Defining Fairness Local News

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia: Whit Forrester, Defining Fairness

The thought of growing up gay in rural Eastern Kentucky would make many Louisvillians cringe. But how much of that reaction is rooted in stereotypes we hold about rural Kentucky? Whit Forrester spent some of his childhood in Leburn, Kentucky—a town in Knott County, with a population of around eight hundred people. Whit says when people hear he’s from Appalachia, “they’re like barefoot, pregnant, in a trailer… and you know how to change a propane tank.”

Whit spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis about growing up gay in Appalachia.

The audio portion of this conversation contains descriptions of situations that may make some listeners uncomfortable and may not be appropriate for younger listeners.

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On Labels

"I think that there's a strength, and sometimes also a weakness, in immediately identifying into a categorization, whether it is one that you've chosen yourself or one that society's given you. So sometimes when people are like, 'How would you describe yourself?' I can rattle off, 'Oh, I'm a queer, Scotch-Irish, Appalachian individual, cisgendered…' you know, I have all the words to sort of line up who I am, if that's what we're getting at. But sometimes it seems like you can close down a conversation that would have been more open before that.

When we're using just those identity words, a lot of times that's like a shortcut around a conversation. I would rather be like, this is what I enjoy doing sexually, and this is how I identify gender-wise, and these are my experiences. It becomes a conversation. And I think that's kind of what we need. "

On Class Divisions within the LGBTQ Community

"People who are closer to power feel like they can actually get it. So when you're talking about a straight-acting white guy who wants to lobby for gay issues, it's going to be his gay issues. So marriage. Sure. Why not. But simultaneously, hunger is a gay issue. Domestic violence is a gay issue. You can go down the line. Everything is a gay issue.

And that's kind of where I think that a lot of the white activist community kind of messes up, is that those folks–people who are identifying as white–they can't be leaders. I don't think that they should be the ones calling shots, or doing this community organizing. Which doesn't mean that you just run out and find a person of color, or find a queer street kid, and be like, 'You're a leader now! Hop on up, let's show you how to do this.' But I do think that that needs to be really centralized in the conversation, that your best intentions are just basically paving the road to hell."

On Activism

"People are in these various level of activism, whether it's lobbying, working in non-profit sectors, working in bike collectives, teaching young trans kids how to make a dress out of a sheet. All those are necessary components of what we're building. And I think that another issue is that we don't really know what we're building. We're just trying to build something different. 

Again, people with great intentions want to know what to do. They want to do something. We have this idea of what activism looks like. For me,  what's been really important in my own development and my own support structures have been cooperative institutions. A lot of times I wish that there were more conversations about that, so that folks weren't just given the opportunity to give money or go to fundraisers, but there were places to put your body. Whether it's like at the local volunteer co-op… something. Not your money. Your body."

Defining Fairness

Beyond Pink and Blue: Rebecca Grant, Defining Fairness

Rebecca Grant was a Staff Sergeant in the Army National Guard. Twelve years into her military career, a fellow soldier found and circulated a picture of her wearing a dress. The Army took issue with the photo because she had enlisted and had been serving as male—her biological sex.

Rebecca is now the president of Sienna, a transgender social, educational and support group, and has come out as transgendered and a lesbian. But embracing her identity hasn’t been without challenges. “Right now, I’m able to still marry, let’s say, my partner, a female, legally,” she explains. “But once I have my sex change, I would not have that opportunity. And that seems completely wrong.”

Rebecca Grant told WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis her story, starting with a different transition: from soldier to civilian.

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On Language
“At Sienna, we look at the ‘trans-asterisk.’ Anyone who has any kind of gender variance. There are differences between cross dressers and transsexuals and there are people who just identify as transgender now. Then you have your entertainers, which is still a gender variance. If you have someone who is biologically male performing as a female, they’re a drag queen. And it’s a performance, but it’s still types of gender expression.”

On a Binary Model of Gender
“There’s a boy who was born, and they get a blue blanket. There was a girl that was born, and they get a pink blanket. But it’s not just that simple. There are indications that there are variations, within the womb, of gender. It’s not just one or the other. It’s a very wide in-between area.”

On Growing Up
“Growing up in the ’80s, that’s when the height of the AIDS was coming around in society. It was very wrong to be LGBT. At home, my parents were really good. I was able to, to a point, dress like a girl. They didn’t care. And, to a point, even cross dressing, or wearing clothes underneath my male clothes. Those that are are considered ‘gender conforming,’ they’re able to go out to school when they’re in their teens, and be judged by public opinion. Trans kids aren’t able to do that as much. They have to hide it.”

On Acceptance Within the Gay Community
“I go to more lesbian-type events. I don’t want to say I haven’t been accepted, but it took me a little longer to be accepted into the lesbian community. When I was coming out, when I was outed, my largest support was actually in the gay community. And I think for the most part I already was accepted there. When I started feeling more confident about myself, and dressing more as a female, I was able to gain friends, and most of the time it was gay males.”

On Trans Issues Being Put on the Back Burner
“I believe that is getting better. We’re not being pushed to the back as much. There are more trans people that are having a voice towards the fight. More trans people are being able to be out of the closet, because society is getting better as a whole. And we’re able to speak more about the issues at hand, and not just hide in the closet and hope that our, usually gay, part of the organization stands up for us.”

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Chosen Families and the Ballroom Scene: Jaison Gardner, Defining Fairness

Jaison Gardner describes ballroom shows as “akin to fashion shows, akin to a talent shows,” and says they started with LGBTQ people of color, mostly gay men and transgendered women, in 1970s and 80s Harlem.

Gardner was one the founders of our local ballroom community—but if you haven’t heard of it, he’s not surprised. “The ballroom scene has historically been an underground scene,” he explains, “much like hip-hop was back in its early days.”

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LGBTQ Community More Than Black & White: Tiff Gonzales, Defining Fairness

Tiff Gonzales is a fourth-generation Mexican American, native to Texas, who identifies as queer both in gender identity and sexual orientation.

Tiff moved to Louisville five and a half years ago for work. She says when we talk about race in Louisville, we’re generally only talking about black and white. Latino issues re rarely part of the conversation, and when they are, it often only includes immigrants. “There’s so much that draws me to this city,” she says, “but that invisibility is something that I, on a regular basis, would struggle with to determine whether or not I can continue to live here.”

Tiff says there’s a certain loneliness in the lack of a community of folks who share similar identities. “I could name maybe just a couple of other people who I feel like would hold the identities of being a queer Latino here in this city.” But, she says, “I’m hopeful that there will be some change in that in the city that I really do love.”

When Tiff Gonzales spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis, the conversation at one point turned to tokenism and whether the trouble with seeking diversity on panels and projects like this is that one person is asked to represent the experiences of an entire group—whether it’s race, class, LGBTQ status, etc. “I really struggled with accepting this invitation. I thought, I’m going to be put into this position where I need to answer a question as one person, for—truly, when we’re talking about Latinos in the United States—millions upon millions of people.”

“I am one person, who has been shaped by many other people, and many other experiences. I can only tell you what it’s like to be me.”

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Bringing Faith to the LGBTQ Community: Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, Defining Fairness

Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard was born in Promised Land, South Carolina, the son of a Southern Baptist Minister, and says, “I grew up in church as much as I was in home.” He was given his nickname at the age of three, when his grandfather noticed his ability to replicate any dance move he saw.

When he came out as a gay man, he experienced rejection from the church. “I was angry at God,” he says. After struggling to reconcile his faith with his sexual orientation, he says he came to the conclusion that, “I was created like this, so I can’t believe in a God who would create me bound to hell, as they’re telling me I am.” Blanchard is now a co-chair of the Faith Leaders for Fairness—part of the Fairness Campaign—and leads the True Colors Ministry at Highland Baptist Church. He’s earning his Masters of Divinity at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and will be ordained at the end of May, making him the first openly gay person to be ordained at Highland Baptist.

Maurice Blanchard spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis, beginning with a story he says illustrates how far Louisville still has to go in making public spaces feel safe for LGBTQ citizens.

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On the Work of Faith Leaders for Fairness
“We’re rebuilding bridges for the LGBT community, back to faith. To be honest with you, the biggest conflict I get is from LGBTQ folk when I tell them I’m a gay minister. There is some animosity there, understandably. That’s probably the biggest struggle I see right now, is re-introducing faith to a people who have been wounded so much.”

On Being Called to Ministry
“I began reading deeper into scriptures, speaking with theologians, doing study, getting into the ministry, and realized that there is a place for everyone in the Kingdom of God. That has been a realization that has taken time to soak in. And I have felt the calling to ministry, and no in seminary, and active in my church, and leading a True Colors Ministry, which is the first LGBT-affirming ministry in a Baptist Church that I’m aware of.”

On Ministering to the LGBTQ Community
“The first thing I do, when confronted with a person who’s obviously been wounded, is not to say anything, but to be a listener. I think too many times religious leaders talk too much and listen too little. Sometimes we meet two or three, four times, and I haven’t really said anything about my own faith. Because I need to hear what they’ve been through, and I need to understand that, to be able to respond in a way that would be appropriate. Some folk respond to scripture well, some folk don’t want to hear anything about it. So mainly, with folk, I try to listen to them, hear where they’re coming from, and then start wading in the water and introducing them to the fact that there is a faith community, there are congregations that love you—not in spite of your sexuality, but simply for who you are as a child of God.”

On the Issues Facing LGBTQ People of Faith
“They’re facing outright rejection that they’ve felt their entire lives, from churches or church members. These people are covered in wounds and scars that emotionally run so deep, and we don’t see it on the outside, but they know very well they’re not welcome in many churches. They’re confronted with going back in and opening themselves up to be slighted again, to be condemned, and they don’t want to do that. And I don’t blame them. So, for example, my ministry, the True Colors Ministry, offers them a place almost like a wading pool. You’re not jumping into the pool—the pool being the full church—but you have something you can dip your feet in and get comfortable again, and start learning to trust again. And then when you’re ready, you can move into the larger pool.”

Defining Fairness Local News

Defining Fairness: Diane Moten

Years before the city of Louisville offered legal protections to residents based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, Diane Moten was fired by her employer for being a lesbian.

She told her story to the Board of Alderman and was part of the Fairness Campaign in its infancy.

Diane Moten told her story to WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis as part of the Defining Fairness series. You can listen to the interview here, and find extras below. Diane begins by reflecting on how her role in the community has changed.

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When asked to describe herself, Diane Moten says:

“I’m just a simple person. I work with the homeless. I’m a part time nanny. I like to bike, I like to run and walk. Actually, I’m also a minister. The church ordained me last year. I say that in some situations to be helpful to folks when I do jail visits or hospital visits. I’m a pretty outgoing person, and I’m the type of person, if you’re willing to ask me a question, I’ll answer any question anyone wants me to answer.”

Defining Fairness Local News

Defining Fairness: Walter W. Walker II

Walter W. Walker IIWalter W. Walker II has lived in Louisville since his family moved here in 1986. Here’s how he describes himself:

“Honestly, I would say I’m Walter. I think that everyone is different, everyone has their own identity, everyone’s unique, and I think that I’m a unique person. I do consider myself an African American, a Christian, a Presbyterian, and also a gay man. When you put yourself in these boxes and you start labeling, you know, being African American you’re going to experience the African-American experience. Being gay, you’re going to experience the gay experience. When I was younger, before I did come out, I was living in those boxes. So as I matured, as I got older, as I got comfortable with myself and started loving myself for who I am, I’ve kind of stepped away from those categories. And that’s the reason why I say, I’m just Walter.”

Walter Walker spoke with WFPL’s Phillip M. Bailey and Laura Ellis as part of this month’s Defining Fairness series. You can listen to the interview here. Walter begins by talking about why some LGBTQ African Americans might choose to remain in the closet.

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On Self-Awareness
“I knew when I was five years old that there was something about me that I guess quote-unquote wasn’t norm, or wasn’t right. And I did the boy things—I was into Transformers and He-Man. I was raised in a military family. I came here to Louisville in 1986, and as I was going through school I kind of suppressed those thoughts those feelings that something was wrong. And I became severely depressed. When I was 23 I met someone who was a male, and became involved with that person, very briefly. I finally decided to come out.”

On Coming Out
“I came out to my friends first. I remember it was my birthday, and I was with my friend and we were sitting at Red Lobster—she took me out to dinner. And I told her, ‘Well… I’m gay.’ And she was like, ‘Okay,’ and she continued to eat her food on her plate. So I said, ‘Did you not listen to me? Hello? I am gay. I like men.’ And so my friend says, ‘Okay, but we’re friends. You gonna eat that?’

When that happened, I came out to my family. I was with my mother over at her house and we were watching the 5:30 news, and I just kind of looked at her. And I stood in front of the TV and I said, ‘Mom, I have to talk to you.’ And she’s like, ‘What?’ And I said, ‘Well, this is important.’ She said, ‘Well, what is it?’ And I said, ‘I’m gay.’ And she was like, ‘I am your mother. I’m not stupid. Now would you move out of the way? I’m trying to watch the news.’ So I’m like, ‘Okay! This is not bad.'”

On Reconciling Religion and Gay Identity
“Religion, especially in the African-American community is so… it’s big. It’s everywhere. I didn’t want that backlash from the religious community. My family, we grew up, we’re all Presbyterians. But Presbyterian, the denomination as a whole, is very GLBT-friendly, which is lucky for me.

But at the same time, you still have the black religious community as whole kind of shunning you or frowning down on homosexuality. That’s the reason why I went into a depression. Because I just thought that, from a religious standpoint, that was wrong. Like, oh, well, I feel this way, but I’m told that this is bad. So then ultimately I just finally said, you know, ‘God, I don’t know why I feel this way, but if this is wrong… sorry.’ And that’s how I’ve come to terms with it.”