Guest Essays, Opinion

Guest essay: Importance of Pride in rural West Virginia

by Rebekah Beane-Hollers

When you think of Pride, what do you think of? Is it the parades? Is it the picnics? Perhaps it’s the special events at your local bars, clubs or restaurants? Or maybe you think of the rainbows; rainbows all over your city. Do you ever think of the LGBTQ folks in rural areas of West Virginia? Have you ever considered what Pride Month means to them?

LGBTQ residents of rural West Virginia have a completely different experience than those of Charleston, Morgantown, Huntington and other urban communities. Most of us are aware of this contrast, but how does that translate into action during Pride Month? While folks are enjoying the festivities and heightened awareness June provides; let us not forget about our LGBTQ family out in country communities throughout our State.

While it isn’t always easy to be LGBTQ in any space, we must recognize that some environments possess privilege that others do not. Simply flying a pride flag is a much weightier consideration in provincial settings. When it comes to employment, many seek to hide their true identity in fear of losing their job. Conditions that many in urban areas take for granted are daily concerns for the rural queer.

Recently, an establishment in Braxton County saw this dichotomy come to life at their door. Adam Tanner opened The Annabelle a little over a year ago in Gassaway. Its slogan “Come as you are” came to mean a safe place for the county’s LGBTQ people and allies. Many youth especially, found it to be a space where they could be accepted.

Several Braxton residents expressed what this space means to them. Ginger Crow of Braxton County stated, “We have several members of our family and friends that are of the LGBTQ community. Here at The Annabelle, there is no judgment, just acceptance.” Sixteen-year-old Abigail went on to say, “This is the only place around here that I know for a fact I’m protected from people who want to hurt me or put me down because of how I identify.”

However, the mission of Tanner and others with The Annabelle has not gone without opposition from the community’s religious zealots. While these folks are few in number, they are loud and persistent. Tanner explained, “It all started when I hired a close friend as a waiter, who happens to be openly homosexual. That is when the attacks started.”

Tanner went on to say he was told in no uncertain terms that the harassment would not let up as long as he employed and served LGBTQ people. Tanner has continued to stand up against hate in this small town, though it has been incredibly difficult for his staff, his family and himself. “We cannot allow hate to win,” he says.

Braxton County will have the very first Pride event in history, sponsored by The Annabelle, later this month. Since the announcement, the verbal attacks have increased, and Tanner was even served with a notice from the Braxton County Health Department regarding repairs that must be made before the end of the month.

Pride in rural West Virginia is a tough beat. The experiences of those in Braxton County are not isolated but a symptom of a larger issue throughout the hills and hollers of our beloved state.

Urban LGBTQ folks need to stand up beside their rural LGBTQ extended family in solidarity this Pride season. While you are enjoying your parades, parties and events; take a moment and think of those who live outside the city. Pride should not know a zip code. Pride should be all inclusive, for every West Virginian.

The bravery of those in the country to rise up and say “yes! I am queer!” is phenomenal. Let’s all recognize it. Let’s all celebrate it; and let us all support those who are struggling to be themselves in the communities they live.

Rebekah Beane-Hollers is an LGBTQ+ advocate who graduated from West Virginia University in 2007. She previously lived in Charleston and now lives in Braxton County.