What’s It Like to be Gay in Appalachia?

Sep 4, 2015

Across the country, there’s been sweeping change in the last few years in the way the law treats gay people - and how society in general feels about gay relationships. Here in Appalachia, the acceptance of this change has been mixed.

Just this summer, the Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage was legal in all states - throwing out bans on same sex marriage in some states.

Meanwhile, the showdown between gay couples along with activists and a county clerk is unfolding in central Appalachia. Kentucky Public Radio’s Ryland Barton reported on this story for NPR on Sept 3, on the morning that county clerk Kim Davis had just been summoned to appear before a Federal Judge for her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples.

A Federal judge on Thursday sent Kim Davis to jail until she complies with an order to issue marriage licenses. Still, the county can’t just fire her because she was elected to serve as county clerk. And there’s a lot of support for her point of view in Kentucky. Updated Sept. 9, 3:30 p.m.: NPR reports that Kim Davis has been released from jail.

Kim Davis was confronted by reporters, homosexuals and gay right activists earlier this week after she refused to issue marriage licenses. Davis was eventually arrested.
Credit WKYT

Bucking the national trend, the latest Bluegrass Poll from August found that 53 percent of Kentucky voters disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage.

The latest poll says people are more evenly split over the fate of county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses: 38 percent of people in Kentucky said county clerks who refuse to issue marriage licenses should be removed from office, 36 percent said clerks should be allowed to refuse, and 16 percent said the power to issue marriage licenses should be transferred to a state agency.

On a recent episode of the West Virginia Public Broadcasting  podcast Us and Them, host Trey Kay explored these changes  from his unique perspective of growing up in West Virginia, then moving away to New York. We’ll hear from Alice Moore, who comes from a strong Christian background and believes strongly that homosexuality is immoral. But first, Trey Kay explores the stories behind one of Charleston’s once-notorious gay bars.

Ted Britghtwell dressed as Barbra Streisand.
Credit Bjkj Illusions

Also on our show

  • There’s increasing acceptance of gay marriage, but gay men and lesbians can still face discrimination and harassment at work. That’s what happened to Sam Williams, who used to work as a miner for Massey Energy. Our producer Roxy Todd reported on this story, and she was featured on the Us and Them podcast, talking with Trey Kay about Sam Williams’ story.
  • Sam Gleaves is a musician who wrote a song about Sam Williams. His first album Ain't We Brothers, is set to be released on Nov. 13.
  • We’ll also hear from Cassie McGee and Sarah Atkins McGee - the first same-sex couple to be married in West Virginia.
  • And we also talk with an Episcopal priest named Jim Lewis. Back in the 1970s, Lewis shocked people in Kanawha County, West Virginia, because he believed that the gospels called on him to welcome gay people into his church.

We want to hear what you think. Are things changing where you live? Do you think it’s OK for Christians to keep the belief that homosexuality is a sin? Can people have different beliefs without being dismissed? Is it hard to be gay in Appalachia? Send us a tweet @InAppalachia.

Music in today’s show was provided by Sam Gleaves, and  Jake Schepps, and the Glennville State Bluegrass Band.  Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition.

Want to chat? You can e-mail us at feedback@wvpublic.org. Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.