Stay Together Appalachian Youth – Newsletter #3


Happy Spring!

     Is it only April? Whoa, 2014 has been busy for STAY!  Since January our members have brought an Appalachian youth voice and perspective to two National Conferences:  The Creating Change Conference on LGBT Equality in Houston, TX and the Alliance for Educational Justice gathering in Miami, FL. Our members have also been hard at work organizing STAY’s first ever Youth of Color Gathering in Chattanooga, TN May 9-11th!

We’ve also put out two newsletters, had 2 steering committee meetings, attended the Appalachian Studies Conference, donated money to help purchase clean drinking water for Southern West Virginia residents (many of whom still aren’t able to drink their water after a Chemical Spill in the Elk River in early January), and are hard at work finalizing our budget and structuring a job position to hire our first ever paid STAY Coordinator!

In order for STAY to continue our important work we need your help.  This Newsletter marks the launching of our first ever individual giving campaign.  We hope that you will consider donating to STAY:  the only youth led regional network in Central Appalachia, an organization with big dreams (and plans!) for a more sustainable and inclusive future in our mountain communities, and a force to be reckoned with.  We also hope you will enjoy this newsletter!

The next 50 years…

by Will Brummett


Dear Stay Together Appalachian Youth Supporter,

       “Fifty years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared the War on Poverty by shining a light on the Appalachian region, a region still riddled by poverty and despair.”

Many well-intentioned fundraising letters you will receive this year may start out with this sentiment of remembrance and remorse for the Appalachian region. The letters may even include black and white photos of President Johnson with a mill worker or young child with dirt on their face.

           This letter is will not do that.

           As members of the STAY Steering Committee, we are under no great illusion that our Appalachian home has overcome all of the injustices acknowledged by President Johnson fifty years ago, as shown most recently by the injustice of the chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia.  However, instead of limiting ourselves to only seeing Appalachia as a place of political rhetoric, misinformed stereotypes and paralyzing problems, we see our home region as a deeply-rooted and rich place filled with the powerful presence of young people who have the potential to continue to make their own declarations for Appalachia’s future. We hope you see it the same way, too.

In Central Appalachia there are few networks and meeting spaces to create a region-wide Appalachian youth voice. STAY is the sole exception. The STAY project does not just ask youth to participate. STAY asks young people to be decision makers, design their own projects, and contribute solutions to community needs in the region. We provide avenues for youth to gather and share their ideas for regional change, create connections and support for other young leaders in the region, and work on policies to create regional systematic changes that combat barriers created by racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism.


Fifty years ago, President Johnson and his staff wrote a speech to declare a war to end poverty that has yet to be won for a region that was never as lost as others made it seem. Led by the voices of Appalachian youth, STAY is an organization not interested in solely declaring a rhetoric about the small wars and poverty Appalachians battle every day. Instead, we are interested in calling young people back home. We are interested in asking fellow young Appalachians what will we do in  the next fifty years to honor, reform, and re-imagine the region we love. We are interested in creating lasting, sustainable change as young Appalachians here and now, not waiting for tomorrow. Therefore, join us as we rewrite our own narrative about our diverse, and powerful experiences in our home region. Join us as we recognize both the struggles and the joys of what it means to be a child of Appalachia. Join us as we grow together as a network and an organization.  Join us daily as we choose empowerment over escape, long-term investment over false declaration. Join us by becoming a member or support STAY today and contribute to our dream of funding a full-time STAY coordinator.

A major donor and supporter has given STAY a generous gift of $30,000, and she wants to challenge YOU, the STAY community, to try to try to match it and help us fund a Coordinator position!  Give $30 and help us meet this fundraising challenge of raising an additional $30,000 in the coming year!

Donate today by clicking here  and specify you want your funds to go towards, “STAY.”


STAY’s Youth of Color Gathering:     Making Our Story Known

by Joe Tolbert

To register for STAY’s First Ever Youth of Color Gathering 

June 13-15th - Chattanooga, TN!  

click here.
         When you think of Appalachia, certain things come to mind, and it rarely includes the history of African Americans that have been here throughout the history of the region. The black coal towns where people lived, worked and built community are rarely discussed. We see that in the 21st Century, our Appalachia is growing more diverse which is adding to our rich cultural heritage. The STAY Project seeks to lift up our Appalachia and make our story known. We will bring together youth from across Central Appalachia to build and strategize ways that we can make Central Appalachia more inclusive for everyone. We will leave the gathering with action items to carry STAY’s work forward.

STAY was at Creating Change:

National Conference on LGBT Equality

in Houston, TX

STAY Steering Committee Member Zane Griffey, 22, at Art Space Studio at Creating Change in Houston in January.

STAY was able to send 3 members to Creating Change: the Annual Conference on LGBT Equality in Houston this January, in large part due to support from FIERCE.  FIERCE is an organization we love and admire that works with queer youth of color in NYC.  We attended a lunch FIERCE hosted to talk about building a national cohort, and got to learn about the work happening at FIERCE in NYC, as well as some of the amazing organizing of the Queer Undocumented Immigrant Project (QUIP) and Southerners On New Ground (SONG).  We were so inspired by this lunch, and the sessions hosted by FIERCE and SONG that we attended.  However, overall, being rural queer folks from an economically depressed and isolated mountain region left us feeling frustrated and marginalized at a predominantly urban focused National conference.  We are so grateful to FIERCE for their support in helping us be there to bring a rural Appalachian youth voice to the conference!

Zane Griffey (pictured above) had this to say about his first trip to Texas and first time at Creating Change:

“Texas was it’s own country – it’s not part of the U.S.  It was very flat and I did not like being in that region.  Creating Change was very overwhelming because there were so many people there.  Some of the workshops I went to were for trans people trying to change their names and gender markers, and the SONG workshop (Southerners On New Ground).

Highlights?  It was cool to see the art exhibit in the park in Houston. (see photo of the Discovery Green below!)  And to learn that we’re from the only town in West Virginia with a mayor who supports the Freedom to Marry.  Also, getting to eat lunch and talk with FIERCE, QUIP, and SONG and to hear what each person and each group needed because we were all from different parts of the country and needed different things, but also it all went together because it was related.  We also got to meet awesome people from breakout from Louisiana, and hangout with them.

STAY Members Rachel Garringer and Courtney Gillilan at the Discovery Green outside Creating Change in Houston.

STAY members having lunch with members from FIERCE!, QUIP, and SONG in Houston.

STAY was at The Alliance for Educational Justice Gathering in Miami, FL

STAY Acting Coordinator Courtney Gillilan, 23, and Member Joe Tolbert, 26, proving that selfies are not only important, but adorable!

 Courtney wrote this report on her experiences at the Alliance for Educational Justice gathering in Miami this February:

“When myself and two of my closest friends and fellow STAY members were given the opportunity to jump on a plane and head to Miami – I couldn’t have been more excited.  We were to join fellow movement family members in the fight for Educational Justice.  We came together to talk about what was happening in both our big and small communities across the nation.  We opened our eyes to the fact that poor education is not an isolated issue, as well as representing a very under-represented region – our home, the mountains, and our people.

We attended and participated in an action with around 100 other folks that undeniably represented the struggle our young people are facing in their schools and beyond (see photo below).  Together we represented over 25 different organizations.  We reached across race, class, age, and place to hold each other, and to hold each other up high.  It is no doubt that our people are underrepresented in the fight for education, but we are not alone.  While in Miami, Appalachia made friends, connections, and created partnerships.  STAY will continue to fight for a quality education for all mountain people, and beyond. ”

A Street Theater Action that AEJ held in Miami.

STAY member Joe Tolbert at the AEJ Action in Miami.

Featured Member:  Leah Vance

          My name is Leah Vance. I am West Virginia born and bred.  I’ve lived in Neola on our small family farm my whole life.  After graduating from West Virginia University with a degree in Agriculture Education I knew that I wanted something more. That led me to the University of Kentucky where my STAY journey really began. After some encouragement from Courtney, a STAY member, to find out about the internship with STAY at UK’s Appalachian Studies Center, I applied for the position and became the STAY Summer Intern. I had no idea that by the end of the Summer I would not only be a STAY member but a member of the Steering Committee.

I am really excited to be working with a group that is so passionate about Appalachia. What I love most about STAY is that it is more than just for the youth, it is by the youth. My thesis research is grounded in the youth of Appalachia. For my research, I will be looking at how family support has an influence on the educational attainment of female youth in Appalachia. I am beyond excited to begin this research that I hope will be the start of a long career of research and activism for the region that I am proud to call home.

The Essence of Appalachia – by Leah Vance

The recent social media posts regarding Appalachian Outlaws made me think. I have been watching the show and I will admit, in the beginning, I thought this might be a show that portrayed Appalachia in a positive light. I don’t particularly have that same feeling any more. The past couple of weeks have showed examples of behavior that is not the essence of the people of Appalachia.

Much like the essence of the youth of Appalachia is not the scenarios seen in Buckwild, the scenes played out on the latest Appalachian reality show are just that: scenes in a “reality show.” While there are people in this country who will associate the behaviors seen on these shows with every person who would be considered Appalachian, it is important that we remember what we stand for. That we remember our essence. When pop culture dictates the stereotypes that other Americans see, it is up to us to help refute these stereotypes. Even whenstereotypes are grounded with some truth, keyword: SOME, these stereotypes are not ouressence.

For me, the essence of the people of Appalachia has nothing to do with ginseng and guns or beer and four wheelers. The essence of Appalachian people is deeply rooted in a love of family, faith, and hard work. Something no reality show could ever capture. The youth of Appalachia are promising, talented, and hardworking young people that have the ability to change the world.

NEW : Featured Member Projects!

Country Queers : Oral History Project

Rachel Garringer, 28, West Virginia.

       Country Queers Can Survive and Thrive! is an oral history project documenting the diverse experiences of rural, small town, and country LGBTQI folks in the U.S.A.  The project aims to gather stories that show similarities in experiences of being queer in the country, and also how experiences of being queer in the country differ based on race, class, gender identity, age, ability and other parts of our identities.  Despite mainstream views that all queer folks live in cities, or wish they could escape to a city, there are LGBTQI folks all over the U.S. facing challenges, as well as surviving and thriving  in the communities where they were raised, and in chosen communities they have moved to.  Country Queers aims to work towards filling the silence where rural queer voices should be, and helping country queers feel less isolated by enabling them to share their stories and hear stories like theirs.

Country Queers will hit road to gather stories in 10 states in the South and Southwest this summer.    Please support our kickstarter by April 27th if you can!  Check out the website and facebook page too, and get in touch to share your story!  [email protected]

Appalachian Monsters Zine

Carmen Davis, 21, Southwest Virginia.

          I grew up in Southwest Virginia, often hearing high school dreams of kids trying to escape, but I always knew that was not what I wanted. It hit me hard when I went to college and feelings about home became much harder to communicate to friends who were not from the region. It was exhausting to constantly validate where I was from and who I wanted to be and making those things seem worthwhile to others. Feeling alienated at a college in my own county pushed me to start Appalachian Monsters zine, which I started in winter 2012. I wanted to help reclaim Appalachia. I wanted to help create a safe space for others. I wanted to help dispel negative stereotypes and show that Appalachia is not the homogenous culture shown on television. I wanted to showcase the art, ideas, and important things happening around me. I didn’t want anyone to say, “I hope you escape this place,” ever again. I wanted to share my love for Appalachia and show people there are reasons to stay, there are really great things to get involved in, there are complicated histories to discover, claim, and rewrite. I wanted to connect with fellow Appalachians. I wanted us to share and create safer spaces and build our communities. The zine is about creating safe spaces, sharing our experiences and knowledge and art, strengthening our communities and reaching out to one another, and raising awareness about the problems and triumphs in our communities.  This is of course just a tiny step in accomplishing any of those things, but it has allowed me to learn so much and get involved in so many ways. I have been able to share my own knowledge and feelings, share the beauty and complexities of my home, get involved in things I care about and meet like-minded amazing Appalachian folks. This is even how I got involved with STAY!

The zine is submission based and accepts any format I can print: illustrations, photographs, poetry, prose, essays, DIYs, information about events, local music/art information, and basically anything anyone would like to send.

Any submissions or questions can be sent to [email protected] and Appalachian Monsters can also be found at and on facebook –


Nearly 4 months after the chemical spill in the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia some residents are still drinking bottled water.  The West Virginia Clean Water Hub is hard at work delivering clean drinking water to West Virginia residents.  Click here if you would like to donate to support this important work!


Kentucky Author, Silas House, delivered this year’s Appalachian Studies Association Conference Keynote Address.  Entitled “Our Secret Places in the Waiting World: Becoming a New Appalachia”  it features STAY Members Ethan Hamblin and Sam Gleaves.  We encourage you to watch it by clicking here. 




  • STAY launches our first Individual Giving Campaign:  aka Help us Hire a Coordinator!
  • Register now for STAY’s first ever Youth of Color Gathering!
  • STAY was at Creating Change in Houston!
  • STAY was at the AEJ Conference in Miami!
  • Featured Member: Leah Vance
  • NEW! Featured STAY member projects: Country Queers and Appalachian Monsters Zine!

STAY is Hiring a Coordinator!

After five years of operation STAY is hiring a Coordinator!  The ideal candidate will be from central Appalachia, currently live in the region, and be between the ages of 18-30.  If you would like to learn more about this position please send inquiries to [email protected].  






Stay Together Appalachian Youth – Newsletter #2


    STAY was busy in 2013, and the year ahead looks like it will be even busier! We hosted our 2nd Annual LGBTQ Youth Gathering in Knoxville in June, and our 4th Annual STAY Summer Institute (SSI) in August.  The 2013 Summer Institute brought together over fifty young people from across Central Appalachia to discuss topics that are impacting the region.  It took place at the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee, and youth from the region had the opportunity to participate in workshops facilitated by other STAY members around three central issues:  clean water, the school to prison pipeline, and educational justice.  The conversations we had in these workshops will help shape the direction of the organization over the next year.  At the end of the three day event, attendees formed committees to work on each of these issues throughout the year.  In addition to the issue based sessions, attendees had opportunities to participate in – and facilitate – many other activities and workshops including Re-Writing the Narrative of Appalachia, Cultural Organizing, and Mountain Fighting Music.  Attendees of the Institute also traveled to various locations throughout East Tennessee, visiting important historical sites and political organizations.  The weekend concluded with a business meeting to elect a new steering committee, which ranges in age from 15-28!

STAY also joined several regional and national coalitions in 2013 including the Alliance for Appalachia, the Central Appalachia Prisoner Support Network, the Community Justice Network for Youth, the Alliance for Educational Justice, and Supporting Emerging Appalachian Leaders.  The need for a full time coordinator continues to be apparent to us.  However, something we were not able to accomplish in 2013 was securing enough funds for this position. So far, the events of 2014 have only reiterated the importance of STAY’s work in the region. The media coverage of the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty left much to be desired in terms of shifting the national perception of Appalachia away from the poor uneducated hillbilly motif, and the Chemical Spill in Charleston, WV in January reminds us that our quest for clean water in the region is a dire and urgent need, and that our local governments and economies are hell-bent on fighting the sustainable future which we dream of. Hiring a full time staff member would enable us to continue to grow our membership and support youth from Central Appalachia in finding their voice and power at a time when a new vision for the region is desperately needed. If you would like to support us in this exciting step for our organization please consider donating to STAY, and thank you!

STAY’s First Youth of Color Gathering!

The STAY Project is committed to uplifting the voices and supporting the identities of all within Appalachia.  We understand that youth of color are often silenced and ignored within our organizations and communities, and that people of color have been invisibilized in our regional histories.  STAY’s first ever Youth of Color Gathering will bring together youth of color from throughout the region in order to discuss what it means to be a young person of color living in the mountains.  We will also envision ways we can better solidify the unique support we want and need as a community.  It is rare to have the opportunity to be in a defined youth of color space and we’re excited to have the chance to get to know one another openly.  STAY’s 2014 Youth of Color Gathering will take place June 13-15 at the Concerned Citizens for Justice Building in Chattanooga, TN.  Register here!

Our Appalachia: Re-Writing the Narrative

The Appalachian region has a long history of media coverage by outside sources, painting us in either a negative and insulting or overly romanticized light.  As STAY member Sam Gleaves wrote:”Since the local color literary movement of the early 1900′s, writing about the region has often been misguided and filled with negative stereotypes which portray Appalachians as barefoot, backward, uneducated people of the past…The 1960’s federal government-led War on Poverty brought Appalachia back into the public eye with its widespread media attention which exposed the struggles of the region without consistently explaining its complexities. Modern media coverage about the region perpetuates old stereotypes, adding that Appalachia is a place of drug addiction, public assistance dependency, conservative religion and politics and racial homogeneity.”  It is because of this long history and continued misrepresentation, and because of STAY’s dedication to re-writing the narrative with our rich, varied, and diverse experiences of the region that we include creative writings by STAY Members in this newsletter.  The following writings came out of a workshop at the 2013 STAY Summer Institute called Our Appalachia: Re-Writing the Narrative.

You haven’t lived in the hills of West Virginia.

To experience, and see what it is like.

You haven’t saw the beautiful places and sights

in West Virginia.

Every place has its goods and bads.

Yes we might be different to you,

but the world would be so boring

if everyone was alike.

-Jasmine Murphy, STAY Member and High School Student from Logan County, WV

My family has all gotten together for a cookout.

There are cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters and mothers.

Everyone is in the living room talking,

but then an argument breaks loose about something insignificant.

Everyone is trying to prove they are right.

The argument dies down and everyone is ready to eat.

Grandmas and mothers tell their children and grandchildren

to sit down, and eat their food.

-Jaylin Early, STAY Member and High School Student from Logan County, WV

Sky grey, red blue

Every day I think about you.

Home went down, ever since you been away.

Life sucks, and that’s all I can say.

Sky grey, red blue

This family is broken,

When we lost you.

We need your strong wise words

To pull us back together again.

Now times is hard,

But we get through it all.

All we need is a little prayer and faith.

All of us will meet each other again.

Sky gray, red blue.

Rough times is hard

Because there’s no longer you

That we can call.

You should be proud

Elijah finally got back to football,

We will miss you

As time continues to go on.

-Storm Coleman, STAY Member and High School Student from Logan County, WV

To answer your remark:

There are black people in WV

and it is a state, not the western part of VA.

I was born and raised here and proud of that.

It taught me so much about being family

and loving one another.

I really do have an education

and I don’t work in the coal mine.

Plus, you can’t say there’s not anything to do here.

I could think of several right now.

I loved being raised in a coal camp, and being poor.

It taught me to survive and strive for more

and be grateful of what I’ve earned and where I came from.

So I have to go now,

get my four wheeler,

and go get some blackberries on the ridge

before it gets too hot.

Then go swimming, or just fish, or just set in the swing for the evening

-Rick French, Logan County Youth Group Adult Leader

Featured STAY Member:  Ivy Brashear

“My name is Ivy Brashear, and I am a fifth generation Eastern Kentuckian. My ancestors settled the Left Fork of Maces Creek in Perry County before the Civil War, and my family still lives on this land. I currently work as a communications associate at the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, which works to provide economic examples of what is possible for Appalachia’s future. I am also a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth and a board member for the Kentucky Riverkeeper. I found out about STAY through some of my good friends who founded the organization. When I learned that the group works to help Appalachian youth create the future they want to see in their Appalachia so they don’t have to leave the area to find opportunities, I knew this was an organization in which I needed to be involved since that has always been what I’ve strived to do. The STAY Project is one of the most vital organizations working in the Appalachian region today because it is one of the very few that is youth created and youth led. Since youth are the future of the region, they must have a space to talk about and take action on what they want that future to look like.”


3rd Annual STAY Summer Institute to be held August 8 – 11 at the Highlander Center in New Market, Tennessee

A view of the Workshop Center at HighlanderThis year our third annual STAY Summer Institute (SSI) will be held at the Highlander Center in East Tennessee from August 8th – 11th.  SSI is a four day gathering of Central Appalachian youth who come together to teach and learn from one another, build community, and to work towards our vision of a sustainable future for our region. Over the course of the weekend we lead and participate in workshops, cultural sharing sessions, and creative skillshares like dances and singing sessions.  Past workshop sessions have included:  how to affect policy changes in the region , media representations of Appalachia, the history and current state of resource extraction in the region,  old-time mountain music,  educational justice and the Student Bill of Rights, the Central Appalachian Prisoner Support Network, and lots more.

The Summer Institute is also where STAY members elect the steering committee and collectively decide on the focus of STAY’s work.  Last year,  SSI participants decided STAY would focus on three main issues:  working for clean water in the region, juvenile justice, and education reform.  This year’s gathering will build on past years’ work, and we will form committees to begin working on each of these issues in the upcoming year.  We think hard and envision hard at SSI, but as always there will be great food, amazing young people from across the region, and so much fun!

Registration fee is on a sliding scale from $0-$150.

Click here to register online today!

Our Featured Artist and Featured Member!

Artist Spotlight: Cecily Howell

Cecily Howell  “I am a child of the Appalachian Mountains. This means my heart belongs to my family and community, and I have an awareness of interdependent responsibilities, roles and solidarity. Both the landscape of Appalachia and the people who reside within it have grown accustomed to all the adversity, acclimating themselves to the drastic effects of things like mountain top removal, hillbilly stereotypes and regional economic decline. My pieces are narrative portraitures that preserve and collect the livelihood of the people, flora and fauna that can be found in the Appalachian Mountains,  in addition to showcasing the dramatic implications and consequences of decisions being made now Appalachia.”

"The Historian" by Cecily Howell- An example of Cecily's portrait work.

“The Historian” by Cecily Howell


STAY Member Interview: Jordyn Addison

Jordyn Addison is a native Virginian and attended the STAY Project’s 3rd Annual LGBTQ Youth Gathering in Knoxville, TN in May. He is an outstanding member of his community and continues to strive for a region where diversity is acknowledged and encouraged.

Here is a piece of his story….

Jordyn Addison“I am 21 years old, and I’m from Wythe County, Virginia. Specifically, I grew up in Rural Retreat, VA, and I now live about twenty miles from there in Max Meadows. I love most things about my community. The best way that I know to communicate this is to give examples… when I take the garbage to the dump, I have a full conversation with the garbage man, whom I lovingly call “Cowboy” because he usually wears a huge cowboy hat. He calls me “friend” or “little buddy.” We don’t even know each other’s names, but the sense of community, friendship, and compassion is not diminished. I see this frequently in my community. I not only know both my hairdressers (one for at home and one for at school), but I know most of their family. My driveway is this 40% grade uphill monstrosity. When the weather gets bad, Mr. Carson from down the road always scrapes the snow and ice off with his tractor and refuses to take money. So, you have to send a check in the mail so he can’t say no. I know all my neighbors, their neighbors, half their families, and all their combined dogs by name, occupation, nickname, and health status.

Similarly, I felt this sense of community when I attended the STAY youth gathering in Knoxville. My friend Sam Gleaves from Wytheville invited me to attend. The people I met there were great and I came away with the understanding that I really need to learn more about my region. It was great to participate in something that I felt so welcome in. During the gathering, I learned a lot about stress and health concerns for Appalachian residents. I’d like to see something be done about that, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. Also, I’d love to be able to have more opportunities similar to that youth retreat. Even though I was only there for a short time, I learned a hell of a lot about the region. Being able to have members of my particular community to bond with was a spiritual experience and I look forward to the next one!”

The STAY Project: Empowering Young Leaders in Kentucky & Beyond

STAY Group Photo summer 2012











“It was not only a wonderful way to come together face-to-face as Kentucky youth, it was a way to come together as youth from across Central Appalachia,” KFTC member Elizabeth Sanders described the Summer Institute, hosted by STAY (Stay Together Appalachian Youth)“We shared our own stories and experiences, learned from one another, and brought our individual visions together to create a many-faceted approach for how to stay and thrive in the place we love.”

Last summer around a dozen young folks from communities all over east Kentucky joined their peers from throughout Central Appalachia for a four-day Summer Institute in Harlan County, filled with workshops, identity caucuses and skill shares celebrating the culture and history of community organizing in Appalachia. This spring, STAY held its annual LGTBQ gathering in Berea, bringing together lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer youth from throughout the region to discuss what it means to be LGBTQ and living in the mountains.  The idea for this gathering came out of an LGBTQ identity caucus at the STAY Summer Institute, and involved an entire weekend of community building and visioning of ways to better solidify the unique support they want and need as a community.

STAY summer 2012 - 1

Building on these successes, around 40 young people from throughout the region, including over a dozen from Kentucky, gathered this past weekend for the 2012 STAY Summer Institute in Hillsboro, West Virginia. Dozens of people in attendance had never been to a STAY gathering before, but a family of young movers and shakers emerged over the few days.

“The best part of the STAY Summer Institute each year is the opportunity to meet and spend a few days getting to know other young, energized, interesting people from across Appalachia. During SSI, the entire Institute splits into three groups for half-day field trips to local communities and places of interest. During the last two years, I went on the field trips with the largest group of people. This was such an incredible way to get to know and develop friendships with at least a third (sometimes half!) of the entire camp. There’s nothing that brings people together more quickly than spending half a day traveling in a van together, listening to music, joking around, and getting to visit awesome, interesting and beautiful parts of Appalachia that are often unknown to most of us.”

Stephanie Tyree from Charleston, WV

STAY summer 2012 - 2

Jacqualine Benjie, a new KFTC member from Wallins Creek in Harlan County said, “I thought it wasn’t possible to build strong relationships with people you have only been around for a few days, but that’s not true. While I was at STAY I built relationships instantly, at the moment I said “Hello”! I knew by the feeling I got as soon as I got there this was something special. I connected with people because I knew they truly wanted to make a difference, and that was heart touching to know there were other youth that wanted to make a difference just like me.”

Young KFTC leaders facilitated workshops on the issues surrounding prison expansion in Central Appalachia and organizing to address it, environmental justice movements in the region, community philanthropy, mountain fighting music, and more. This year’s gathering was held at High Rock’s, a mostly off-the-grid campground, featuring solar and fire-heated showers, composting and evaporation toilets, and a village of hammocks. A new steering committee was elected and it’s pretty clear that the upcoming year has a lot in store for STAY and this growing network of amazing visionaries.

The ‘Stay Together Appalachian Youth’ Project is a diverse regional network of young people throughout Central Appalachia who are working together to advocate for and actively participate in their home mountain communities of West Virginia, southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky, eastern Tennessee, and western North Carolina. 

STAY is currently a consortium supported by Appalshop’s Appalachian Media Institute in Whitesburg, KY, High Rocks in Hillsboro, WV, and the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN.

STAY Project Holds First Annual LGBTQ Youth Gathering in Berea, KY

People sitting around talking at STAY's first LGBTQ gathering.

Earlier this year, the STAY Project held its first annual LGBTQ Youth Gathering, “a weekend of community, learning and growth for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer youth and allies in Appalachia.” This identity caucus, which was the first of its kind for youth in the region, brought together folks from across Appalachia to Berea, Kentucky for formative discussions about community and identity-organizing, and what those concepts mean to queer youth in Appalachia. Sam Gleaves, a student at Berea College and STAY Project steering committee member, had this to say about the event:

“This gathering began with two chief goals in mind, “to bring together LGBTQ youth from throughout the region to discuss what it means to be LGBTQ and living in the mountains,” and “to envision ways to better solidify the unique support we want and need as a community.”   Over the course of three days in Berea, Kentucky, queer Appalachians created our own space and talked honestly, told our stories and listened to others’ experiences, shared meals, made music, watched films documenting LGBTQ Appalachia and heard the filmmakers’ stories, learned and listened with lesbian traditional musician Sue Massek, consulted seasoned LGBTQ rights activists Ivy Brashear and Meta Mendel-Reyes, discussed our activism and current work toward equality in the region, hung out and enjoyed each others’ company, and set goals working toward a more welcoming, inclusive Appalachia for LGBTQ youth.  That’s covering some ground!

Two people looking at something at STAY's first LGBTQ gathering.

Through our conversation we found that though we are all Appalachian, our identities and the way we discuss them still vary greatly.  We explored the impact of our race, class, gender, regional and religious backgrounds, as well as their intersections with our sexual orientation.   We listened closely to each others’ stories and it became apparent that there is no one Appalachian LGBTQ experience, but we all share common threads – reaching understanding with our families, the welcoming and exclusive feelings of our mountain communities, religious tensions and comforts, identity.  We found that at times, our LGBTQ identities make up only a small part of who we are and at other times, they completely define us.  We talked about Appalachia’s established, rigid gender roles and how those standards have affected us all.  We talked about the outside world’s view of our home and how stereotypes impact us as LGBTQ Appalachians.  Our conversations brought us closer to the point of wholeness where Appalachian heritage and LGBTQ identity meet.  

We looked to the wisdom of older generations and their LGBTQ Appalachian experiences, and appreciated their hard work and strides made toward equality.  We acknowledged that there has always been a queer presence in Appalachia and we are a continuation of that legacy, out-er and prouder than ever before.

We asked ourselves what we could do to make these mountains we live in more welcoming and inclusive.  We committed to find out what Appalachian communities are most supportive and model our outreach after them, to speak out using artistic expression that is current, compelling and rooted in heritage.  We talked about our shared hope to someday return home and live openly in our communities and become living LGBTQ examples.   Most importantly, we will gather again next year, bring more LGBTQ youth to the table and keep talking, living and growing.  We hope you’ll join us!”

Group photo from STAY's first LGBTQ gathering.

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2011 STAY Summer Institute Photos

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