All of us Hubbers are often involved in community events and organizing in our own communities, outside of our roles with The Hub.
I am no different. I have been involved with The STAY Project as a member since July 2016 and as a Steering Committee Member since November 2016. In my role with STAY, I worked to recruit folks to the recent Out in the South: Central Appalachia convening that happened in Charleston on May 23, in partnership with the Appalachian Community Fund.
The goal of this convening was to pull together queer folks, and organizations that serve queer folks, in West Virginia to talk about the bright spots and not so bright spots that we recognize in our communities as queer people.
There were folks in the room of all ages – from high school students to older adults. There were folks from Roane County, Fayette County, Raleigh County, Boone County, Mingo County, Kanawha County, and maybe more. There were lesbians, gay men, bisexual folks, trans folks, allies, and more. And everyone had something different to say about their community.
For me, the most important community I’m a part of doesn’t hold a physical space – it’s people. It’s the people who make me feel loved, valued, safe, and whole – all things that sometimes can’t be found in a physical space.
In the two years that I’ve lived in West Virginia I have relentlessly sought out a physical space where queer folks gather, and until Tuesday I was not satisfied.
I recognized that we all go through very similar challenges, but because we are rural folks, and because we are so spread out from one another, we often get stuck by obstacles in our way.
But in this space where we can talk, exist in solidarity, and organize, that’s how we can move forward.
It’s not that different from community development for a physical community. You have to get together face to face, recognize the obstacles in your way, and develop a plan to address those obstacles. That’s building power, and without power you can’t organize, and if you can’t organize you can’t change things.
I so enjoyed the opportunity to convene with so many beautiful people. I enjoyed hearing their stories, seeing them smile, and building a community just in that room.
I hope that folks will continue to advocate for that third space to gather, organize, and build power.
I’m also going to insert a shameless plug for The STAY Project, an organization that was founded specifically for the purpose of creating safe spaces for young Central Appalachians to gather, organize, plan, and advocate for safer, more inclusive, and healthier communities.
This organization changed my life y’all. It gave me access to that non-physical community that I never knew existed, right here at home. It gave me the opportunity to step up and be an organizer for young queer folks in West Virginia and Central Appalachia. It also gave me the opportunity to shine under pressure, to learn networking and leadership skills from other young leaders, and much more.
And they are holding their Summer Institute in West Virginia this year! So if you are 14-30 years old and living in Central Appalachia, join them at the Appalachian South Folk Life Center July 6-9 in Pipestem, West Virginia.