History of LGBTQ in Appalachia

We often hear coming out stories from the south and how bad it is, we hear stories from LGBTQ people of north eastern areas, west coast, and big cities, we often don’t hear of the in between places like the coal fields of West Virginia. The fringe places where religion has a strong hold and patriarchal families are the norm. The areas where kids go to work early in their lives and spend the rest of it breaking their backs to make a living. These are the in between places whereas LGBTQ you may be the biggest minority that anyone there will come into contact with and bible teachings are beat into its people.

abandoned abandoned building architecture building
Photo by Tom Swinnen on Pexels.com

Growing up just outside of this area, you often feel isolated from others because of being different. It’s the dirty little secret of families and whispered about in hurried tones. But it is also the very place where many of us choose to live out our lives. There are hardships, but there is also the quaintness and vibrancy from being from these rural areas that carry such colorful histories. With LGBTQ history month quickly approaching an end, I would like to share two things with you. The first is a website titled Queer Appalachia -Finding Chosen Families Online in an Unforgiving Landscape. The website shows that while it may seem that rural LGBTQ people are disconnected, they in fact do share in our history and mourn the same stress points that have caused us so much grief and pain. The author Elizabeth Price states, “Appalachian queer people have similar experiences and needs as queer people in other parts of the world. Regardless of location, queer and trans people are more vulnerable to experience violence and lack of access to the means to meet their life-sustaining needs. “

The second that I would like to share with you is a video about Miss Helen Compton. Miss Helen used her life savings of about $10,000 to start a place where LGBTQ people of the area could feel safe. She says she made a promise that she would make back her $10,000 in the first year she was open, to her surprise, she made it back in the first few months she was open. By day, the bar was a restaurant that served all of the town. As day moved tonight, she would look at her patrons and state something to the effect of the local kids would be coming in and playing their loud music later and that she could not stand that loud music. Her patrons would say “Miss Helen, we cant stand it either,” then they would get up and leave. She started the bar in 1969. During this time, in Bluefield West Virginia, if a man went into a bar, he had a woman with him and if a woman wanted to enter a bar, she would have a man with her. She had witnessed other bars turning away male customers that came in with other men, she felt that was just not right and decided to open a place where they could be welcome. She even allowed them to have the first ever drag show in Bluefield. All of this took place on the main street of the town and beside other establishments. The bar was open until the early 2000’s at which point if finally closed its doors. Miss Helen Compton and the Shamrock will be missed.

It’s Reigning Queens in Appalachia from Carol Burch-Brown on Vimeo.

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