Chill Out and Proud enjoys a peaceful, positive day

Oct. 27—Celebrating a return to an in-person festival, PFLAG, which provides support to queer individuals and their family and friends, hosted the "Chill Out and Proud" event on Somerset Community College's Campus.

The event took place in SCC's Festival Field which has, in the past, hosted events of all sorts.

Many people attended, including several in costume who were getting in the Halloween spirit. The vendors also gave out candy to attendees along with goodies and rainbow flags. Non-binary singer Larah Helayne strummed the banjo and played songs from both Americana and Folk genres. Drag performers also danced and lip-synced to fun and spooky songs.

President of PFLAG Somerset Kat Moses was the lead organizer of Out and Proud Somerset celebrated the growth of the event.

"We are the premiere Pride festival of South-Central Kentucky," she said. "We did our first festival in 2019. That's also when our PFLAG board was founded. And we did two years of virtual during our COVID isolation times. So this is actually our first year back in person, but our fourth annual Chill Out event."

The first Chill Out event was held in the downtown Somerset Judicial Plaza, which saw some friction. However, with the move to SCC's campus, there came a much more soothing atmosphere.

"Part of the move to a larger venue was to accommodate more activities, more entertainers, but also to provide an added layer of security and safety. So we get much less interruptions," Moses said. "I think there's a misconception that there aren't queer people in Kentucky or in rural communities, which certainly isn't true. The Lake Cumberland region has a vibrant queer community."

Part of the reason for this event is to spread to spread awareness of queer issues to Pulaski Countians. After the Fairness Ordinance was struck down in 2019, the LGBT community of Pulaski County formed groups to increase visibility.

"The Fairness Ordinance provides protections for the community that it covers from housing and employment discrimination. It ensures queer folks don't experience that in areas where there is the ordinance," Moses explained. "There are a variety of [queer-friendly] communities in Kentucky, but our Somerset City Council voted not to become one of the communities that provides that to their citizens. And unfortunately due to the current landscape, housing and employment discrimination are not illegal. So our folks in this community experience that all the time... I have rented previously and had to create a second bedroom and say that I had a roommate instead of having a partner because our landlord was not LGBTQ-friendly, and could perhaps choose to evict us as result of our relationship."

Despite the struggles many queer folks experience in Pulaski County, Moses said she was pleasantly surprised by the amount of respect and love she received when organizing the event.

"Back in 2019, we sort of assumed that we would face more barriers than we would embraces, and I actually don't think that happened," she said. "For every hurdle that came up, there were three folks standing in our corner that said 'No, let us take care of that. Here's some money, here's some resources. Or here's someone who can do that for you.' So our community really rallied around us, and showed us that they wanted this event to happen."

Moses seeks to help Pulaski Countians who may not understand queer identity to find common ground with the LGBT community.

"We try to remain very true to the Somerset feel and the art and folk vibe that our citizens enjoy versus a maybe more a larger, louder, and more flashy Lexington festival, because that's their vibe. We like to think we offer our community what their interests are," she said.

Moses named many booths that she was very happy to see including Adanta and Bethany House who provide mental healthcare to the people of Pulaski County. Mental healthcare is invaluable to LGBT+ folk who often struggle with mental health issues and substance abuse. Moses also thanked SCC for providing the venue and even had a booth at the event where students went to sign up.

The organization that Moses was quickest to name, though, was Free Mom Hugs Kentucky.

"Free Mom Hugs Kentucky is here. They are a non-profit organization that openly support their children and community with hugs and love and affirmations. They were crucial in our 2019 event for providing an affirming space," she said.

Heather Huber is a teacher at Northern Middle School and helped run the booth and offered a tight hug to everyone in attendance.

"I give free mom hugs to anybody who needs it or asks for it," she said. "It's a dire need. These kids and adults didn't have the support they needed growing up, and we're just trying to provide that."

Also in attendance were two members of the Kentucky Fried Sisters: Convent of the Thoroughly Bred & Breaded. Sister Coriander Spice gave a breakdown of the goals of the organization.

"Kentucky Fried Sister is a Chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence or SPI. Our overall goal is to promulgate joy and expiate stigmatic guilt," she said. "That's a lot of really large words for basically saying we go into the community looking as out there as possible to help other people feel comfortable being themselves. There's a lot of psychology around it as well. Essentially if you see someone in a room kind of more boisterous, more louder, or what you perceive as weirder than you, then there's somebody else already taking up that space of being like... 'the weird person.' And so you can kind of feel more comfortable being authentically yourself and kind of embracing your identity, because someone is already kind of way from the anxiety."

Sister Spice was born and raised in Somerset and remembered having a hard time feeling accepted.

"I'm from Somerset originally, and I actually as a child did the whole 'pray the gay away' thing," she said. "In one of my moments, I went and saw a preacher who had interviewed the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco. His message was essentially 'being queer is a life of sin and you'll burn in hell for it.' I didn't get that message, because I was listening to the sisters that he was interviewing. And it actually gave me permission to be myself. Fast forward like 15 years and one of my friends was asking to help him found a house in Lexington. After doing research, I was like 'holy s---! This is what helped me not feel so alone.' So I was like 'sign me up! Let's do it!'"

Religion played a key part in the lives of many of the event attendees. India Hammond of the University of Kentucky helped represent St. Patrick's Episcopal Church.

"Our church is open and affirming. Not only do we welcome everyone but we also do LGBT weddings, and we also ordain LGBT clergy. We're located in downtown Somerset, and we're happy to have anyone come and join us," said Hammond.

They ordained a queer minister almost 20 years ago, so they feel they are spearheading LGBT+ progress in Somerset.

"This is such an important outreach opportunity, because there are so many LGBT youth that feel outcast and ostracized by society. They don't feel like that they have a church that they can go to. They don't feel welcome," said Hammond. "As a lesbian not only have I felt shunned by so many organizations, but also sometimes [we're shunned] by our families and by the community at large. So [St. Patrick's] is a safe space, and we're just saying 'We're here. We're here for you.'"

PFLAG hosts a support meeting on the fourth Thursday of each month in the Pulaski County Public Library and the doors are open to all.

"It's an opportunity for everyone to learn from each other," said Moses.