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LGBTQ+ groups provide support and raise awareness

Several area LGBTQ+ organizations strive to prevent discrimination as well as provide support, resources and a sense of belonging to members of the LGBTQ+ community who choose to use and get involved with those organizations.

PFLAG Morgantown is a chapter of the National PFLAG 501(c)3 nonprofit organization and shares the same mission as the overarching organization. PFLAG seeks to unite people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer with families, friends and allies. The organization is committed to advancing equality through its mission of support, education and advocacy.

PFLAG often hosts events aimed to educate locals about what it means to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community and how non-LGBTQ+ people can support the community. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PFLAG Morgantown will hold all meetings and socials virtually until further notice. Information about when events will take place and how to access them can be found on PFLAG Morgantown’s website.

The PFLAG website is also a wealth of information, education and resources regarding the LGBTQ+ community. The site offers materials and resources regarding being an ally, vocabulary, raising LGBTQ+ children, laws and policies, workplaces and religion and faith among other things.

Individuals who choose to become a PFLAG member can choose one of several annual membership levels, including student ($15 per year), household ($40 per year), gold ($75 per year plus one-time donation of $35) or platinum ($100 per year plus a one-time donation of $60).

Individuals who want to contribute to PFLAG Morgantown but do not wish to become a member can make a one-time donation to the organization via the organization’s website and PayPal. They can also choose to volunteer at a PFLAG event or choose PFLAG Morgantown to receive 0.5% of what they spend on Amazon purchases by shopping at Amazon Smile.

A representative of PFLAG Morgantown did not respond to attempts to reach them for comment.

Morgantown Pride is a local organization that provides social and educational resources for the LGBTQ+ community, friends and allies in Monongalia County. Its main focus is to sponsor and participate in events and programs that enrich the Morgantown community and affirm the value of LGBTQ+ individuals within the Morgantown community.

The organization frequently hosts fundraisers, rallies, vigils and social events for members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community to attend.

To support the organization, interested individuals can  join the Morgantown Pride Patreon and become a member, volunteer with the organization or share their positive experiences with the organization to help it grow its list of inclusive businesses in the community.

Ash Orr is the founder, former president and current outreach coordinator for Morgantown Pride — as well as chair of the Morgantown Human Rights Commission and LGBTQ liaison to Morgantown City Hall. They were brought onto the HRC last summer as a liaison for Morgantown Pride and worked their way up to being elected as chair.

They are the first nonbinary transgender chair member of the Morgantown HRC.

Orr founded Morgantown Pride in 2019. The organization was meant to facilitate queer advocacy and create a community space for queer people in the area to come together, feel safe and have access to resources.

Orr believes that Morgantown is an inclusive city, evidenced by its nondiscrimination ordinance and its council’s reception of ideas of other ordinances that would further extend those protections.

“In terms of Morgantown, I do feel that it is relatively safe to be a queer person here — especially in comparison to other parts of our state,” Orr said.

They said that they believe the biggest challenge faced by the LGBTQ+ community today in the state as a whole is struggling with validation and acknowledgement that the community exists.

Orr said it’s difficult to see politicians across the state actively pushing laws and bills that are against the queer community. Acceptance, validation and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals are threatened persistently.

The City of Morgantown should continue to listen to its minority communities and work with them to address their needs and concerns, Orr said. Municipalities like Morgantown that do listen to the LGBTQ+ community and do work to make the environment safer for them can serve as a beacon of hope and possibly put pressure on other municipalities, which would in turn put pressure on politicians in Charleston, to pass more progressive and protective laws.

“In terms of the entire state of West Virginia, we need better representation,” Orr said.

Monongalia County is fortunate to have strong delegates that support the LGBTQ+ community and actively lift them up and try to work with them. Orr said we need more representation like that in the state as a whole, because when you get to Charleston, there is a lot of opposition.

“We just need more allies and more queer individuals either running for office or getting involved to overturn these corrupt politicians. I feel like that’s the only way things are going to get better,” they said.

West Virginia University’s LGBTQ Center provides programming and academic resources for university students, faculty, staff and community members. The center supports the university’s educational social justice efforts through training, classes and advocacy on WVU campuses and across the state. The center focuses on addressing all aspects of inequality when contending with LGBTQ-related inequities, including

homophobia, transphobia, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, ableism and more.

The center also provides a comfortable atmosphere for organizing, socializing, teaching and learning.

The LGBTQ Center offers inclusive programming and outreach initiatives. It collaborates with and supports the university’s larger social justice efforts by providing inclusive, academic and curricular development training on all campuses by advocating for members of the community and by building coalitions. It also works throughout the state to improve understanding of LGBTQIA+ issues.

Students are encouraged to use the LGBTQ+ Center lounge for studying, meeting friends, working on class projects, watching documentaries and more. The center offers additional meeting spaces and snacks as well.

Brad Grimes, program specialist with the WVU LGBTQ+ Center and Women’s Resource Center, said that the center is happy to do anything that it can to help students get the resolutions, supportive measures and the outcomes necessary to make them feel safe and welcome on campus.

To Grimes, the center’s most significant contribution to supporting the LGBTQ+ community is fostering a positive, affirming and inclusive campus for its LGBTQ+ community as well as educating others who do not identify as LGBTQ+ on how to be more informed, more accepting and better allies and colleagues.

“The education and the advocacy — those are our biggest achievements,” Grimes said.

He said  the LGBTQ+ community can also work to better support other members of the community by building community within the huge LGBTQ+ umbrella; fighting racism and being more inclusive of LGBTQ+ people of color; keeping an eye on each other and reporting instances of discrimination, harassment or abuse; as well as mentoring other members of the community and listening or seeking to understand other members of the community as often as possible.

Grimes said, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, it took him 40 years to fully comprehend some very important lessons regarding being a member of the LGTBQ+ community and what Pride Month is all about.

“Love yourself. Celebrate your uniqueness and who you are. Refuse to be shamed or diminished because of who you are or who you love, because who you are is amazing. It does get better. You are not alone.”

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