jillian-and-tasha

Jillian and Tasha Bowman with Riley and Justice Bell.

My name is Tasha Bowman. I’m 37 years old. This is our family on our wedding day! 2/12/16. My children are very supportive of our relationship. Jillian has been “out” since she was 13 and I came out in 2013. My children have had to face the judgment of some adults and friends. I have had to face judgement by several of my church members. Yes, I’m a Christian. I’m a Christian without a church home because of judgement. My family and friends have all stood by my side. I’m very proud of them for that. I want people to know that regardless of who I love, I am the same person. Actually, I may be more compassionate than I was before. That’s not only because of my situation but because of my amazing wife with her huge heart and my very compassionate children.

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.

Advertisements

LGBTQ in Obion County – Tasha

LGBTQ in Obion County – Craig

Craig R. Lewis, 35, Gay

(Pictured with husband, David and children, Knox & Kruz)

Where do you live now? Gardner, Kansas

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? I really enjoyed living in the country, five miles outside of Hornbeak, Tennessee. I came from a very large family that fulfilled me with love, guidance, and most of all God’s word. Challenges started for me at the age of 6 that something was different about me.

What do you love best about the area? I am country… I am a man and I still at the age of 35 now like to wake up and go take a piss outside with no worry of getting a ticket for indecency exposure….lol

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? This is a powerful questions…. kinda like the layers of an onion…. the more you pull the layers of skin away the more I cry… ummm but I guess the adult answer would be, being apart of this organization save me because more than I care to say wanted to end the battle that I had inside of me.

People of the community that I do love very much needs to understand that God’s love is ALWAYS UNCONDITIONAL. So unless you have walked in my shoes, have been disowned by your family, or any negatively what so ever about who you are and how you live your life to be happy…. my suggestion is to just shut the fuck up…. because today I have the family I dreamed of for a very long time. David and I are great people and have 2 beautiful children that will never have to go through what I had to… my love for everyone is unconditional. .. just like my Heavenly Father…

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? We are all made in the image of God. You have a purpose in this life, you may not see it at the moment but everyone does. Be patient and lesson to that still voice inside of you for leadership and guidance. I’m not saying it going to be easy…. but my friend you are not alone… and you have purpose.

Never give up on your dreams… because God is alive and well and knows all things with each of us…. even the numbers of hairs on your head…

Hold your head high! Because you too are a blank canvass that needs colorful stokes to paint your future… it is there for you as long as you stay true to yourself.

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 – Kate

kate

Kate Surr, 28, Bisexual

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? Some days it’s difficult. The best thing you can do is surround yourself with people who love you as you are. It feels as though there is one in a hundred people who know and understand you. It’s hard to find those people but they are out there. Sometimes it takes you being outwardly honest for other people to be honest with you. As I’ve gotten older I’ve cared less about what other people think in this small rural town. (What is it about these small towns that give individuals the feeling of entitlement to share their opinions as the law 😜)

What do you love best about the area? The people who are here and have open hearts and minds are the best in my opinion. Think about it, you get the southern hospitality mixed with all the love in the world with zero judgment and full acceptance. You couldn’t have better friends in your life.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? We are people. Just like you. The same children you are fight for against abortion are the same children and adults that you are badgering now. (And I only give that example because, commonly, if you are against abortion then you are generally against LGBTQ.) You love these children unconditionally? Then accept us for who we are no matter who we turn out to be. We can’t be changed. We’ve been this way our whole lives. Nothing you can do will change that. However, loving us all, even though we are different from you, can make the world more beautiful place. It’s already difficult enough, why make it even harder.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone?  Be true to yourself. You don’t have to tell anyone until you’re ready. I promise that as you get older it will get easier. There are so so so many people out there just like you and me. If you have access to the internet you can find those people in a matter of minutes. Social media is a great place to find groups and events supporting us. Also, updates on lawmakers fighting for our basic rights as human beings. (If your interested in what’s going on the country… its good to know who’s fighting for you, even though they don’t know you).

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 – Jared

jared

Jared Hamlin, 35, Gay

What is it like for you to live in a rural community? Some days I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. Other days I want to get out of here as fast as I can. It’s hard to be different here, but I can take it. I stay so someone is here that can take it. In my own way I do it to shield the ones that can’t.

What do you love best about the area? I actually love so much about it here. The history, my family, my friends, and the fact that in about 2 hours I can be in one of many larger cities.

 What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? We are the same as the rest of the community. We work. We live. We love. We really aren’t different from the rest of the world. And for the record I loathe the fact that we have to have a label and can’t exist.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? First off, you aren’t alone. We are here to be with you through whatever you are going through. Take a deep breath and hold on. It gets better. It takes time, but it does happen. We have to deal with the negative parts of life so we can appreciate the positive ones when they happen.

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 – Jae

Jae (Jessica) Kennedy, 35

 I identify as Jae – the silly, fun, determined and driven gal who longs to make a difference and loves to help people. As for sexuality, I’m a woman who’s married to a woman (who happens to be my soul mate). I’ve never been a fan of labels, but if one must categorize me, I’d be considered, what they call “lesbian” 😜

Where do you live now? I live in Las Vegas, Nevada – the home of diversity.

What was it like for you to live in a rural community? There were pros and cons living in small town Tennessee. The subtle discrimination (what they call “concerned” or “loving” nudges) was and is my least favorite part of a rural community. That being said, I loved living in a town that had a big sense of community that was mostly loving and always there for the neighbors.

What do you love best about the area? Being away now for several years, it’s funny how some of the things I disliked most are now some of the things that I miss most about living in Obion County. I love that I would run into someone I know no matter where I went in town. I loved the southern hospitality. I loved the parades, church events and Christmas tree lighting events at the courthouse (do they still do that?). I loved that friends were TRUE friends in small town Tennessee and not just acquaintances who like to get together only for parties. I loved the bonfires and the accountability a small town gives you.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community? We are not different. We shop at the same places, eat the same foods, worship the same god and care about the same needy people and animals that most of you do. The majority of the LGBTQ community doesn’t even like saying or typing all of those letters to “identify” ourselves. We have no interest or motive in harming your way of life – or your core beliefs. We are very happy that your families are growing, happy and healthy. Please practice what is preached… and let God be the judge.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone? You’re not alone. You are not sinful. You are not wrong. And you are loved. And you’ll see more and more of this truth as time goes on. In Christian rural areas where generation after generation are born and raised, it’s “natural” for some to see the LGBTQ community as “different” or “sinful”. Evolution of mind and heart, however, is happening. You can be ahead of the game in your area!

There’s nothing that kills negative thoughts and actions more than Love. Find that peace within YOU. Find the peaceful center. We’ve found, in our lives (both coming from small Tennessee towns), that when we walk into a room of straight “normal” people with full confidence and peace within ourselves… everyone wants to learn more about this light we shine. Be the light. Don’t even think about your sexuality and how others may perceive you. Just perceive them. See them. Don’t see them see you. It’ll change you and it’ll change 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.

mike-and-eric-2

Eric (right) and Mike (left) reside in Kansas City, MO with their rambunctious guinea pig, Clyde.

Who Claps for You?

Finding yourself, at any age, is a process. This was certainly the case for me as a gay teen in a small town. For me, it was a long painful process that lasted into my twenties. To be frank, the transition to adulthood sucked. I grew up in Troy, TN and like many, I struggled with my identity in high school. Early on, I felt different but could not articulate why. As I matured, I began to appreciate the things that made me unique. That happened over time and with a support system. While I didn’t come out until my twenties, those that came out in high school faced challenges. The ones that were happier had a support system in place. They included a combination of family, close friends, and involvement in extra-curricular activities. My involvement in the arts changed my life. When I came out, my strongest advocates were fellow musicians, people I met through music, and my brother. To paraphrase one of my mentors, look for those who clap for you. Those were the ones that clapped for me.

Brene Brown once said, “vulnerability is at the core, the center, of meaningful human experiences.” It takes a lot of courage to live an authentic life, regardless of orientation or identity. I remained in the closet for part of my college life and was fearful of rejection, loss, and being alone. I learned quickly that coming out strengthened the relationships that mattered, so I began investing in the people who accepted me for me. In my ten years teaching public school, I’ve seen students struggle with self identity. I will say that our the youth of today is much more accepting of diversity than it was when I began teaching and certainly when I was in high school. I believe the next few years will produce more accepting and caring people. You can help carry that torch to make sure that happens.

Over five years ago, I began conducting a church choir at East End United Methodist Church. The experience there changed my life in many ways. I’m not overtly religious, but it was the first time I’ve ever been involved in a church community that welcomed members with the creed “Come as You Are.” The pastor went out of her way to welcome me and my partner at the time. Through East End I met some wonderful people, including two of my best friends, Carl and Leo. Carl collects antiques and sings bass in the choir. Leo makes an awesome meal best served with a side of sarcasm. They’ve been together for over thirty years. In 2014, Carl invited me on a rafting trip with several gay and straight men. I was single at the time. Carl used the rafting trip to set me up with the love of my life, Mike Valentine. We went on an official date two days later and have been together ever since. Our relationship has had several ups and downs, but like every healthy relationship, we’ve worked our way through it together.

My message to my eighteen year-old self is that self identity is a fluid concept. I have embraced the fact that I will continue to evolve and change as long as I live. In fact I don’t think I’ll ever completely figure it out and I’m ok with that. I have chosen to surround myself with those who enrich my life. My advice to you is find a place that you’re happy, grow roots, and make a difference. BUT, before you can clap for others, you have to find out who claps for you.

 

What was it like for you to live in a rural community?

It was difficult for me, but I was still figuring myself out at that point. I felt different but could not articulate why. As I matured, I began to appreciate the things that made me unique. That happened over time with a support system and my involvement in the arts.

What do you love best about the area?

I liked being in a place where people knew your name. There’s a sense of security in that. Its harder to find that in Nashville or Kansas City.

What would you like for local residents to know about the LGBTQ community?

I would like to let local residents know that it is very difficult to be LGBTQ, especially in smaller communities. Simple things like public affection, displaying pictures of significant others on a work desk, social media, or simply being themselves could have been followed with fear or shame. Some of the most intelligent, creative, and resourceful people in the world come from the LGBTQ community. They deserve acceptance and equal rights.

What advice would you give to those in the area who may feel alone?

I’ve taught public schools for ten years and am currently going to graduate school in a music conservatory. One thing to keep in mind regarding high school or college is that you’re never alone and you should always feel that you are valued. It takes a lot of courage to live an authentic life, regardless of orientation or identity. My message to my eighteen year-old self is that self identity is a fluid concept. I have embraced the fact that I will continue to evolve and change as long as I live. In fact I don’t think I’ll ever completely figure it out and I’m ok with that. I have chosen to surround myself with those who enrich my life. My advice to you is find a place that you’re happy, grow roots, and make a difference.

 

 

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 – Eric