Ed Kennedy

Fairness WV Brings GLBT Activism To Small Town Appalachia

Filed By Ed Kennedy | October 01, 2011 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Bradley Milam, coming home, Fairness WV, LGBT rights, West Virginia

I grew up in Beckley, WV. It's not a big town, about 30,000 people in the middle of coal country. I never imagined I'd move back after I left at age 21, much less buy a house and make a home. Something else I never thought I'd do here was attend a gay rights fundraiser.

I really should be clear: I love my hometown. It's beautiful here. My family is here. The water is clean, the houses affordable, the schools are good and crime is low. I didn't appreciate it when I was younger, but I do now.

When I was a gayling I was all about the clubs. I even spent some time flying around to circuit parties. I lived in places like D.C., San Diego, and Miami, and I really lived it up. Now the nearest gay bar is an hour away, and I'm fine with that. I did go to Pride in Charleston, and that was nice.

What can be scary is hunting for a job. West Virginia has no job protections, no housing protections. When I came back, I had to skip the smaller companies and look for something national with a good nondiscrimination policy. It meant a different quality of life, but it had a 100% from the HRC. And that gave it security.

I don't think anyone cares that I'm gay. Frankly, the rednecks (who are proud of being rednecks) who work for me would probably kick anyone's ass that screwed with me for being gay, and I'd never know about it. But it's a concern. You plan for things like a theoretically homophobic boss by finding a gay friendly company, even if it's limiting.

That's where Fairness WV comes in. They're the only gay rights group in West Virginia, working for protections in employment, housing, hate crimes, and now a new focus on bullying. And to my town of 30,000 they brought a fundraiser on Thursday night at the Black Knight Country Club, which I can remember not being race-friendly in my lifetime, much less gay friendly.

So to stand there with my old high school guidance couselor, whose Yale-educated nephew Bradley Milam is the first full-time employee of Fairness WV, with young children belonging to local gay couples trying to stand still, next to Dr. Coy Flowers, who was on my dorm floor freshman year at West Virginia University, and listen to ongoing efforts to change state laws was kind of surreal. And really quite hopeful.

If these efforts can happen here, we really are winning the fight. Listen to Bradly talk about the efforts and focus of Fairness WV, and the strides they've made.

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