Matthew was a member of our LGBTQ+ community & sadly, on October 12, 1998, he died from injuries sustained while being physically assulted. His murder led to the passing of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009.
Winter Starkey is Appalachian OUTreach's local hero of the month(s). If y'all don't already know, Winter has done so much for Sevier County's LGBTQ+ community. I can't think of a more appropriate hero for October, given that October 11 is National Coming Out Day and October 24 - 31 is Asexual Awareness Week.
Winter founded The Sevier LGBTQIA2S+ & Allies when she/they noticed a number of hurtful and negative comments directed at a lesbian couple who were searching for a wedding officiant on one of the Facebook groups, designated for Sevier county locals to ask questions and voice concerns about area issues. Locals told the women that they were "an abomination, sinners that had no place in Sevier county." Those comments, combined with Winter's past knowledge and experience of homophobic incidents in the county convinced her/them to create a group where people could feel safe to express themselves freely without judgement. This group quickly grew into a strong and and active community that empowers others and serves the LGBTQ+ community's needs.
Winter recalled her/their coming out story as occuring during their early 20s. Winter came out to close family members as a panromantic, asexual demigirl. It took "a lot of researching and self reflection to figure out the right labels" for what Winter had been experiencing her/their whole life because, "there is little representation and educational resources available for asexual people." Winter had never even heard of the term “asexual” until after graduating high school. After learning that there was a whole community of people who were just like Winter, she/they had "hope, and a better understanding" of herself/themself and has since been "a strong advocate for the asexual community." Regarding coming out, Winter shared that "Anyone who lives their authentic life out loud and unapologetically, gives other people the permission to do the same. Visibility is extremely important for progression."
We asked what advice Winter has for the LGBTQ+ community members? Winter responded, "To not give up hope. Even in a historically unaccepting county, there are like minded people who care deeply about one another. You may feel like the only one in the world who is going through what you are going through, but you’re not. Your people are out there, you just might not have found them yet. Online spaces may be a good place to start, especially if you aren't out yet to the people in your life. You can remain anonymous and still find community and support."
We asked what advice Winter has for our community’s children and teens who are targeted by elected officials, who openly and unapologetically discriminate against them? Winter stated, "It’s easy to feel hopeless when the government that is supposed to be protecting you is actively targeting you. Know that there are good people both in elected positions and outside of office that are fighting for you and fighting to change policies that hurt LGBTQ+ youth."
Winter shared with us that since she/they didn't grow up knowing any other LGBTQ+ individuals, she/they got most of their education about LGBTQ+ history from the internet, movies, TV shows, and literature. Thus, Winter’s favorite LGBTQ+ notable figure is Jonathan Van Ness, from Netflix’s Queer Eye, because the nonbinary activist, author, and television personality "spreads the message of self love and acceptance and encourages people to embrace who they truly are."
Winter would like to see more progressive policies regarding trans and LGBTQ+ issues, "starting with a Governor who doesn’t sign anti-trans bills. Elections are important and everyone who can, should vote."
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