Inside Appalachia: LGBT Issues in Our Region


On this week’s show, we’re exploring issues in our region’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. We’ll hear from a teenager getting ready for an LGBT formal. We’ll learn how difficult it can be to access healthcare in eastern Kentucky for one gender nonconforming Appalachian. We’ll also take a look at efforts in West Virginia to provide legal protection to people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

June is Pride Month, which means here in Appalachia and across the U.S., people are marching in parades and celebrating the rights of those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. It’s also a time to remember the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City when the LGBT community erupted over the police raid of a gay club. Those demonstrations are considered a pivotal moment in the country’s gay liberation movement.

The movement has made a lot of gains since then, such as the 2015 Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage. And just this month, the World Health Organization said it will stop classifying being transgender as a mental illness. But there are still some troubling statistics, especially for LGBT youth. A survey out this month from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that young LGBT people are still struggling. Nearly two-thirds of lesbian, gay or bisexual high schoolers say they had persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness last year, and nearly half say they had seriously considered suicide. They were also significantly more likely to experience bullying and dating violence, and to be threatened at school. The survey didn’t explicitly mention transgender teens, but other studies have shown they face similar obstacles.

Rainbow Formal

Here in West Virginia, a group of LGBT teens have decided to unite, to give each other hope, and to have a good time. We’ll hear about this Rainbow Formal, the first of its kind in the state.


West Virginia is also one of the many states where legislators have not passed laws that would ban employment and housing discrimination — as well as discrimination in restaurants, hotels, parks and other public places — based on sexual orientation or gender identity. WVPB’s Dave Mistich will tell us about how LGBT-rights advocates have adjusted their strategy to get safeguards in place at the municipal level.

"In large part, the struggle that we experienced in the Legislature helped to fuel our fight in the communities. And then, in turn, it is going to be the progress and success that we've had in the communities that will help to fuel ultimately our success in passing LGBT non-discrimination law in the Legislature," said Fairness WV executive director Andrew Schneider.

Transgender Closet 

Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, is one school that has taken steps to be inclusive to LGBT people and those questioning their identity. They even have a store where transgender students can get free clothes. WVPB’s Roxy Todd will tell us about Marshall’s efforts — and how person has experienced discrimination on campus.

A Pastor’s Perspective

We’ll also hear about a church in north central West Virginia where the pastor faced criticism for her support of the LGBT community. After Valerie Gittings said that being gay was not a sin, her church was kicked out of the state’s Baptist Convention, but her stance on gays and lesbians created some unexpected unifications for both the church and orphaned Christians, including Kevin and Sergio Aldana.

“This church is going through the same thing that Sergio and I went through. We have always been discriminated against and were pretty much cast out. This church was cast out. This church is feeling just a fraction of what we felt,” Kevin Aldana said.

These stories, said Inside Appalachia host Jessica Lilly, seem to point to a time of transition, when people are looking for ways to be themselves comfortably in society,  and society, more and more, is looking for ways to understand, accept and be welcoming. 

“When I spoke with Pastor Gittings, she pointed out something that isn’t often thought about anymore. That at one time Christians used Biblical references to justify slavery and racism. This idea is  now considered absurd and is rejected. We still have work to do, but hopefully we’re on our way to understanding each other exactly as we are,” Lilly said.

Music in today’s show was provided by Kai Kater, Sam Gleaves, Ben Townsend, Caldwell County Musicians, Spencer Elliot, Dinosaur Burps and Michael Howard. Molly Born was our guest producer and web editor. Our executive producer is Jesse Wright. Ibby Caputo edited our show this week. Our audio mixer is Patrick Stephens. You can find us online on Twitter @InAppalachia.