For members of the LGBTQ+ community, the Appalachian area is a rough place to live. Currently, there are no protections for one’s sexual orientation or gender identity. There was a bill was passed by the Senate momentarily through in March 2009, but was vetoed later in the month by the House. This bill was introduced on and off into 2013.
West Virginia is the only state that is fully considered Appalachia, which is largely immersed in poverty. This affects resources that are available to people medically, educationally and especially sexually. While same-sex marriage is now legalized in all 50 states, there is still a strain on the members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Recently, I felt as if it were necessary to interview someone who resides in West Virginia and faces these struggles. Devin Yano, an 18-year-old gay man living in Wellsburg, was the perfect candidate. Devin, who currently studies at West Liberty University, answered my questions with a really positive outlook and was hopeful for the future of LGBTQ+ in West Virginia.
“I vaguely always remembering thinking boys were cuter than girls but really came to terms with it my sophomore year of high school,” Devin told me. “I don’t exactly remember when I told my parents but I do know it was summer. I told my mom about a week before I told my dad.” He said that he received a generally positive reception from family members and friends, which made me smile; this is something that is uncommon in West Virginia. Brooke County, where Devin lives, is at the northern part of the state; most people who are anti-LGBTQ+ live in the southern most region. “I’ve had some people yell names at me in the hallway at school, and I’ve had a friend’s dad kick me out of their house because of my sexuality; that’s the worst it’s been,” he said.
“It’s not necessarily the worst state for advocation, but it definitely isn’t the best.” He admitted. Donald Trump, who won the popular vote in West Virginia (a red state) has scared many members of LGBTQ+ who want to pursue marriage.
The final verdict? Appalachia can do better. While things aren’t moving backwards, they aren’t exactly moving forward; it sits at a standstill. Many universities in West Virginia, including West Virginia University, Marshall University and West Liberty University all have LGBTQ+ centers that students are welcome to access. Fairness, a civil rights advocacy group focusing on LGBTQ+ has offices located in Grafton, Martinsburg, Lewisburg, Charles Town, Beckley, Alkins and Wheeling.