Out in the South – Central Appalachia
Out in the South – Central Appalachia focuses on LGBTQ communities and individuals in the Central Appalachian counties located in Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia. Our community members self-define themselves along a wide spectrum, including but not limited to: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender-nonconforming, non-binary, asexual, queer, and pan sexual. In our region, 215,435 adults identified as LGBT – that is only a little over 3% of the total population.
In 2016, Appalachian Community Fund partnered with The STAY Project and LGBTQ communities across the region to launch the Out in the South: Central Appalachia Project. This project is a grantee of the broader Out in the South Initiative coordinated by the Funders for LGBTQ Issues as a strategy to increase funding and deepen fundraising strategies and relationships for LGBTQ communities across the South.
The first two phases of our project involved gathering communities together to break isolation, create space, and identify community strengths, challenges, and needs.
To date, we have:
- Set up a private Facebook group for LGBTQ Appalachians where over 500 members continue to share messages, action items, events, and reduce isolation.
- Mapped regional organizations and foundations that support LGBTQ work and individuals;
- Created an LGBTQ-specific database of organizations, allies and individuals in the region;
- Hosted four state-based gatherings and a regional gathering, one each in New Market, Tennessee; Hindman, Kentucky; Wytheville, Virginia; and Charleston, West Virginia.
- Met over 170 individuals face-to-face at our gatherings who came together from 6 states.
- Compiled 4 state-based reports and one regional report that identified a need for community capacity to tackle healthcare and quality of life issues for LGBTQ people in our region.
- Developed an achievable plan for individual donor fundraising, interconnected with a communications strategy and annual calendar, to create fundraising campaigns for small staffed and/or volunteer organizations in the region.
Participants at our four gatherings identified the following challenges, among many others:
- Political Climate: Blue Lives Matter, Confederate flags and culture, conservative and regressive policy makers, dangerous and threatening bills, and President Trump;
- Discrimination and injustice: racism in the queer community (as well as the community at-large), white supremacy and inherent dangers, ageism, gendered issues – including toxic masculinity, rape culture and preference for binary identification;
- Employer / Employment Issues: job discrimination, job insecurity, lack of policies protecting employment, high percentage of temporary work compared to permanent opportunities, low-wage jobs, outsourcing of state and local jobs, nepotism and lack of unions;
- Faith Based Organizations, Groups and Denominations: the power of Evangelicals, Southern Baptist Convention and The Church as a whole;
- Health Care / Health Care Access: health care costs, lack of appropriate health care, especially for transgender and transitioning people, poor medical coverage and insurance, little access to mental health care, and little to no sex education;
- LGBTQ+ Organizations and Issues: exclusion from religious communities, media representations of LGBTQ+ people, sexualization of queer spaces by the community at-large and LGBTQ+ community members, bathroom bills, LGBTQ+ youth (especially transgender students) are treated poorly in school, and community organizations are weak given a lack of staffing and funding;
- Housing: lack of affordable housing, housing discrimination, and few vouchers.
We know we are on the right track because folks are telling us what really worked for them:
- Our events were designed to embrace the culture and traditions of Central Appalachia;
- The communal meal at each gathering set the tone, allowing people to meet up before working together;
- Shared singing after the meal brought people into the space and later closed the gathering;
- People who came went beyond the “usual suspects” engaged in grassroots organizing and advocacy;
- High school students came to the Wytheville, Virginia and Charleston, West Virginia gatherings;
- There was thoughtful and intense participation in the identification of local issues which generated excitement and energy;
- Expectations were high for the next steps; with an intense desire not to have this project fade away, like many brief projects have done previously in the region. v
Our vision for change over the next 3-5 years includes:
1) building secure communities and breaking isolation
2) developing new leaders while supporting current one
3) maintaining a regional network
4) offering fundraising trainings
5) expanding grantmaking capacity for LGBTQ communities in Appalachia through ACF’s LGBTQ Fund.
In the big picture:
We understand that it will take a culture shift in our communities to be able to survive and thrive openly. Based on our lived experience, change doesn’t happen fast here. This work requires long term commitments to vision and relationship building. Fortunately, OITS participants are community leaders who have a real stake in working together for LGBTQ communities in Appalachia.
We know that this is a long-term strategy and we’re willing to do what it takes!