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.

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