The real victims of the culture war

Published 11:37 am Thursday, March 23, 2023

By Andi Stephenson

Guest Columnist

I could fill these pages with statistics about LGBTQ+ youth, whether it be rates of suicide, homelessness, or risk reduction. I could also fill these pages with Bible verses and religious anecdotes about loving your neighbor and the golden rule. However, I won’t be doing that, instead, I want to speak on the culture war at hand and the next steps forward not only as a society but as a community.

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Our state and community have many issues facing it currently. Our neighbors to the east and west of us have experienced devastating natural disasters in the past two years, with many living in tents and FEMA trailers. Kentucky ranks first in the nation in child abuse and neglect cases. We are facing an unprecedented teacher and medical provider shortage. The cost of living has skyrocketed with inflation, exacerbating the need for affordable housing which was already drastically lacking. Our youth are dying from gun violence left and right. None of these issues seemed to be a priority to the Kentucky General Assembly during its 2023 session. Instead, they have focused on targeting queer Kentuckians, specifically queer children.

As someone who grew up as a queer kid in Winchester, I want to tell you how I felt, as I can’t and won’t speak for others. I realized I was different from a very early age, though at first, I didn’t understand what was happening. That was until I read a book with gay characters. Let me be clear, this book did not make me gay. It just allowed me to understand myself. Unfortunately, this initially wasn’t a positive realization, as I was surrounded by Christian conservative rhetoric that was not friendly to the queer community. I spent many of my formative years crying and praying to God to “fix me.” I begged, made promises, and did anything I could not to be myself. Eventually, this led me to decide to end my life, thankfully, that attempt was unsuccessful, and I could begin processing who I was and allowing myself to discover my identity in adulthood.

In some ways, our society and community have progressed so that being a young queer kid in Winchester isn’t always as lonely or isolating as it once was. There is more representation in media, whether in books, movies, TV, though there has also been an increase in visible representation in our community. Winchester has a strong LGBTQ+ community, including a significant number of allies. I hope this increase in representation and visibility allows these children to know they are not alone and are cared about and loved unconditionally.

A child does not need to be protected from a book about gay penguins or the knowledge of the existence of people and cultures that are different from them. The children of our community need to be sheltered from the hateful and decisive rhetoric of the current culture war. Because the doctors, teachers, and activists aren’t the ones that will suffer the most from these laws and arguments, it will be the children.

I’m calling on my community to look beyond Red and Blue, sit down and reflect on what we want our community to look like in five, ten, twenty years? It is beyond time to sit down and talk about the real issues impacting our community instead of going back in time and attacking marginalized communities.