September 22, 2011

Hate crime alleged in attack in Harlan

By: Bill Estep
Lexington Herald-Leader

PARTRIDGE — An advocacy group has asked federal officials to investigate a case in which a Letcher County man says he was viciously beaten in Harlan County because he is gay.

Two men have been charged in state court with attempted murder and two women have been charged with complicity to commit attempted murder stemming from the April beating of Kevin Pennington.

The Kentucky Equality Federation recently asked the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the case, saying there was a concern the case wouldn't be handled aggressively locally.

It is the second such request the federation has made in Harlan County in recent months concerning an alleged attack related to sexual orientation.

Jordan Palmer, president of the federation, said that Pennington's case should be prosecuted as a hate crime, but that he was not aware of a prosecutor in southeastern Kentucky ever using the state's hate-crime law.

However, Harlan County Commonwealth's Attorney Henry Johnson said he intended to pursue the case as a hate crime, which would bring a higher penalty for a conviction. Johnson said he thought there was evidence that the attack on Pennington was motivated by his sexual orientation. Johnson said any concern that his office would not prosecute the case well was unfounded.

"I think the case would be treated fairly and seriously here," he said.

In the other alleged hate crime, a lesbian couple attending a Fourth of July fireworks show with the children of one of the women said several people who had been drinking yelled slurs and attacked them.

Pennington, 28, of Partridge was assaulted in April, according to court documents. However, the federation only recently asked federal officials to step in because Pennington had not come forward, Palmer said.

Pennington said people had directed slurs at him before, but no one had ever attacked him physically.

"They would not have done this to me if I wasn't gay," he said.

Those charged in the attack are David Jason Jenkins, 37; Anthony Ray Jenkins, 20; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, 18; and Alexis Leann Jenkins, 18.

The men were first charged with assault, but a grand jury changed the charge to attempted murder. The women were charged with complicity. All four have pleaded not guilty.

According to court records, David Jason Jenkins and the two women live in Harlan County. The records list an address for Anthony Jenkins in Partridge, which is nearby in Letcher County.

Pennington said the men are cousins; Mabel Ashley Jenkins, whom he called Ashley, is Anthony Jenkins' sister, and Alexis Jenkins is his wife.

Attempts to reach them or their attorneys Wednesday were not successful; Anthony Jenkins hung up when contacted by telephone.

Pennington told the Herald-Leader he once had a relationship with a male relative of Ashley and Anthony Jenkins.

Ashley Jenkins had told Pennington he shouldn't be gay, however, and had made advances toward him, said Pennington, who works part-time as a school maintenance worker.

Pennington said that Ashley Jenkins called him about a week before the attack and wanted to go out, but that he rejected her again in pointed terms, which he was told angered her. Pennington said he also had turned away advances from David Jason Jenkins, whom he called Jason.

Ashley and Alexis Jenkins came to his mobile home after dark April 4 and asked him to ride around in Cumberland, Pennington said. He decided to go because he needed cigarettes and soft drinks, and gas prices were high.

There were two men in the front seat of a Chevrolet pickup outside. The women said the two were their boyfriends, Pennington said. The men were wearing caps pulled low, so he couldn't see who they were when he and Ashley Jenkins got in the back seat, Pennington said.

He said he recognized Jason Jenkins as they drove toward Kingdom Come State Park, at Cumberland, and he began asking to get out of the truck, but they wouldn't let him.

Jason Jenkins began telling Pennington in graphic terms that he planned to sexually assault him, Pennington said.

Pennington said he couldn't get out by himself because the back door couldn't be opened with the front door closed.

He said he was shaking with fear as they drove up the mountain to Kentucky's highest state park, then out the paved Little Shepherd Trail.

When they stopped, the men pulled Pennington out of the truck, threw him to the ground and began stomping his head, legs, arms and back with their heavy boots and punching him while the two women yelled things such as "Kill that faggot," Pennington said.

"My head would hit the road and I would just see bright flashes of light," said Pennington, wiping away tears.

Pennington said he lost consciousness.

When he awoke, curled in a ball on the ground, he heard Anthony Jenkins talking about finding a tire iron in the truck, and Jason Jenkins telling Ashley Jenkins she would have to help throw Pennington over the mountain when they were done, Pennington said.

Thinking the assailants planned to kill him, Pennington decided to jump over the side of the mountain near the trail, not knowing whether it was a drop of 10 feet or 50 feet. He gathered his strength and ran.

"I was going to be dead one way or another, so I jumped," Pennington said.

He hit the ground quickly and ran down the hillside; he hid behind a boulder when he heard the -others coming after him.

His attackers eventually stopped looking for him, and he heard the truck pull away. Pennington said he was wet, cold and in pain, but he hid in the woods for about 45 minutes to make sure they were gone.

His ankle was badly sprained, but he hobbled up the hill and made his way to the ranger station at the park. No one was there.

Pennington said he got into a maintenance truck to wait for help. When no one came after about two hours, he broke out a window at the station and used the telephone to call 911 and his family.

When police and the ambulance arrived, boot prints were visible on his face, Pennington said. One of his ears was torn and bloody, he was badly bruised, he had a torn ligament in his shoulder, and there was gravel from the road embedded in his head, he said.

Pennington identified the alleged attackers, and police rounded them up.

Sheriff's deputy Matt Cope, the investigating officer, said in a criminal complaint that Ashley and Alexis Jenkins lured Pennington into the truck and spurred on the two men during the assault.

Anthony Jenkins admitted to beating Pennington, and others in the truck told police that Jason Jenkins also beat Pennington, Cope said in citations.

Pennington said the attack haunts him: He has nightmares and wakes up drenched in sweat, and he has been in counseling.

"I'm constantly looking over my shoulder," he said.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/09/21/1891619/hate-crime-alleged-in-harlan-mans.html

Group wants feds to investigate an alleged hate crime

HARLAN DAILY ENTERPRISE
By: ANDERS ELD

The Kentucky Equality Federation, an advocacy group for equal treatment of all citizens, has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate another alleged hate crime in Harlan County. The alleged incident occurred in April. It has been alleged, in previous reports, that two men and two women took Kevin Pennington to Kingdom Come State Park, and there, they severely beat him. The four was indicted the following month. Both Anthony Jenkins and David Jenkins have been charged with attempted murder. The two women, Mable and Alexis Jenkins, have been charged with complicity to attempted murder.

In a press release, the Federation described the incident as “an unprovoked attack on a gay man” that was motivated by hate or intolerance toward sexual minorities. The group has forwarded a report of the alleged hate crime to U.S. Department of Justice, and it also renewed its request that the Department intervene under newly federal hate crimes legislation.

Last month, the federation issued a hate crime complaint to the Department of Justice, following an alleged hate crime incident in Pathfork involving two women that allegedly were attacked by several men during a Fourth of July celebration. In that filing, the federation said “because judges as well as the county and Commonwealth Attorney are elected to office, [they] must keep the bulk of the population happy with their service to the Commonwealth or they risk not being re-elected to office and taking a stand to protect victims of hate crimes, especially members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or intersex community is politically dangerous to them, thus, justice rarely prevails.” The federation therefore requested that the justice department move this and other hate crime cases in the area to federal court where neither prosecutors nor judges are elected to office.

“We will continue to monitor the conduct of everyone involved and will report any indifference to enforce the laws of this Commonwealth both to the Justice Department as well as the Judicial Conduct Commission,” said federation president Jordan Palmer, in a statement.

Read more: The Harlan Daily Enterprise - Group wants feds to investigate an alleged hate crime

September 2, 2011

Fairness Ordinance Hits Rural Wall

The Commonwealth
Fairness Ordinance Hits Rural Wall
By: Jacalyn Carfagno, WEKU News

In part one WEKU reported on the experiences and challenges for young people growing up gay in Kentucky. In part two, she examines the complex and sometimes acrimonious debate over fairness ordinances. They’re designed to protect Kentuckians from discrimination based on sexual preference or identity.

Jeff Osborne, who’s pastor of the Berea Evangelistic Church, speaks for many rural Kentuckians.

"Well, there’s no question in my mind that homosexuality is wrong. Why? Well, the Bible teaches, both Old and New Testament, that homosexuality is a sin."

According to U.S. Census figures, there are really two Kentuckys. There’s rural Kentucky where very few gay couples are found. Then, there’s urban Kentucky where people are much more willing to identify themselves as same-sex couples. Communities like Louisville, Lexington and northern Kentucky recorded more than 10 same sex couples per thousand. The statewide average is just under seven couples.

Anecdotally, discrimination against sexual orientation is more common in rural Kentucky. For example, over the summer in Hazard, two gay men were ejected from a public swimming pool. In Harlan County, a lesbian couple reports they were beaten because of their sexual orientation.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said city government in Hazard, which has a history of tolerance, reacted quickly to the discrimination, but the story isn't the same everywhere.

"You travel outside of Hazard to Harlan or Hindman or Jackson, which is in Breathitt County, it's a completely different attitude. Gay people are beaten, they're openly and blatantly terminated because of their sexual orientation."

Hoping to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, several communities have turned to fairness ordinances. They’ve been enacted in the urban centers of Louisville, Lexington and Covington. But, similar ordinances in relatively-rural Berea and Richmond have stalled.

Given the stalemate in rural Kentucky, proponents shifted their efforts to Frankfort. Palmer says a state law fashioned after a fairness ordinance would ensure all Kentuckians enjoy the same protections. Plus, he says only the state can effectively enforce the law.

So, the Kentucky Equality Federation is pushing to add sexual identity to the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights, which has authority throughout the Commonwealth.

"it protects smokers from being fired from a job but not because of sexual orientation or gender identity. That agency is heavily funded and they're the ones that need jurisdiction over sexual identity to be effective,” Palmer said.

But, political opposition remains strong. In 2004 three-quarters of voting Kentuckians drew the line at same-sex marriage, voting in favor of a constitutional amendment to ban it. The opposition dominated many rural counties, where nearly 90 percent of those people casting ballots voted to ban gay marriage, a practice that was already illegal in the Commonwealth.

Since that time, according to Palmer, even the local fairness ordinances have come under attack in Frankfort.

"The Kentucky House has tried three, four times to revoke the authority of municipalities to pass equality laws…." He thinks this is likely to happen again in the next legislative session because of publicity surrounding the effort in Berea.

Berea minister Jeff Osborne, speaks for many people who see the fairness ordinance as a violation of their property rights.

"My main concern is the loss of freedom myself, the loss of my freedoms. I believe that as a property owner I should have rights to say what should go on or shouldn’t go on on my property."

Nevertheless, the political and economic pressures on landlords and lawmakers continue to grow. Census figures again indicate Kentucky was among the states with the largest increase in same-sex couples. As the number of openly gay people grows, so does their political and economic power…ensuring the debate over discrimination based on sexual orientation is not over in Kentucky.

News Link: http://weku.fm/post/fairness-ordinance-hits-rural-wall

August 24, 2011

Alleging hate crime, Harlan County lesbian couple seeks federal involvement

By: Bill Estep

A lesbian couple in Harlan County who believes they were attacked and beaten because of their sexual orientation wants the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the case.

The Kentucky Equality Federation on Wednesday requested that the federal government pursue the case as a hate crime, according to a letter provided by Jordan Palmer, its president.

The federation, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, made the request for Misty Turner and Brandy Standifer.

Turner, a 28-year-old nurse, told the Herald-Leader she and Standifer have lived openly as a couple for three years in the Pathfork community.

Turner has a 5-year-old son and a 3-year-old daughter. She shares custody with the children's father, so the children live with her and Standifer much of the time.

Turner said she and Standifer, an emergency medical technician, had never had problems in the community because of their sexual orientation.

That changed July 4, Turner said, when the couple, the children and other family members were at a fireworks show at Pathfork.

As they sat in a church parking lot to watch the show, people among a crowd at a nearby house began shooting fireworks at them, Turner said.

The fireworks landed among her group, burning her son, her 80-year-old grandmother and others, Turner said.

"There was just sparks everywhere," she said.

Turner said she had seen people who were at the house drinking beer.

Turner said that when her father walked toward the group and she went after him to stop him, people in the group attacked her. When Standifer tried to intervene, others from the group started hitting and kicking her and knocked her to the ground, Turner said.

People in the "mob" hit only her and Standifer, not others of their group, Turner said.

That's one reason she believes the attack was motivated by the couple's sexual orientation.

Turner said people from the crowd called them "dykes" and made other derogatory comments related to their sexual orientation.

"If you want to look like a man, let's see you fight like one," one man said to Standifer, Turner said.

"I feel like it made them upset that we were there as a family," Turner said.

Alcohol might have fueled the anger as well, she said.

The attack left Standifer with a broken rib and bruises. Standifer had a man's shoeprints on her back, Turner said.

Turner was bruised and had a head injury and bleeding in her sinus cavity. She has more tests this week to figure out the extent of the damage, she said.

Turner said she could initially identify only two of the dozen or more people involved in the attack.

She swore out warrants the next day charging Rodney Howard with assault and Jeffrey Saylor, accused of pointing a gun at the couple during the incident, with wanton endangerment.

A judge later forwarded the charge against Saylor to a grand jury for a possible felony indictment but did not forward the charge against Howard, said their attorney, Otis Doan.

Doan said both men "totally deny" the charges.

Turner said she has since identified a third man, but she was advised to seek a charge against him from the grand jury.

She said she plans to do that in September. She said she will also seek a felony indictment against Howard.

Turner said that at the earlier court hearing for Saylor and Howard, their families were allowed in the courtroom, but her family members were not.

She also said Doan asked her questions she felt were derogatory, such as whether she promoted a lesbian lifestyle and still had custody of her children even though she is a lesbian.

Asked about the comments, Doan said, "I did my job as a lawyer representing my client."

Turner contacted the Kentucky Equality Federation after the hearing, concerned that her sexuality would hurt the case against those charged.

Kentucky has a hate-crime law, but officers with the federation said they were not aware of it ever being used in southeastern Kentucky.

Turner said she and Standifer are recovering physically, but the attack terrorized her children.

They've slept with her since, and they screamed when she recently had to stop for a school bus in front of the house where the attack happened, Turner said.

"Every night, I have to explain there are mean people in the world ... but mommy's not going to let anything happen to them," she said.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/08/24/1856382/alleging-hate-crime-harlan-county.html#ixzz1VzjWeh4I

Read more: http://www.wkyt.com/wymtnews/headlines/Group_calling_Harlan_County_attack_a_hate_crime_128357348.html 

Read more: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/08/25/121914/kentucky-lesbian-couple-seeks.html

July 24, 2011

Former political candidate found dead; Police say Vanderpool shot himself

Matthew D. Vanderpool, who lost a bid for the 45th District state House of Representatives seat last fall, was pronounced dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head early Wednesday, several hours after Lexington police responded to a call about a suicidal man at 812 Wheatcroft Court.

Authorities went to the address after a man who lives out of state called police about 9:40 p.m. Tuesday, saying his son was having suicidal thoughts and had a gun, Lexington police Lt. Rodney Sherrod said.

When police arrived at the home, near Russell Cave Road and Interstate 75/64, they heard a gunshot coming from inside the home and a window break in the garage, Sherrod said.

Police evacuated neighbors and used a phone and a bullhorn to try to make contact with whoever was inside.

Vanderpool, 26, was later found in the garage, Lexington police Lt. Raymond Roller said.

Fayette County chief deputy coroner Miles White said the coroner's office was called at 12:49 a.m. Wednesday. Vanderpool was pronounced dead about a half-hour later. White said the Wheatcroft Court address is the home of Vanderpool's mother.

At 7:36 p.m. Tuesday on Facebook, Vanderpool reminisced about his life and his friends.

"I have friends that are by my side like security at a presidential debate," he wrote. "They protect me from not only others, but from myself. We have shared some crazy times, happy times, sad times and times that we will never forget ... one because the video camera won't let us and two because that is who we are as friends. My friends are my family."

Vanderpool closed the note by saying, "I've just been looking back today at some of the things I have done and started a list of the things I want to do! Just writing thoughts I guess."

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, who shared an apartment in Lexington with Vanderpool, said: "He was happy, and he wasn't having any problems that I'm aware of. He was a wonderful public figure and a wonderful person to talk to."

Palmer, who managed Vanderpool's House seat campaign, said Vanderpool had an open mind about everything and all points of view.

Palmer, who has another home in Hazard, drove to Lexington on Wednesday after receiving a call about Vanderpool's death from state Rep. Ruth Ann Palumbo of Lexington, he said.

Palmer said he had talked to Vanderpool by phone a couple of days before his death and didn't notice anything wrong with his friend.

Vanderpool, who was openly gay, was at the Kentucky Equality Federation's booth during last month's Lexington Pride Festival, a celebration of Central Kentucky's gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, Jordan Palmer said.

"He begged me to go to the after-parties," Palmer said.

Vanderpool and his mother drove to Hazard in June to protest the expulsion of two gay men with mental disabilities from a city-owned swimming pool, he said.

"He had a strong sense of what was right and wrong," Palmer said. He also said that he and his friend didn't always agree on politics but could "always find mutual ground."

Vanderpool, a Democrat, defeated Michael Coblenz, a patent lawyer and Air Force veteran, in the May 2010 45th District primary. Vanderpool raised only $150 for the campaign, and he said he didn't buy a single yard sign or advertisement. Coblenz raised $6,000.

In the November general election, Vanderpool received 6,217 votes to Republican incumbent Stan Lee's 13,135. During the race, Vanderpool said he was a "worker" and Lee was an "ideologue."

"We have lost a very promising young man, and we offer our deepest sympathy to Matthew's family and friends," said Fayette County Democratic Party chairwoman Brenda P. McClanahan, who is a member of the state executive committee.

Vanderpool, a Lexington native, was a customer-service representative for Tempur-Pedic, a disaster-relief specialist for the American Red Cross and a member of the Young Democrats.

Survivors include his parents, Thomas Vanderpool of Corbin and Judy Kovacs of Lexington; his stepmother, Brenda Vanderpool of Corbin; his stepfather, Doug Kovacs of Lexington; and a brother, Justin Vanderpool.

A memorial service will be at 6 p.m. Saturday at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home on Harrodsburg Road. Visitation will be after 4 p.m. Saturday at the funeral home. Memorial gifts are suggested to the Lexington chapter of the American Red Cross.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/07/14/1810483/former-political-candidate-found.html#storylink=cpy

July 19, 2011

Discrimination incident in Hazard handled with care

By Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader
Opinion - Op-Ed
 - Bruce Burris and Crystal Bader are owners of Latitude Artist Community, a Lexington agency with an emphasis on serving those with disabilities.

July 19, 2011 - Kentucky, as we know only too well, plays a role on the national stage as the butt of many cruel jokes and condescending asides.

Who hasn't felt that "oh no, not again" feeling when faced with yet another derogatory joke, study, survey, celebrity anecdote and so on which our entertainment and media industries gleefully cultivate?

Most recently, Lexington was stung when named by a men's magazine as the "most sedentary" city in the U.S., apparently based on a rather dubious study that did little more than combine the number of video games bought with the amount of television watched.

If Lexington may on occasion be stung, then little Hazard has often found itself at ground zero for this form of national hazing.

In early June, all the ingredients for a perfect media storm were brewing there, the result of an incident at a city swimming pool in which two gay men (both with intellectual disabilities) were expelled by an employee of the city who cited the Bible while admonishing both men for what, in his opinion, was an excessive display of "gay" affection.

National and even international media followed, as expected, and there was no shortage of outrageous and patronizing coverage.

But what news sources failed to cover was the remarkable way in which those implicated (the city), those aggrieved (the couple), their provider/company and its staff (Mending Hearts) and those who helped advocate and educate (Kentucky Equality Federation) worked together to find common ground and a viable solution.

To us, the most compelling aspect of this story is the way in which Mending Hearts supported its constituents. They never shied away from the simple truth that their clients are gay. According to news reports, it was the agency itself that contacted both Hazard city officials and Jordan Palmer of the Kentucky Equality Federation.

From this, there is much to learn by nearly everyone involved in supporting those considered to have intellectual disabilities in Kentucky. It has been very disappointing to note how little the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, various university-affiliated research and education institutions and related programs and agencies responsible for study and training in the field of disability have done in support of those with intellectual disabilities who are also gay, lesbian, or bisexual.

The silence here pretty much sums up our culture's lack of resolve and makes the practice of discriminating against gay clients — not to mention gay caregivers — acceptable.

While it is probably true that most providers do their best to support gay clients and their staff, substantial numbers do not. In recent years, the Cabinet has courted faith-based providers, some of whom choose legally not to employ gay staff.

Discriminatory hiring practices are, of course, not limited to faith-based providers. But if employing gay caregivers is discouraged by a provider agency, are we really to believe that such agencies are capable of supporting gay clients?

Yet all providers have a mandate to do just that.

Earlier this year, we heard of a local agency that chose to separate two gay clients who shared a residential facility, rather than support the relationship. And recently a longtime case manager mentioned to us that she had never received any training on support of such clients. We believe this gap in education must be addressed.

Our thanks to those involved in the Hazard pool reconciliation for providing a wonderful example of how to support all people. This, in turn, invigorates and encourages the rest of us to stand up and do the right thing in our own day-to-day efforts.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/07/19/1816199/discrimination-incident-in-hazard.html#storylink=misearch#ixzz1U1beGyyI

July 13, 2011

Jordan Palmer Releases Statement On Death Of Former House Candidate

Kentucky Equality Federation president Jordan Palmer released a statement Wednesday, mourning the death of a former state house candidate who shot himself during a standoff with police.

Palmer served as Mathew Vanderpool's campaign manager in the Kentucky House District 45 race. Vanderpool challenged Republican incumbent Rep. Stan Lee.

"Mr. Vanderpool is/was my roommate and a wonderful person; he also volunteered for Kentucky Equality Federation. I am devastated by this loss. His loss will be felt by everyone who knew and loved him; I knew him since 2006 when he first approached me about volunteering for Kentucky Equality Federation and one day running for public office. He was a wonderful friend and I will miss him forever," Palmer wrote.

Police say they responded to a home on Wheatcroft Court around 9:45 p.m. Tuesday to check on a person inside the home. When officers arrived, they heard a gun shot. Police evacuated residents nearby as a precaution, and an emergency response unit later entered the home.

The coroner says Vanderpool, 24, was found with a fatal, apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head in a car in the garage of the home.

Vanderpool defeated an Air Force veteran and a lawyer to win the 2010 Democratic primary for the 45th district of Kentucky's House of Representatives. Lee defeated him in the general election last November.

During the campaign, Vanderpool told LEX 18 that he was running not as a "gay candidate, but as a candidate who happens to be gay."

News Link: http://www.lex18.com/news/former-campaign-manager-releases-statement-on-death-of-former-house-candidate/

June 18, 2011

Hazard pool employee suspended, policies rewritten after expulsion of gay men

As protesters spoke out on Saturday against the expulsion of two gay men with intellectual and developmental disabilities from a city-owned pool in Hazard, the city took several steps to try to remedy the situation.

Kim Haynes, the city employee who cited the Bible while telling the men and their caregiver to leave the Hazard Pavilion on June 10, will be suspended without pay for five days because of his "failure to be respectful to the public," "unsatisfactory job performance" and "his use of inappropriate language" about pool policies, the city said in a press release.

The release also states the city plans to:

  • Issue a letter of apology to the staff of Mending Hearts Inc., the company that provides care for the two men.
  • Install a new sign that makes clear that the Hazard Pavilion is "available for use without regard to race, ethnicity, color, creed, national origin, age, sexual orientation or physical/mental disability as required by federal and state law."
  • Modify its rules-for-conduct sign to include its previously unwritten prohibition against "excessive public displays of affection," and
  • Provide additional training to the pavilion staff regarding non-discrimination laws and regulations.

Jordan Palmer, president and co-founder of the Kentucky Equality Federation, which organized the protest outside the Hazard Pavilion, said those actions are "a step in the right direction," but suspending Haynes is "still not sufficient for us."

"He's got to be moved to another area of government," Palmer said. The equality federation is an advocacy group for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex.

Saturday, in addition to a press statement, the city also released an 18-page report on the investigation into the incident at the pool.

Conducted by Hollon & Collins law offices, the report included interviews with several people, including Laura Quillen, the Mending Hearts caregiver who had accompanied the men to the pool, but not the men themselves. One of the men is under state guardianship, and a state official told the law firm that the state was opposed to them interviewing him.

The report cites conflicting reports about the events at the pool and what prompted the men to be kicked out. Haynes said he saw the men, who he was unaware were disabled, "hugging" "getting friendly" and "fondling" each other in the pool and that he saw the men "fondling" outside the pool but that they were not touching each other's private parts.

According to the report, Haynes said he approached the men "in a humble way and asked them to leave."

Haynes said a woman nearby — who later was identified as Quillen — jumped up and asked why, saying "You can't do that, that's discriminatory."

He said he asked the men to leave because a woman with a child left because of the behavior and a man had complained that the men were kissing in the pool.

A lifeguard and a patron of the pool both said they saw the men hug and kiss each other on the lips while in the pool. Quillen, however, said that she did not see the men hug, kiss or engage in any other display of affection in the pool.

She said that when getting a refund for pool admission, Haynes said he was sorry to have to ask them to leave "but we can't tolerate what was going on."

She said she replied that that was fine, but it was discrimination.

To that, she said Haynes replied, "You need to read the Bible more often, we don't tolerate that down here."

News of the incident made national headlines. In its news release the city said that the manager of the recreational facility, Charlotte Pearlman, has been reprimanded for using "insulting and obscene language" while declining to comment to CNN. The city said it "extends its apologies to CNN and to the staff of Anderson Cooper 360."

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/06/18/1780622/hazard-pool-employee-suspended.html#ixzz1Pwe1xwWP

2 punished after disabled gays told to leave pool

By: The Associated Press | The Associated Press | 06/18/11 8:37 PM

An employee at a public swimming pool in eastern Kentucky was suspended for a week without pay after telling two disabled gay men to leave, city of Hazard officials said Saturday.

The suspended city employee Kim Haynes told investigators that the two men were engaged in an excessive display of affection June 10, and that he would have told any other couple to leave had he seen similar behavior. Haynes, however, also acknowledged he said "We don't tolerate that kind of activity around here" and cited the Bible in an argument with Laura Quillen, a member of the social service group Mending Hearts, which was overseeing the group.

Quillen told investigators the men did nothing inappropriate.

According to a report released by city attorney Paul R. Collins, summing up the conflicting accounts, at least one witness saw the men "standing 'man to man' or 'belly to belly' in the pool . splashing each other with water and pushing each other under the water." The witness "also said he observed them hug each other on at least one occasion" and give each other a kiss, the report said.

Pearlman and Haynes were not at work on Saturday and could not be reached by the newspaper for comment by telephone.

Meanwhile, dozens of people rallied at the pool Saturday in support of the gay men.

"It's time that people stood up for people. It's just the right thing to do," Marsha Morgan from Leslie County told WYMT-TV.

Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation, said the men were discriminated against.

"There was not kissing, and there was nothing of that sort. One of them sat on the other's knee and that was it," said Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation.

The manager of the Hazard Pavilion also was reprimanded for unbecoming conduct, The Courier-Journal reported. Charlotte Pearlman used inappropriate and obscene language when declining comment to a television news crew, the city said.

The city also said new anti-discrimination signs will be posted at the pool, as well as signs warning against excessive public displays of affection.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: http://www.sfexaminer.com/news/2011/06/2-punished-after-disabled-gays-told-leave-pool#ixzz1PwlmvWSN

Protestors Rally at Hazard Pool

The city of Hazard has now taken action against an employee who kicked two mentally challenged gay men out of a pool for acting inappropriately. About 100 people showed up Saturday from across Kentucky outside the Hazard Pavilion Pool to protest.

"I was more embarrassed that these issues are still prevalent in our region," says Pastor Edith Baker.

It's now been one week since a worker kicked out the two men, after one sat on the other's knee. The group "Mending Hearts" who was supervising the men, complained the cited the Bible and said that "gay people weren't allowed to swim there."

"It's important to let people know this happens everyday, and they can't do that," says Kevin Holmes.

Police officers kept watch on the protest to make sure things remained calm. While other protestors showed up to defend the pool worker. "I really don't think it was an issue of homosexuality, because I don't think these two men were asked to do anything that heterosexual couples wouldn't be asked to do. I mean this is a family facility, people bring their babies here," says Kristi Dixon.

The city attorney said the worker, Kim Haynes, will be suspended without pay for five days because his inappropriate language could imply the city enforces rules based on religion. But the president of the Kentucky Equality Federation who organized the rally, says that's not enough. "If he not issue an official apology, and is reassigned to another area of government, then we will sue the city of Hazard," says Jordan Palmer.

City officials say they will be posting signs at the pool stating the facility is open to all types of people, but that excessive public displays of affection will not be tolerated.

Lex18 - Lexington News Link:  http://www.lex18.com/news/protestors-rally-at-hazard-pool

Lex18 - Lexington Video Link: http://www.lex18.com/videoplayer/?video_id=16483&categories=233

Rally held for gay men allegedly kicked out of pool

On Saturday, dozens of people protested the actions of a city employee, who allegedly removed two gay men with disabilities from a facility run by the city of Hazard.

In a report released by the city, a lifeguard at the Pavilion alleges the men were repeatedly hugging and kissing. Facility officials say this is inappropriate for both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

However, the Kentucky Equality Federation says the men were only sitting on each other's laps, and they were discriminated against.

Dozens from across the Commonwealth came to support the two gay men, who were allegedly thrown out of the Hazard Pavilion.

"It's time that people stood up for people. It's just the right thing to do." said Marsha Morgan from Leslie County.

"There was not kissing, and there was nothing of that sort. One of them sat on the other's knee and that was it," said Jordan Palmer, president of the Kentucky Equality Federation.

Palmer says the Pavilion worker, Kim Haynes, used the Bible to justify kicking the men out.

"Religion has no place in government, let alone a public facility. He did not have the right to do that to those people," said Palmer.

"I don't think it's a gay rights issue because a heterosexual couple would have been treated the same," said Kristi Dixon, who supports Haynes.

Dixon says she exercises at the Pavilion and knows Haynes, who she calls a meek, good man.

"If their behavior was extreme enough for Kim to say something to them, then it must have been really inappropriate," said Dixon.

The Hazard City Attorney says it was inappropriate for Haynes to argue with a patron and to use religious beliefs as grounds to kick out the couple.

The city did release a statement saying that the employee is suspended without pay for five days, but Palmer says that's not enough.

"If he does not issue an apology and is not reassigned into a different area of government, than we will sue the city of Hazard," said Palmer.

"This is a family facility. They bring their families here. They don't want to watch men and women have sex. They don't want to watch men and men. They don't want to watch women and women," said Dixon.

The city says the Pavilion is open to anyone who wants to join, and new signs will be posted reinforcing that commitment.

June 14, 2011

Gay advocacy group threatens public protest over men's eviction from Hazard pool

The Kentucky Equality Federation says it is planning a public protest because two gay men with intellectual and developmental disabilities were kicked out of a recreational center run by the city of Hazard on Friday.

The federation, which advocates for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex, says the two were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

The city's attorney, however, said the facility does not discriminate, and "there is a dispute as to the facts of what transpired."

The men, who were not identified, had been swimming at the Hazard Pavilion with a group from Mending Hearts Inc., which provides care to people with mental retardation and developmental disabilities.

"The Pavilion staff immediately entered the pool area and asked my clients and their staff to leave the Pavilion," Shirlyn Perkins, executive director of Mending Hearts, said in a news release issued Monday by the Kentucky Equality Federation. She said her staff "were informed that 'gay people' weren't allowed to swim there."

Perkins said Mending Hearts staff members argued that their clients were being discriminated against, but the Pavilion staff member "stated that what he was doing was in the Bible and he could do it."

"My clients, whom already feel ridiculed and different, left the city-owned facility crying and embarrassed for trying to participate in 'normal' activities that everyday 'normal' people do," Perkins said.

Ollie Adams, co-owner of Mending Hearts, said a staff member told her that the Pavilion employee told the group to leave after one of the men sat on the other's knee and put his arm around him while sitting outside the pool. "There was no kissing and hugging," Adams said.

Paul Collins, the city's attorney, said that he is still investigating, but based on initial information, "there seems to be a wide disparity between the versions of the events."

Collins said a lifeguard said he saw the two men repeatedly hugging and kissing in a corner of the pool.

"The staff at the Pavilion report to me that they do on some regular basis caution or warn individuals about excessive public displays of affection and that these warnings are given regardless of sexual orientation," Collins said.

City Manager Carlos Combs said that while Pavilion staffers try to stop public displays of affection, the city's policy is that "we don't discriminate against anyone."

Will Taylor, the Equality Federation's assistant regional director for Southern Kentucky, said he is planning a protest of city hall and the Pavilion unless "an official apology" is issued and "immediate corrective action" is taken.

"As a public community service, the Pavilion has a responsibility to provide equal treatment to all members of their facility and to properly educate their staff accordingly," Julia Oiler Spiegel, a representative of the federation, said in the news release.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/06/14/1774098/gay-advocacy-group-threatens-public.html#ixzz1PvkzlQ9m

Bible cited as reason for kicking gay men out of public pool

Activists in Kentucky are planning a peaceful response after two gay men with developmental and intellectual disabilities were kicked out of a public pool.

A maintenance technician reportedly cited the Bible while telling the two men they couldn't swim at The Pavilion, a government-funded recreational facility in Hazard, Kentucky.

"We own this place and can tell you to leave if we want to," the couple was told, according to the Kentucky Equality Federation.

"The Pavilion staff immediately entered the pool area and asked my clients and their staff to leave the Pavilion," Mending Hearts Executive Director Shirlyn Perkins recalled. "My staff asked The Pavilion staff why they were being asked to leave, and they were informed that 'gay people' weren't allowed to swim there."

"My staff told this man that what he was trying to do was discrimination. The man stated that what he was doing was in the Bible and he could do it. My staff continued to argue with this man, but was ultimately forced to leave. My clients, whom already feel ridiculed and different, left the city owned facility crying and embarrassed for trying to participate in 'normal' activities that everyday 'normal' people do," she added.

"This is completely outrageous, The Pavilion is owned by the City of Hazard and paid for by our tax dollars," Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said. "Rest assured Kentucky Equality Federation will not tolerate discrimination in any form and our Southern Kentucky volunteer management, as well as our Discrimination, Hate Crimes and School Bullying Committee have planned a peaceful response."

Will Taylor, the Kentucky Equality Federation's Assistant Regional Director for Southern Kentucky, explained that the city could stop planned protests at City Hall and The Pavilion by simply issuing an apology.


"In addition, should an apology and corrective action not be forthcoming, we call on Governor Beshear to rescind funding to The Pavilion and the City of Hazard in the spirit of his executive order prohibiting discrimination of LGBTI people in Kentucky government," he said.

Story Link:  http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2011/06/14/bible-cited-as-reason-for-kicking-gay-men-out-of-public-pool/

May 1, 2011

Growing Up Gay and Transgendered in Appalachia

Awareness about sexuality and gender differences remains painfully limited in much of the region, but some have begun sharing their stories

Tyler Watts remembers having a happy childhood: His parents gave him everything he ever wanted, but as a young teenager growing up in Hindman, Kentucky, a small town of around 700 people, nestled in the Appalachian mountains, Watts was also fighting demons. Comments and jokes -- both from strangers and even some members of his own family -- about "gays" and "fags" would jolt right to the pit of his stomach, but at the time, Watts wasn't quite sure why.

Looking back, the 37-year-old says he was terrified of admitting who he really was because of those comments he had heard growing up. "I was worried what people would think of me," he says.

Watts was born Tammy Watts, but for the last three years he has lived as a transgendered man. And thanks to an oral history project spearheaded by the nonprofit StoryCorps, whose mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds with the opportunity to preserve the stories of their lives for posterity, and the Kentucky Equality Federation, which is focusing on sexual orientation in rural Kentucky, Watts is about to share his tale of growing up in rural Appalachia in the hope it can help other people like him. The stories are to be preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"I remember when I first started school and in my mind I related to myself as a little boy," he says. "When I went into first grade I'd get ready to use the bathroom the boys used and the teacher told me 'no no no -- this way'."

At first Watts thought he was gay. "Society coerces you into thinking you're something you're not," he says. "My parents were Jehovah's Witnesses at the time and I remember my mom would want me to wear dresses to meetings and I would throw a fit. I felt so uncomfortable in a dress, even as child. I hated it with a passion. In my head I was thinking 'You're dressing me like a girl and I'm not a girl'."

Watts began dating a girl in high school and eventually came out to his parents, but said it was when he went through his transition three years ago that the problems started. "My parents learned to deal with thinking I was a lesbian. But when I came out with my transition ... my mother has every right to hurt. She still lives [in Hindman] and works in a small office there and you know how small-office politics are."

He says he understands the emotions his mother is going through, but insists it's important for parents of transgendered children to go through a process of acceptance. "You may never understand it, but you can accept it. There's a lot of information out there. And your child is not the only one going through this."

Quinton Lewis's experience growing up in rural Kentucky was not dissimilar. Now 17 years old and in his final year of high school, he says he first realized he was gay when he was eight. "I didn't want to tell anybody. I felt alone. But I ended up telling my mom when I was ten and my friends when I turned 12."

Lewis remembers the day he broke the news to his mother. It was the night of November 2nd, 2004. "I was laying in bed, watching TV," he says. "I told myself that mom should know; that she will love me no matter what, so I wrote it on a piece of paper and told her to read it. She started crying and told me she'd still love me the same no matter what I am or who I date. I felt a lot better after I told her, but to this day I don't really talk about it with her.

"I'm scared to go to school; there are kids that pick on me because I'm gay. I'm scared to use the bathroom because I might get into a fight. These are rednecks and country people. I'm thinking about moving to a bigger city where I'll feel more comfortable living there; probably California or New York. I feel that if I tell other kids my life story, they might understand how I feel. They might be going through the same things I went through and I want to tell them how to get through it, who to talk to, and if they get picked on in school, who to tell and how to avoid it."

Josh Griffith is Director of Student Activities at Emory and Henry College, nestled in the highlands of Virginia. He wrote a series of columns for the college newspaper, the Whitetopper, which took the form of letters to the president about LGBT issues in rural Appalachia.

Before writing his first column, Griffith asked for help from some students. He got them to play an association game using the words "gay" and "Appalachian." The objective was to throw out words that students felt would reflect the ideas and attitudes of their peers.

For "gay," they came up with the following: fag, queer, glitter, homo, immoral, minority, flamer, closet, lesbo, rainbow, AIDS, and metropolitan. "Appalachian," meanwhile, garnered: banjo, redneck, hick, Deliverance, country, hillbilly, conservative, white, slow, bluegrass, and closed-minded.

Then, Griffith asked whether the students thought the two pictures they had painted were compatible. "Several people responded quickly -- 'no'."

Griffith wrote: "I've talked with so many LGBT people here in our mountains, and their stories are powerful. Experiences of abandonment, exclusion, attempted conversion and worthlessness make up a few of the themes from such stories. Also, self-respect, unexpected acceptance and powerful love complete their pictures. ... It is heartbreakingly inspirational, and yet it isn't wished for anyone."

Kentucky Equality Federation
President Jordan Palmer says that's exactly why the Storycorps project his organization is collaborating on is so important. "For me it was difficult growing up in rural Kentucky in the early '90s. I was lead singer in a Christian band and went to a Methodist boarding school. I was sent to be 'de-gayed' as if it was a condition. We didn't have gay characters on TV and it wasn't spoken about. I even tried to commit suicide."

But, Palmer says, it's certainly not confined to rural communities -- and not all rural communities are closed-minded. "Usually families here are very tight knit; they pull together to make ends meet. I've actually felt more accepted in small communities than in some bigger towns."

Palmer hopes the oral history project will make people realize LGBT people are contributing members of society. "We have jobs, we pay our taxes. To me it's no different from being born blind. I was born this way and that's the way God intended me to be. It's about tolerance and acceptance. If they hear these stories -- stories of real people who have faced discrimination, harassment and name-calling, they may think twice about opening their mouths and saying something derogatory or negative."

Last week, students at colleges all around the U.S. observed the national Day of Silence to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools. One straight student, at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, had joined others in solidarity, covering their mouths with duct tape as a way of drawing attention to the issue. She wrote: "I have to tell you about how I felt yesterday walking around in silence with duct tape. I felt humiliated at times, and other times proud. You see, everywhere I went, people stared. I felt like a leper, completely stigmatized [by] people. In fact, I was experiencing what the LGBT community has experienced for decades."

Read more on The Atlantic (with pictures): http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/04/growing-up-gay-in-appalachia/238047/

Story by: Alex Hannaford, a British journalist based in Texas, where he writes about human interest and political issues, religion, crime and culture. You can follow him on Twitter @AlHannaford and read more of his work at his website and blog.

About the Atlantic:  The Atlantic has more than 400,000 readers, and publishes its magazine 10 times per year. The Atlantic is a liberal American magazine founded in 1857. It quickly achieved a national reputation, which it held for more than a century. Subscribe to The Atlantic.

April 25, 2011

StoryCorps Recording Rural Gays and Lesbians

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -- Growing up, Hindman resident Shannon Ratliff didn't know she was a lesbian, but like her friends --a group of girls and boys who loved one another unconditionally -- she understood that she was different, she says.

Although they went their separate ways, they kept in touch and learned in adulthood that almost all of them were gay or lesbian.  "It was very tight-lipped," she said. "They all came out one at a time. We never discussed being gay. We never talked about anything queer at all. We met as straight people."
Later this month, Ratliff will be in Whitesburg discussing her struggle to find acceptance in a rural, culturally conservative place with the oral-history recording project StoryCorps. The non-profit will spend the next two months recording in Whitesburg and Lexington, partnering in part with the Kentucky Equality Federation, the Lexington Herald-Leader, said in a report.

Ratliff now works in the human resources department at Eastern Kentucky University. She is thinking about going home temporarily to work on a book project about being gay in Eastern Kentucky. But she depicts her relationship with the mountains as one of "love-hate."

"The mountains are ... they're beautiful, and there's still just so much culture; they're comforting, protective. And they're also very isolating," she said.

Jordan Palmer, who is the president of the state's equality federation [Kentucky Equality Federation] said the goal of the project is getting people to talk and open up. His group fields several calls a week from young people who are bullied for being different.

Something Palmer relates to.

He said he was sent to an "ex-gay" clinic in Lexington, after being expelled from his private church-affiliated high school because he was gay.

Looking back, Palmer said, he values his family bond more than big city living.

"I've never had more support than in a small, rural community," he said.

StoryCorps interviews are broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition, and the discussions are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. The group has gathered stories from everyday Americans on a wide range of themes, from haunted memories after 9/11 to African-American history and archived interviews of more than 60,000 people nationwide since its start in 2003.

Fox  (Fox 41) News Article: http://www.fox41.com/story/14504708/storycorps-recording-rural-gays-and-lesbians?

NBC (Lex18) News Article: http://www.lex18.com/news/storycorps-recording-rural-gays-and-lesbians/

Daily Reporter (Greenfiled, IN Newspaper):  http://www.greenfieldreporter.com/view/story/dc85b466fa3d49c58ad9e635cfd33b27/Gay-in-Rural-Areas/ 

The Republic (Columbus Newspaper): http://www.therepublic.com/view/story/dc85b466fa3d49c58ad9e635cfd33b27/Gay-in-Rural-Areas/

Louisville Courier-Journal Article: http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011304240088

StoryCorps recording rural gays and lesbians

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - The oral-history recording project StoryCorps is planning to spend two months in Whitesburg and Lexington recording pieces including one about struggling to find acceptance in rural, culturally conservative places.

The non-profit's reports will include a report about Hindman resident Shannon Ratliff, who told The Lexington Herald-Leader that the focus will be on her struggles with being gay in central and eastern Kentucky.

StoryCorps is partnering in part with the Kentucky Equality Federation.

Jordan Palmer, who is the president of the state's equality federation [Kentucky Equality Federation] said the goal of the project is getting people to talk and open up.

StoryCorps interviews are broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition, and the discussions are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

CBS (News Channel 5) Article: http://www.newschannel5.com/Global/story.asp?S=14504025

Fox (Fox 19) News Article: http://www.fox19.com/Global/story.asp?S=14504025

April 18, 2011

StoryCorps recordings will speak to sexual orientation in rural Kentucky

When Shannon Ratliff was growing up in Hindman, she didn't know she was lesbian, but she knew she was different.

Ratliff gravitated to a group of girls and boys who loved each other unconditionally, she says, and as they went their separate ways to jobs or college, they kept in touch. And nearly all of them have come out as gay or lesbian since then.

"It was very tight-lipped," she said. "They all came out one at a time. We never discussed being gay. We never talked about anything queer at all. We met as straight people."

After high school, Ratliff, 37, attended Eastern Kentucky University, which she describes as a haven of opportunity for people from the mountains who are at all "different."

Ratliff will discuss her struggle to find acceptance in a rural, culturally conservative place later this month in the Kentucky Equality Federation's sessions with the oral-history recording project StoryCorps, which has gathered stories from everyday Americans on a wide array of topics, including haunted memories after 9/11, memory loss and African-American history.

StoryCorps has been to Whitesburg once before and collected numerous interviews surrounding the local coal-mining industry. One of the program's partners in Lexington is Keeneland Race Course, and organizers hope to gain interviews of track workers and horse people whose voices are often not heard.

Ratliff now works in the university's human resources department. She is thinking about going back home, temporarily, to work on a book project about being gay in Eastern Kentucky. But she describes her relationship with the mountains as "love-hate."

"The mountains are ... they're beautiful, and there's still just so much culture; they're comforting, protective. And they're also very isolating," Ratliff said.

Just being yourself

One of Ratliff's chosen family members is Tyler Watts, someone she grew up with. Watts is a transgendered man who was born Tammi Watts in Knott County.

He lived for years as a lesbian woman but still never felt comfortable with that identity. He was kicked out of his home during high school, when his parents found out he was secretly dating another girl. Only recently has he decided to begin living as a man. Now he is relying on his friends in Richmond.

Watts says he occasionally goes home to visit and would never consider moving back. He said he's doing a StoryCorps interview because hiding is exhausting.

He grew up in the mind-set of a boy and didn't explicitly realize he was a girl until he went to grade school, with separate bathrooms.

"As a child, you don't realize how things really are, how people think of you, how people look at you. You're just being yourself, and you don't really know yourself," Watts said.

Watts' parents didn't return phone messages from the Herald-Leader.

"They're having trouble. I'm not going to say they're not supportive, because they are, but it's not talked about," he said.

"I miss going to see my grandmother, but now my face has changed, a little bit of my body structure has changed. I've had no surgeries yet. I dread what my grandmother would think because she's really old ... . I don't want the TV or politics to change how she feels about me.

"A part of me thinks she might already know."

No more hiding

Will Taylor, 26, said he feels more secure being himself in Harlan than he would in a large city where he doesn't know anyone else.

He said he was "in hiding" until a few years ago but now wants to do a StoryCorps interview because he thinks gay rights will advance more quickly if more people speak up.

"I think it not only gives us a chance to tell our story, it gives us that documentation. It has to do with our struggles and hopes," Taylor said.

He lives with his parents in Harlan and has worked various jobs, such as truck driving, coal mine security and animal shelter volunteering.

Coming out was easier than he thought.

"I thought at first that it was going to be really bad. When I came out, I just came out and told everybody. The first person I told was my dad," Taylor said.

"He lit a cigarette, sat there about a minute or two, and then he gave me the speech: 'We still love you, that doesn't change.' "

Taylor's parents declined to be interviewed for this story.

He said his mother has struggled more.

"She knows, but we don't talk about it," he said.

Living in a small town is a kind of mission for Taylor. He likes that people know who he is.

"You get all these people who are in the closet and scared to come out, they come to you," he said. "I feel that if I can help one person find themselves and understand who they are, that's the greatest thing."

Being normal

It's not so hard for Julia Oiler Spiegel to live in small-town Kentucky as a lesbian woman. She moved to Erlanger at age 40 after separating from her husband in Memphis. A short time later, she told her family she is lesbian and moved in with her partner. They are raising Spiegel's 12-year-old son.

Spiegel said she is grateful for the opportunity to speak to StoryCorps because, even though she feels secure living openly in Erlanger, she values the chance to show how "normal" her family is.

Spiegel is a full-time student and works as a caregiver for an autistic child. She volunteers with Kentucky Equality Federation, a gay-rights advocacy organization. She said she is still friends with her soon-to-be ex-husband, and she has been able to help his son from a previous marriage who came out as gay.

Her partner works for the postal service. Her son goes to school with a few other children of gay and lesbian parents. Over Christmas, Spiegel's partner presented her an engagement ring.

"When everything about you is questioned on a daily basis, it's kind of hard to trust other people," Spiegel said. "You just need to be heard. The gay and lesbian communities are misunderstood sometimes. People automatically think it's all about sex to us, and it's not. My family is just like every other family."

Bringing people together

Ratliff's family grew up in a hollow in Hindman. Her grandmother lived across the street, and her aunts and uncles all nearby.

"There is a beauty in that close bond, and there's also a level of interdependency that is a bit unhealthy," she said. When one person is different, it's suddenly everyone's business.

She knows she is the subject of gossip and talk back back home. But she also knows she can help others. She said she is grateful for the chance to tell her story through StoryCorps and hopes people back home will listen.

Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer said getting people to talk and open up is the goal of the project.

The non-profit StoryCorps has archived interviews of more than 60,000 people nationwide since its start in 2003 and will spend the next two months recording in Whitesburg and Lexington, partnering in part with KEF.

StoryCorps interviews are broadcast on NPR's Morning Edition, and the conversations are preserved at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress.

"It's intended to bring people together," Palmer said. "It's an intimate conversation."

Palmer's organization takes several calls a week from young people who are bullied or people who are facing violence at home or work because they are different.

That's something Palmer knows about.

He said he was expelled from his private church-affiliated high school because he was gay and was sent to an "ex-gay" clinic in Lexington.

But after it all, Palmer said, he values his tight-knit family — his mother and siblings — more than a wilder lifestyle in a large city.

"I've never had more support than in a small, rural community," he said.

Read more: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/04/18/1711521/storycorps-recordings-will-speak.html#ixzz1JtE8emns

January 19, 2011

Back gay rights

The time has come for Kentucky to pass a law to prohibit terminations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be fired for being gay, but you cannot be fired for being a smoker. What kind of logic is that?

In 1966, Kentucky became the first state in the South to pass a Civil Rights Act. The commonwealth also became the first in the South to establish enforcement powers over civil rights violations on a state level.

The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights became the state enforcement authority of the act.

What happened to us? At what point did our great commonwealth lose its leadership in the area of civil rights? When did we decide to surrender our freedoms and civil rights? For our economy and population to improve, we need to lead again, not only in the area of civil rights but in others as well.

Jordan Palmer
Kentucky Equality Federation

Link: http://www.kentucky.com/2011/01/14/1598574/letters-to-editor-jan-14.html#more

January 12, 2011

Reader Letter | Kentucky should pass new civil rights act

The time has come for Kentucky to pass a law to prohibit terminations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. You can be fired for being gay, but you cannot be fired for being a smoker. What kind of logic is that?

In 1966, Kentucky became the first state in the South to pass a civil rights act. The commonwealth also became the first in the south to establish enforcement powers over civil rights violations on a state level. The Kentucky Commission on Human Rights became the state enforcement authority of the act.

What happened to us? At what point did our great commonwealth lose its leadership in the area of civil rights? When did we decide to surrender our freedoms and civil rights?

For our economy and population to improve, we need to lead again — not only in the area of civil rights, but others as well.

JORDAN PALMER
Kentucky Equality Federation

Link: http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20110112/OPINION02/301120059
There was an error in this gadget