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LISTEN: Ky. novelist Silas House on LGBTQ+ activists facing threats

 Silas House holds a piece of paper and speaks at a microphone.
Berea College
Novelist Silas House said people rallying to support trans people in rural areas like Corbin, Kentucky demonstrates strength.

Activists in Corbin were met with slurs and violent threats by Ku Klux Klan members at an LGBTQ+ pride event. Novelist Silas House discussed the incident and how it’s a backlash to progress LGBTQ+ activists have made in rural Kentucky.

Last week, an LGBTQ+ Pride event in Corbin, Kentucky was temporarily disrupted by members of the Ku Klux Klan wielding firearms.

Novelist Silas House, who’s from Corbin, spoke to WFPL’s Divya Karthikeyan about the incident and how it’s a backlash to progress LGBTQ+ activists have made in rural Kentucky, and what he hopes people will take away from the event.

You’ve said Corbin is a place you love, and it’s also a place where it was difficult to come out as a gay man in the ‘80s. And we’re now seeing LGBTQ+ people and allies show their support for trans rights in your home city. What do you think is emboldening hate groups like the KKK to disrupt these events that you weren’t used to seeing growing up?

SILAS HOUSE: In my hometown, it bothers me more, because it's the place I love so deeply. The thing that really troubles me the most, when I think about loving a place that doesn't love me back as much, is the legislation. I mean, I grew up in the 1980s. And the things that you now hear, people would say privately, that were very bigoted. Now you hear members of Congress say it.

And I think a lot of the vitriolic rhetoric is just a response to the progress. You know, it's people who are so afraid of the changes that are happening, that they feel emboldened and they even feel compelled to speak out.

It seems like the stakes are very different when groups of people hold pride events and rallies in small towns and cities, compared to Louisville or Lexington. Could you tell me more about that?

There's strength in numbers. Of course, if you live in a larger city, there's going to be a bigger LGBTQ community than if you live in a small town. So you know, when I go out to a Pride rally in Lexington, I'm with thousands of people. When these folks are doing, you know, that event, there were about a dozen of them, it’s the lack of numbers, but also just the lack of anonymity.

And the way that everybody knows who you are, and the way the word gets around like that.

It's a whole different thing to be out, and certainly to be protesting or an activist of any kind like that in a small town than it is in the city. So I have a lot of respect for the people who are out there doing this. I feel safer and more welcomed living in Lexington than I could back home. But a lot of that is about, you know, just the lack of anonymity, the fact that I just know so many people back home.

And Silas, you’re one of the most visible LGBTQ+ people and writers from not just rural Kentucky but rural America. What’s the message you’d like people to take away from this incident that is representative of your community?

More people need to know not only that this man pulled a gun and a KKK card. They also need to know that there are LGBTQ people living in Appalachia and in rural places, and they're standing up for who they are. And so, I think that shines a light on the fact that you know, a lot of really great progressive grassroots work is happening in small towns like this. That's really brave, important work. And so I'm just so proud of these young people who were in this rally in Corbin.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.