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Kentucky Equality Federation Satisfied With Hazard’s Actions

The Kentucky Equality Federation has announced that they are satisfied with the actions of the City of Hazard and they will not be pursuing legal action.

“Today, after having additional conversations with the City of Hazard, our legal representation, and Hazard officials, we are satisfied with the actions of the City,” said Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer. “Kentucky Equality Federation was asked to intervene by Mending Hearts, Inc. to protect the interests of their clients.

The KEF also requested that gender identity be added to the list of non-discrimination rules at The Pavilion.  The organization also believes Hazard sets a positive example for all cities in both Southern Kentucky and the entire Commonwealth.

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Local News Politics Uncategorized

City of Hazard Releases Report, Suspends Employee Following Allegations of Discrimination

The City of Hazard, Kentucky has released its final report and action plan following allegations that two men were asked to leave a public pool because of their sexual orientation. (Click to read the report and the action plan)

The two men, who are also developmentally disabled, were with the care organization Mending Hearts at the Hazard Pavilion. They were asked to leave the pavilion after engaging in public displays of affection. One man sat on the other’s knee and they reportedly hugged and kissed. The representative from Mending Hearts, Laura Quillen, says the men were asked to leave because they were gay. The employee who told them to leave, Kim Haynes, insists the men were violating the unwritten policy against excessive public displays of affection.

The report from the City of Hazard shows equally disparate accounts of the event, told through interviews with the parties involved. There is still disagreement over why the men were told to leave, though both Quillen and Haynes agree that Haynes told Quillen she should read the Bible more often. The two disagree over whether the comment meant Haynes doesn’t tolerate homosexuality or that he was suggesting the men be more modest in their affection.

While the report is inconclusive over the actual events, the incident has spurred a number of changes at the Hazard Pavilion. First, a sign will be posted making it clear that no one shall be discriminated against based on sexual orientation, race, age or a number of other criteria. Further, the rule against public displays of affection will be put in writing and on display in the pavilion. Haynes will be suspended without pay for five days. He and his coworkers will also have to complete a training course on non-discrimination laws and policies. Finally, the city will conduct a review of the Hazard Pavilion staff and make any necessary changes to management.

The Mayor of Hazard has apologized for the incident, and the Kentucky Equality Federation is not planning to pursue legal action. The group did plan a demonstration in Hazard, though, and is calling on Haynes to be reassigned to another part of city government.

The KEF, the Fairness Campaign and the Kentucky chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union have all said the incident is a reminder of the need for a statewide law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Fairness Campaign and the ACLU, however, did not plan demonstrations or investigations into the incident, and have declined to comment on the facts of the case or give an opinion on the allegations.

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Local News Politics

Equality Federation Planning Demonstration in Hazard, Lawsuit Unlikely

The Kentucky Equality Federal will move forward with a demonstration tomorrow in Hazard, even though they’ve largely made peace with city officials.

The demonstration stems from an alleged act of discrimination last week. A city employee told two gay men, who are also developmentally disabled, to leave the public pool, reportedly because they were gay. KEF president Jordan Palmer says the mayor and other Hazard officials have apologized, and his organization is not planning any legal action against the city.

“The only thing that we’re going forward with is we’re demanding that this person be reassigned to another area of city government. We have to show compassion, even though he didn’t show compassion when he threw them out. But if we don’t show compassion, we’re no better than he is,” he says.

Palmer says if the organization for the mentally challenged that took the men to the pool or the men’s parents want to sue, the KEF’s legal team will provide assistance.

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Local News

Alleged Discrimination at Hazard Pool Sparks Investigation

Several parties are investigating an alleged act of discrimination in Hazard, Kentucky.

The two men, who also have developmental disabilities, say they were told to leave the public pool in the Hazard Pavilion because they were a couple. Others, however, say the two were making public displays of affection, which aren’t allowed at all in the pavilion.

“If they’re going to have any type of regulation which prohibits public displays of affection, it needs to be applied uniform throughout and not applied to gay men or lesbian women,” says  Kentucky Equality Federation president Jordan Palmer. The KEF chapter that covers Hazard is considering protesting.

City attorney Paul Collins says it’s not yet clear whether the men were discriminated against or were violating pool rules.

“We have reached no conclusions about any of the allegations. We are only beginning to investigate this matter. I specifically have had no opportunity to speak with the individuals who are making the allegations…yet,” he says.

The Fairness Campaign has declined to comment until the details become clearer. However, the president says if the allegations are true, it’s further evidence that a statewide anti-discrimination law is needed. Currently, only Louisville, Lexington and Covington have laws blocking discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The parties involved did not return a request for comment.

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Arts and Humanities In-Depth News Local News

New Poet Laureate Always Encouraging Others to Write

Nations and states often bestow the title of poet laureate onto venerated writers and Kentucky is no different. The commonwealth created the position in 1926 and those named to the post are expected to promote the literary arts and lead the state in literary activities. While Gurney Norman was just appointed to the position in April, he’s has been fulfilling many of the position’s duties for decades. WFPL’s Elizabeth Kramer has this profile.

GurneyNormanAbout 20 Kentucky public school teachers are in a University of Louisville classroom to learn from Gurney Norman — who is teaching them about how to inspire their students to write. Norman’s created most of the characters and narratives from his memories of growing up in western Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. He reads them a story he wrote about a boy and his dog.

“I tried to get in on the talk about Karo, but nobody listened to me,” he reads. “Grandma told Uncle Delmer they might have to shoot Karo. I thought it was something they’d talk about some more, and I went to the front yard to play. But then I heard a gunshot.”

Norman explains that this piece of fiction was taken from his emotional memories. He instructs them to try to remember any animal they have had some bond with and write a paragraph about a related experience.

He talks about how the act of writing — physically in longhand — accesses the subconscious and helps students understand more about themselves, others and the world.

“I think the students appreciate it when I ask them to write about earlier life experiences,” Norman says. “And I think it often happens that might be the first time any teacher has directed their attention to the very place that is their original home.”

Norman is conducting this workshop at an educators’ conference in his role as Kentucky’s poet laureate. But Norman has been leading classes like this for decades — as a professor of creative writing at the University of Kentucky and beyond. So says colleague and former student Erik Reece.

“Gurney has had so much influence doing writing workshops across Kentucky,” Reece says. “You can’t swing a dead cat in Eastern Kentucky without hitting somebody who’s been inspired by Gurney.”

Reece counts himself among many inspired by Norman. He recalls going to Norman when he set out to write his prize-wining debut book about mountaintop removal.

“When I started to write Lost Mountain,” Reece says, “I went to Gurney and he said, ‘You know you really have to be careful how you tell the story of Appalachia because this is a people who have been exploited over and over again by storytellers.'”

Norman’s writing has been shedding light on his home of Appalachia throughout his career: from the 1971 Devine Right’s Trip: A Novel of the Counterculture to his short stories, like those in the Kinfolks, which critics compare to James Joyce’s Dubliners. While some might classify his stories as regional and nostalgic, Norman doesn’t.

“I do view the world through the prism of local awareness,” Norman says. “To know one place well is a starting place to know the whole world.”

And Norman has seen a lot of the world. He left Kentucky in 1960 to study at Stanford University with literary critic Malcolm Cowley, followed by a stint in the Army. But he returned to Kentucky, where he had grown up with his grandparents after his father left for World War II and his mother was admitted to a mental hospital.

He says he dealt with his chaotic childhood by playing in the woods and exploring the land around him. And he learned how to tell stories from his family.

“I would hear stories over and over again, about my grandmother’s parents, my grandparents’ brothers and sisters and by the time I was 15, I knew their stories,” he says.

His experiences with storytelling have driven him to encourage others to tell their stories. Linda Blair is on the faculty at Hazard Community & Technical College and has participated in Norman’s workshops.

“His stories are like a looking glass for me,” Blair says. “It reminds me of where I came from and who I am today.”

She also uses his writing to teach her students.

“They recognize that they have these stories,” she says. “I think it takes away their fear of writing.”

Jane Gentry Vance, who was Kentucky’s previous poet laureate, says Norman is more than an accomplished writer; he’s a nurturing teacher.

“He’s a natural poet laureate,” she says. “He’s been a poet laureate of Eastern Kentucky for a long time, and it’s just wonderful that the rest of the state can experience some of his zeal.”

And Norman says he’s eager to meet more people throughout the state and learn their stories. In the coming weeks, he’ll be in the cities of Cynthiana, Greenville, Pineville and Glasgow, among others.