The Faces of Fairness: Progress in Appalachia

The Faces of Fairness: Progress in Appalachia

I live in West Virginia. I live in a state where it is still legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation, or evict them from a rental property or a hotel room for the same reason. I live in a state where gay marriage is not legal and, let’s face it, probably won’t be for some time.

But I also live in a state that, during a visit from those Westboro Baptist Church folks, saw gay people and coal miners standing side-by-side in protest; where a “No Place for Hate” campaign was launched and is still being showcased; where two of my best friends – a young, professional gay couple – just welcomed their first child; and where I serve on the board of directors for a successful gay men’s chorale that practices and performs in a local church.

I live in a state where progress is being made.

My first book is about a gay kid growing up in a West Virginia coal town, who feels like he’s the only person to ever do such a thing. I was once that kid, and let me tell you, it’s lonely. I did it in the mid-nineties, before the age of the Internet. My windows to the world were television, books and music. But I didn’t have the aid of Will & Grace or Glee or Modern Family or the tons of other positive depictions of gay life to which kids today are exposed. I was in high school when Ellen came out, but beyond that, most gay characters on television were a joke or a plot device. (Oh look, Roseanne kissed a woman! Oh look, Blanche has a gay brother this week!)

That isn’t to say that kids today have it any easier. If that were true, we wouldn’t see stories like this one, or this one, or this one. These stories break my heart. So when writing my first gay-themed young adult book, I wanted to accomplish two things. First, to tell a story that is true to the Appalachian spirit, a story that treats the setting as a character itself. And secondly, tell a story that, at its heart, is about love. There are so many books out there that focus on the negative side of being a gay kid. I wanted mine to be joyful. Granted, conflict drives novels, and it isn’t devoid of the issues I’m alluding to, but they are not the driving force. I suppose my hope is that someone who lives in a place like the one where I grew up, and who might be going through something similar, can fall into this world that isn’t unlike their own and see someone navigating through it without thinking about killing himself.

The articles I linked to above are often what we see in the media whenever a gay kid is involved: vicious bullying, suicide, kids who see the latter as their only escape from the former. Groups like the Trevor Project, the Human Rights Campaign, the True Colors Fund, and the It Gets Better Project are doing so much good work. And now, so are some people closer to my own backyard.

I’m very proud to share below a short film called Faces of Fairness from Fairness West Virginia, a “civil rights advocacy organization dedicated to fair treatment and civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender West Virginians.” A couple dear friends of mine, Andy and Jerry, are featured, along with several other successful, notable examples of gay life in this beautiful state we all call home.

Shortly after I came out to my family, I had a relative say that I’d always be welcome in her home, and I once had a supervisor say my orientation would never be a factor in my employment with the organization. These comments were made out of love and some semblance of understanding, I know. But I hope someday to live in a world where people don’t feel they need to reassure me of an open door or a job simply based on this one aspect of myself. And I think we’re getting there, little by little.

25 thoughts on “The Faces of Fairness: Progress in Appalachia

  1. Loved this and I love you for who you are and all you represent. We are all on this journey for change together, though we may walk different paths to get there, the destination is the same.  Ideally we can help to develop a world where we are all accepted for who we are and not judged on anything other than our character. You are right on so many levels…things are changing, but the sad reality is that they should never have been in such a low place to begin with. I am with you all the way my brilliant friend. 


    1. Maybe I shouldn't compare the two, but I couldn't help flashing on our walk through the museum in Memphis when writing this and watching the film. A long way come, a long way still to go.

  2. Matt, this is beautifully written! I look forward to the day no one is judged on anything but character as well.  Proud to know you!!


  3. Matthew, my wish is for my own nephew Travis to have the confidence one day to be his true self and not be afraid of the world beyond his walls. For his sport worshipping Dad to realize one day that attending a football game with his gay son is not a shame. For Travis to be allowed to bring home for the holidays the person he loves. For my sister to not have to fight with her husband over his lack of acceptance of his own child, her step-son. For the years that Travis hid himself away in fear. You've given me hope. The hope that his little sister Courtney be able one day soon to be honest with her father too without fear if the rejection he gave his son. My wish for them is to learn that they are just who they are! I don't have to tell them they are welcome in my home and in my life. They know they are. But not everywhere….. Not yet. One day though… One day.

    1. Aimee, thank you so much for sharing this. While it wasn't an overnight acceptance by any means, I'm very grateful that my family has always been loving and accepting. I remember seeing my siblings bringing home their signifcant others during the holidays and hoping to someday be able to do the same. I'm happy to say that's now a reality in our family. So, yes, please keep that hope alive!

    2. Aimee, your comment really tugged at my heartstrings.  I know I am a total stranger to you and your family, but I want everything for your niece and nephew that you do!  I wish for peace and love in their hearts, and love and acceptance in the hearts of those they encounter.  One day it WILL happen – keep believing!  And keep giving Travis and Courtney the positive outlet they need and perhaps one day their father will finally open his eyes to all the wonderful moments he has been or will be missing out on…….

      1. Thanks Matt! I remember reading a lot of your earlier work a few years ago, so I can't wait to see what you have in store for us!

  4. Spot on. My cousin was in a similar quandary growing up in our rural community. I was the cousin she was sure would be understanding and today we are like brother and sister. I’ve never understood why people are so judgmental, and hopefly after people read your book, a little love may come into their heart. The closer the dream.

    1. Thanks, Scott. The fact that I knew my family never had to react to this before me was a scary thought when contemplating my own coming out. I'm still proud of the response to this day.

  5. Wow, this is really well-said and touching! I am hoping for more progress in WV and other parts of the country. I really want to read your books.

  6. What an incredible journey you are on!  You are making the world and WV a better place.  Thank you.

  7. I am very proud to know you, this is a great work. I hope soon WV will change it's laws and attitudes to treat all the same.

     Bill Durham


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