Then and Now: An intergenerational conversation about Eastern KY's LGBTQ+ community
Ban Conversion Therapy would like to highlight the individual experiences of LGBTQ+
Kentuckians from different generations. Two individuals were interviewed to discuss their childhood, growing up in a small, rural community in Eastern Kentucky, and their thoughts on the future of queer rights in Kentucky. For the sake of the interview, the individuals will remain anonymous and be referred to as the city they currently live in.
Interview with Richmond
Q: First of all, would you please tell us where in Kentucky you grew up, what generation you belong to, and how you fit into the LGBTQ+ community?
Richmond: Yeah absolutely, so I grew up in Stanton Kentucky and went to school at Powell County Highschool. I was born in the late 90’s. So I believe that still makes me gen z, and I am a trans-male, I use the pronouns he, him.
Q: Great, could you describe the area you grew up in, and some general background of the attitude that area had towards LGBT Individuals.
Richmond: In Powell County, I feel there was a lot of pressure to just, not be that way (LGBT). Like it was totally unacceptable, sinful, and not belonging in our town. It discourages a lot of youth from coming out, even though they were aware of their sexuality long before they did. I came out in the 7th grade, which made me understand why it took others so long, it wasn’t just
that I became the butt of several jokes, school staff just didn’t know how to deal with me. I had a girlfriend in middle school, before I transitioned, it was a typical lighthearted middle school sweetheart situation, but the fact that we were at the time the same sex had staff rushing to keep us separated. Even the most professional of staff just didn’t know how to deal with me in an accepting manner. It was easier for them to just ignore me instead of working to understand me.
Q: What was the scale of push-back you faced from your community outside of school?
Richmond: So I’m aware you all are a group aiming to fight conversion therapy, which is
thankfully something I was not threatened with growing up. I did however receive a lot of
pushback mainly from people not believing me that I was trans, doing their best to plant seeds of doubt or professionals refusing to do certain treatments. A lot of my interactions with professionals had to wait until I was 18 which set me back, the longer you wait to transition the more difficult the process becomes.
Q: What are some thoughts you would like to express to those still struggling to accept the
Richmond: I hope people grow to understand it is not at all a choice for the individual.
Personally, I would never choose this life of being constantly judged, and in danger of feeling like I have some secret I need to hide to everyone. I’ve known I was trans for as long as I remember, even before I knew what it meant, or that it was even an option.
Q: Knowing what you do know now, what is something you would reach out as say to your
Richmond: I’d explain to myself what being transgender is. If I would have known earlier, it would’ve saved me a lot of complicated feelings, and self-destruction. I remember trying to explain how I felt to friends and family and not having the words or knowledge to explain what I felt well.
Q: Protecting LGBTQ+ youth is the key goal of BCTK. What do you see as the best way to
protect these youths moving forward as a society?
Richmond: I think the best way to help LGBTQ youth would just be to make resources more known to them, they need to know who’s on their side, who understands them, and who they are safe with. Doctors, stores, groups, classes, sports, it’s hard not knowing who you can trust and be yourself around. A lot of youth just assume they can’t trust any adult, they need to know there are people who care and want to help them.
Q: A brief follow up on that to wrap up, do you believe educating young students on LGBT existence and identities is good for those young individuals?
Richmond: Absolutely, speaking for myself, I think a lot of youth are aware of themselves at a young age, earlier than adults are willing to admit. There is just a current lack of education for
both youth and adults to understand those feelings and that way of life.
Interview with Berea
Q: Could you describe to me briefly the time and area you grew up in, as well as their general
attitude towards LGBTQ identifying peoples.
Berea: So, my childhood and teenage years occurred in the 70s and early 80s, and I grew up in Clay City, Kentucky. It’s changed a lot in the past 40-50 years, when I was growing up it was a lot like Maybury. During that time, being gay just wasn’t someone anybody talked or really even thought about. You certainly didn’t come out or advertise it. Even though I was aware I was gay for a long time, I felt no need to come out in that sense.
Q: At about what age were you aware you are person who identifies as LGBT?
Berea: Hmm… I always knew I was different I suppose, like, growing up the boys were who I
saw as my friends and buddies, and girls I remember having crushes on.
Q: So fairly young then? Ah, well this could either be the most difficult or the easiest question I ask you, but who was your first same-sex celebrity crush?
Berea: *Laughs* Not that I expect you to know who this is, but Emma Peel from an old British import spy show called, The Avengers. Completely separate from the Marvel Avengers, but the character was played by Diane Riggs.
Q: Yes, I can’t say I’ve heard of it, but I do like the vintage vibes of 70’s and 80s shows, so I may check it out when we’re done here. Could I ask next, if you experienced any major push back on your identity whenever you did eventually come out?
Berea: Well, I’ve been lucky in not having too many nasty comments or the sort over the years. I’m thankful that the family I grew up with taught me so much growing up to respect and appreciate people despite whatever differences they may have had, even though I’m sure some family members weren’t thrilled about me being gay, if they ever insulted me for it, I’d have full ability to call them out for being hypocrites, as they taught me to respect different individuals.
Q: We certainly need a lot more of that, yes. What have you observed to be the biggest differences within the LGBTQ+ community over the decades?
Berea: I would say openness, which has its goods and bads honestly. I mean absolutely no one should have to hide their identity or be ashamed at all, but unfortunately we are a society where being outed can bring with it all kinds of potential hardship. I’ve found in my experience that people are far more well received if they find out over time, instead of being told outright.
Q: As you know, the focus of BCTK is fighting conversion Therapy, and protecting Kentucky’s kids, what do you see as the dangers of conversion therapy?
Berea: I’ve heard so many horror stories and seen the data of survivors, things like conversion therapy have a horrible affected on people. Drug use, alcoholism, suicides, I’d expect all of that to rise in young people so long as such a practice is allowed to continue. You’ve seen similar with just about any form of abuse to LGBT individuals.
Q: And finally, what do you see as the best way to continue fighting for LGBT Kentuckians and furthering gay rights, what would you encourage other LGBT Kentuckians to do?
Berea: I still have faith in our democratic process, it’s slow, but the attitude towards gays has improved so much over my lifetime. I would encourage young people to fight like hell for voting rights, and that those rights stay protected from the kinds of attacks we see on them today. Not just voting itself, but the electoral process as well, young people should absolutely focus on fighting practices like gerrymandering or money dictating political decisions.
BCTK would like to thank both interview participants so much for sharing their stories, and
their opinions on the future of Kentuckian rights. Hearing the real experiences of
Kentuckians and knowing how attitudes have changed over time, is an incredible tool in
advocating and motivating Kentuckians to continue protecting Kentucky’s youth from conversion ‘torture’ therapy, as well as fighting for an even better state.