate together in peace.
"During the Pikeville Pride event an elderly lady and a young man came up to the Out in Appalachia booth while I had stepped away. When I returned the man was interpreting in American Sign Language for the lady who was seeking a large rainbow flag like the ones decorating our booth. As I do when I meet any deaf folks, I introduced myself in sign. She was very pleased to find someone else who could sign and we chatted and joked awhile as she tried to wheedle one of the large flags from the staff---who finally crumbled under her charms and let her have one of the large flags. She immediately asked me to help her fasten it on cape style. While I was doing that she asked where I learned sign. I told her my older sister had been deaf and that she went to Kentucky School for the Deaf. She said "Me too!! When and who?" I told her my sister had finished school in 1958 and her name. "I know her!! She is older than me, she was in the big girl's dorm!" I explained that my sister had passed away several years ago, as had her husband who she also remembered "Football player right?" and I said he was. She even remembered his name sign. It was a most unexpected connection!" - Bill Fields
This story demonstrates how the diversity of the movement can involve disability and age as well as race, gender and class. Two parties we organized were a majority of people of color. Lesbians play a key role in many new organizations. Allies are also wildly diverse. This is a time when, despite the odds, LGBTQ folks in Appalachia are moving forward. Your support moves with them.
Y’all means all. Please consider supporting ACF’s LGBTQ fund, today. If you donate for the first time or increase your giving, your gift will be doubled by a funder. Give a dollar and the LGBTQ Fund will receive two dollars.
As I said on the Blount County Pride panel, Out in Appalachia believes “no one should have to leave their hometown to be welcomed.”
Let’s make it so together,