Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Ali’s Story

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  I serve as a Family Advocate at a domestic violence shelter in Lexington, KY. Every day I get the opportunity to work one-to-one with women who are trying to put their lives together after experiencing abuse at the hands of their most intimate partners.

 
To be completely honest, I get overwhelmed with the heartbreaking stories I hear and the trauma I witness. Some days, I feel myself wanting to run away. However, I also am blown away by the incredible strength and resilience I see in these women. To me, they are real life superheroes.

 
I’ve briefly shared that I am a domestic violence survivor, but I have never shared the main driving force of why I daily choose to do the work I do. Two years ago, my brother-in-law’s sister, Ali, lost her life at the hands of her husband in a murder-suicide. It’s not something I talk about because I never felt that it was my story to share. But I often think of her. Her sons call me ‘Aunt Christy,’ so I want to honor her and her sons in the work I do.

 
Her mother, Elaine, has decided to share some of Ali’s story in order to bring awareness to the reality of intimate partner violence.

ALI photo

Ali was a very easy going loving girl. She always had a smile on her face and thought she could save the world. She was very tender hearted and always gave to those in need, even if she did without. This was how she was raised – we are abundant in love and will never go hungry, always give to those in lesser situations. Ali was an honor graduate, Tennessee Scholar. She was very smart and intelligent. However, she used her heart instead of common sense when she hooked up with Chris. They met when she was a high school sophomore. He filled her head with stories of child abuse. He told her that he bounced from place to place and had no home to live in. She cried and threw my words of taking care of those in need in my face. So I allowed him to move into our home and raised him as my own son. I gave him his first birthday cake and Christmas presents; I took him everywhere with us.

 
Red flags—He was jealous of anyone that spoke or looked at her. She was not allowed to have her brother in her bedroom for their private talks unless he was present. I talked to her about that and thought all was well. However, it had gotten worse. She started dressing in ugly large, baggy clothes to hide her body. She could not leave a room without him following her. He would sit outside in his car at her place of employment. He often harassed her male coworkers and caused her to lose her job. They lived with me until she was 20 and then moved into a home of their own. He hardly worked and every job she got he caused her to lose it. She started smiling less. I noticed bruises on her arms.

 
When she became pregnant, he was so jealous of the baby. He would yell and scream and threaten to harm the baby. She left and moved off with us. She took him back three weeks later and they all lived with me again. He would not work or keep a job. He started beating on her and raping her with the baby in the room. This continued until she was pregnant again with their second child. He always accused her of cheating and sleeping around on him. She never had a way to go as he made sure she had no vehicle. Finally, she was not allowed to attend family functions. During Christmas Eve 2014, they were driving home after visiting family. He was so jealous of her cousins that she had not seen in years, and he pulled a knife out going down the road and held it to her throat. He told her he would cut her throat in front of the boys and then while she died, he would do it to them. She was able to get out with 2 cuts to the top of her thigh. People with kids need to know that the little ones are being abused, also.

 
This went on for 6 years. – physical and emotional abuse. No matter what we said or how many times we tried to intervene, she stayed. She stayed because he threatened to kill all of us, and she believed him. He started abusing drugs. There were no red flags the night before she was murdered because he stayed out all night doing drugs. According to her oldest boy, their dad beat their mom with his fist and a metal pipe. He threatened to kill the boys first and then her. He shot her while the boys where behind her chair, and she was able to get them to the front door without him shooting them but her 2 more times. She then ran to the back door to draw him away from them; he shot her 2 more times.

 
How am I dealing with her death? You relive the memory over and over until it gets easier and you can shake it off. My way of dealing was that god allowed me to hold my child when she took her first breath and her last breath. I have not been the same since. The void is so great no matter how hard I try to pretend to be happy. I look into the faces of her sweet boys and see her every day. They have helped some with the pain, but then I carry the burden of knowing how they feel and try to justify what happened to their parents. Life is a daily struggle for all of us and it has been 2 years.

 
My advice to someone who is in a domestic violence situation is to get out. If a person strikes a person they love out of anger once, it will happen again. The verbal abuse does not show marks but cuts deep in the heart. You are so much better and are nothing like what is being said. Get out! They will apologize and beg and tell you how much they love you. It is all a lie. Get out.

Thank you, Elaine, for sharing Ali’s story.

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LGBTQ in Obion County – Anthony

Anthony C. Jones, 32, Gay

Louisville, KY

Life in a rural community was, in so many ways, alienating and lonely. Trust was something I was always skeptical of. I wasn’t able to come out until I was 22 and had moved to Murray, KY. I was always afraid back home. That fear kept me from ever taking the chance to reach out and find allies, open minded people, or anyone that would embrace who I am, regardless of the culture.

 

When I came out, my mom even remarked about the difficulty of still living in Obion Co and having a gay son. People judged her, as if she was a failure of a parent because her son was gay. She just simply loved me. I was fortunate that I didn’t have a family that would have left me homeless because I was gay; regardless, I still was afraid to live openly. As so many of my fellow youth then, I lived a hidden life. I went to church every time the doors were open. I sat in the pew every Sunday hearing the pastor spew noting but hatred and anger that gay people existed. I heard him proclaim nothing but fire and brimstone and eternal damnation for those that were different. Eventually, I lost faith in Christianity, and became Wiccan. I found a faith that embraced who I was, and where I felt accepted and loved.
My fear of coming out didn’t come from what was supposed to be my church home, though. It came from high school. Ever since my freshman year, I was routinely called “faggot” and “queer” from the kids I went to school with. What kept me in fear, and later inspired my passion for advocacy, was seeing first hand a classmate that was out and proud. To be honest, he couldn’t hide it, and I respected that more than I could express. I knew that he was bullied and threatened, and eventually had to leave school. I still feel guilty to this day that I didn’t stand up for him. He survived, and fortunately also had family members that loved him for who he was.
I do wish I had the chance back then to live my life as the person that I am. So many years later, I’ve learned that I would have had allies, and that there were people there that would have been there for me, had I only had the courage to be open. As a side note, I chose to move to Louisville because it is the first place that I held another man’s hand in public, walking down the street, and was not afraid. To this day, because of that experience and many others, I don’t feel that paralyzing fear anymore.

 

I miss the sense of community from back home, and the slower pace of life. When I do go home to visit my mom, I make a point to sit on her porch at night and watch the fireflies. I look up at the stars, a sky that I don’t see due to light pollution here. I miss the quiet, the lack of sirens and traffic. Above all, I miss the peacefulness.

 

I want the people back home to know the damage they are doing to their own neighbors and friends. LGBTQ folks are like anyone else. Some of us go to church, some don’t. We all are humans, and shouldn’t be treated like enemies. We all want to be happy in life, and to live our dreams. Just because two men or two women want to share their lives, that doesn’t make them evil. They are who they are. They are a part of of the community, and can make the world a better place if given the chance. Just because a preacher says they are evil doesn’t mean that is true. Love one another. Judge people on their character, not who they love.

 

Be brave. Be bold. Maybe you cant change the world, but you can change the hearts and minds of those close to you. Never take for granted those that love you. Don’t be afraid. There are allies out there. Not everyone is against you. Seek out those that will accept and love you, and above all else, do all you can to be happy. You are going to have to make choices that nobody should have to make. You are going to have to have strength to overcome that adversity. That strength and passion is within you. Done give up, don’t let them hold you down, and again, most importantly, be happy.

LGBTQ in Obion County – Haley

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Haley Riggs, 21, Bisexual

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? I’ve always been secretive about my sexual orientation, only ever talking about my sexual preferences to people that identify or are accepting of LGBT

What do you love best about the area? The trees

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? Just that its not a sin and its not a “choice”

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? Online communities are a good source for support and UTM (even if they’re not a student) has a great LGBT club called Spectrum. Great way to meet people.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

Seeking a Church While Gay

I’m trying to find a Christian faith community where I can worship, serve, and grow in my faith. I have always loved being a part of the church. I’ve never had trouble finding one where I felt I belonged.

 

Until now.

 

For the first time in my life, I am experiencing the anxiety and dread of visiting churches. My heart beats rapidly and my stomach is in knots every single time I walk into a church.

 

Every.Single.Time.

 

It’s difficult this time because I cannot just think of myself when searching for a church. Soon, I will be married and starting a family. Will we be accepted? Will our future children be told that their parents are abominations? Will the church we attend allow us to join? To serve? Will they gladly take our tithes and offerings but only allow us to be spectators in the pews? Will we be able to teach Sunday School? Will we be merely tolerated?

 

I want a place where my spouse and I will be encouraged and guided in our marriage. I want a place where my children will learn about and experience the love of the Triune God and seek to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. I want accountability in how I treat my partner and raise my children.

 

There is a church that we have been attending for a few months. We both like it and believe in its mission. Every morning, I write down ’email pastor to set up a meeting’ on my to-do list. So far, it has not been crossed off my list at the end of the day. I constantly think about competing this task. My heart starts to race. My stomach twists in knots.

 

I decide not to do it.

 

I am too afraid of the possibility of rejection.

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Bekah Bowlin, age 36, Ally

What do you love best about this area? It’s a safe place to raise children. I also love the scenery. It’s a better view of God’s creation than the concrete streets of the city. (I also love the city for what it has to offer)

What is it like living in this area as LGBTQ or as an ally? It can be challenging to advocate for the LGBTQ community here because people are so driven by their faith. It usually leads to unfriendly debate so there are times I avoid it. Also, I can’t discuss it at times when I really want to. For example, at work – I’m the HR person and shouldn’t participate in any discussions regarding religion or politics.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? They’re harmless! Homosexuality and trans is not contagious. My LGBTQ friends will not try to coax you to be gay nor will they molest your child. They’re just people who are different than most, and they’re looking for acceptance like anyone else in this world. Your devotion to your faith will not be compromised by befriending or accepting an LGBTQ person. In fact, it will bring you closer to God as you will be more Christ-like in doing so. Isn’t it Jesus who shows compassion, acceptance, and loves everyone? EVERYONE.

And anything else you would like us to know…. It is not required to understand ones lifestyle in order to show them compassion or accept them.

One last thing: Teach your children the same principles about acceptance and compassion. It will serve them well and it will make the world a better place.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

LGBTQ in Obion County – Bekah

LGBTQ in Obion County – BJ

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BJ Cook, 33, Gay

Where do you live now? Memphis, TN

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? Living in obion county while gay and in the closet was hard, especially with the uber religious vibe the entire area gives off, but I’ve realized that most of the people I went to high school with wouldn’t have cared if I was out.

What do you love best about the area? I do miss the small town feel. Running into people you know, and knowing someone who knows someone who can fix that, or help with this.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? There are places you can go, irl and on the Internet, to talk to people like you that have been through what you’re going through.

Be you, but be safe. Don’t come out if it may get you thrown out of your house or hurt. Connect with someone you can vent to.

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.

LGBTQ in Obion County – Joey

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Joey Glover, 35, Gay

What is it like for you to live in a rural community? Not easy because when I came out in 1998 my family and I were ridiculed over me. And I was threatened and beat up to point we had to move into the country. I could go on for days about what all people have done to me and every so often still do. As time has passed and the ages progressed things have gotten easier

What do you love best about the area? I’ve lived in Chicago, Nashville, south Bend, Indiana and several other big cities, but my roots are here and I just love my home. All people here aren’t bigots. And I love the country  as my partner of 9 years Amos loves also……….

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? All I can say what I want people to know is that we are people just like them and their kids. We aren’t child molesters and bad people, but people who just want to be treated normal and with respect like everyone else is. We are normal. We didn’t choose to be Gay. I would have never picked the hardest lifestyle to live. I’ve known  from the time of a little child even though I confused people because I lived a lie to appease my parents and classmates and friends til I couldn’t do anymore. Coming out to my family was the best thing I ever did even though I know several who were abandoned by family because of it. When people ask me how did I know I was Gay, I tell them how did you know you liked a guy or a girl. They say I just do. That’s the way it is. Well, that’s same answer I have ……..

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? You are never alone. There are people out here who love and care. Even at your darkest points you just have to trust in yourself and live your authentic self no matter what. Life is too short and we really are in the last days of man and you need to live life to the fullest. Material things and stature doesn’t matter in this fictitious world we live in. You, be you and as long as you are happy, sorry for the language “FUCK THEM”

Photo/Essay project highlighting the LGBTQ and Ally Community in Obion County (a rural area in TN). Some participants still live in the area, while others have moved away after growing up there.