Tonight I drove down to Lewisburg (soon to be its own post) for a reception for FairnessWV which is our nascent gay rights organization here in WV. I discovered them on Towleroad while I was still in Miami. That surprised me - we homos are everywhere in WV, but I never expected to see us lobbying the legislature. So I signed up for their mailing list, and joined in on the action alerts. They managed to kill a constitutional amendment against gay marriage, but fell short on passing a non-discrimination law after the Senate sponsored bill died in committee, ironically because of backlash to the Iowa decision.
Oddly, the email that announced our defeat on the non-discrimination bill also announced a reception in Lewisburg, WV for the group. That's about an hour from where I live now, so I waited until the last minute, RSVP'd, and drove down after obsessing about what one wears to this sort of thing. I'd done them in D.C. when I lived there, and that would have required my to have my tuxedo cleaned. I went more hipster, which turned out to be O.K.
The reception was in this cool little art gallery in Lewisburg, right on the main drag in the historic section. Lots of local artists, and some of the stuff was really good. One artist in particular worked with layered acrylic with trowels, creating some cool textured art. Grand piano being played in the middle of the gallery. The place wouldn't have been out-of-place in a major city, other than the woman who painted all the pictures of the cows. Seriously, she had a really amazing style, but her subject of choice was cows.
They had a group of about 30 people I'd guess. I was greeted warmly by a board member when I entered the door and signed in (more on that greeting later). I was introduced to a few people, and spoke for a while with Stephen Skinner, the president of the organization, and talked to him how the group had been working independently for a few years, but decided this year was the time to organize and hit the legislature formally. Then I largely walked around by myself looking at art. Everyone really knew each other, which made moving socially as a single more than I could manage on my own.
I was stopped by a lovely lady who owns the theater in Lewisburg. And by theater I mean the type with actors on a stage. Who knew? And it's an Equity theater. Seriously. An actual Equity theater in Lewisburg, WV. I've got to get down there. My conversation with this lovely woman was cut short for the speeches.
First we had Coy Flowers, who organized the event. Successful OB/GYN, cute husband, and most of the energy behind the group. I suspect a lot of the money, too. Which is a good thing. The whole thing seems to be funded and run by three very dedicated people - Coy, Brian Ball, who owns several restaurants at Snowshoe Mountain Resort and Stephen Skinner, and attorney. These people took a few friendships, and formed a movement. Coy talked about the importance of being out, and of community.
Stephen Skinner got up to speak next - with all they managed in this now-over legislative session, they only formally became an organization 75 days ago. They have 2000 members on zero publicity. They hired a professional lobbyist to push their agenda at the capitol. They dropped their lives for the 60-day session to drive between home and Charleston to push for Fairness. They financed it all themselves. In other words, they're heroes whose song needs to be sung.
Like Mr. Skinner said in his speech, people in West Virginia actually don't hate GLBT people. They just don't know us. They know us, because we're their doctors, lawyers, and we pump their gas. We're everywhere, but we're not visible. Not all of us leave the state, but when a gay WV native finds another in Atlanta, Charlotte, or DC, it's an instant bond, instant friendship. I know this is true because I've done it. You know what you're getting with a West Virginian, and we're good people. All of us. And as Stephen said, if they only knew their lawyer or doctor was gay, they wouldn't think much of it. Same person as before they knew.
The legislators are a different story. They don't give West Virginians enough credit for being the good people they are. Some of them acted shocked when Stephen or Coy sat down with them. As Stephen said, he's known the Speaker of the House for years, but when he sat down for a meeting with him and said "I'm gay and I'm here to talk to you about my rights" they guy visibly freaked. They don't think the good hearted West Virginians I know can handle anything gay. And the point is that we need to be more visible so that our politicians don't have to be afraid of the reactions back home.
I'm good with that. I burned down my closet years ago. I couldn't go back if I wanted to. But I can be fired for that. Kicked out of my home for that. Denied the right to be a foster parent for that. And faced with the thought that a single bigot can ruin my life, and how I feel about my fellow West Virginians, who I know don't feel that way, that breaks my heart.
FairnessWV needs some help. They need members to be counted amongst the voters, so they can get politicians to listen. They need donations for lobbyists. And they need us to stand loud and proud so that people KNOW us, and can't discriminate against their friends, only against a faceless idea that might scare them.
P.S. - I promised a shaken with my hope, but I like how I ended it. Let's just say I knew someone there in that room, someone from back in my very wild party days. He had no problem acknowledging it, even with his hubby present. I'm not proud of those days, they were wild and reckless. I don't hide them, but I don't broadcast them either. He doesn't live far away from me, and he's really completely respectable at this point, a pillar of the community even. Never would have thought it from our past. He knows how to contact me now - we'll see if it happens.