There are several organizations in West Virginia that advocate on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender community. Now, a new center in Beckley hopes to encourage communication between them and the gay population of the southern part of the state.
The West Virginia Gay and Lesbian Community Center is a non-profit organization that hopes to bring about communication among the different organizations in West Virginia that focus on gay rights.
Robert Dunlap is a lawyer in Beckley and an adjunct professor at Concord University. He helped cofound the organization and currently serves as its president.
“We really have a strong commitment to seeing Beckley be a more conducive place,
Dunlap said. “I mean frankly there’s not a focus on young gay West Virginians or older gay West Virginians. It’s something we’re reaching out widespread, across the strata.”
To help make Beckley a place of communication, the WVGLCC hopes to team up with other organizations across the state including Fairness West Virginia, West Virginia Equal, and PFLAG, which stands for Parents, Families Friends and Allies United with LGBT people. He claims only identify with what he calls ‘niche groups.’ Dunlap thinks Beckley also seemed like the ideal location because of the central location: it’s within a 45 to 50 minute drive from most of West Virginia’s largest cities.
Homelessness among LGBT youth is one issue the group plans on tackling. The National Coalition for the Homeless reports that 20 percent of the homeless population in this country are so because they’ve been rejected by their families.
Vice President Hannah Barker says she knows firsthand those who have been turned away.
“On a personal experience, many of my friends that I’ve had have come out to their families and they have been kicked out of their houses,” she said. “Stemming off that, many of their friends have had the same experience”
Not only that, but LGBT youth have been known to skip school because they’re bullied, affecting their academic future. The Center wants to better educate the schools and colleges around the state. But Barker realizes some of the roadblocks of acceptance from public schools.
“I feel that it is going to be a challenge.” Barker said, “But ultimately I hope that we can help the school, kind of give them information, help them understand, hey this is a really big issue that’s happening and it’s really important for young people to have the resources they need so they can continue going to school and have the normal resources any teenager would have.”
Another advocacy mission the new group hopes to take on is HIV prevention. The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources reports that there are just under 2,000 people living with HIV/AIDs in the state. The Center was recently given 5 thousand OraQuick testing units with the hopes of providing free, confidential testing. The center also hopes to provide post diagnostic testing.
Mike Adkins has two friends with HIV and says that most West Virginians are in the dark about the disease.
“People here really have no information of HIV,” Adkins said. “They’re not educated in it. They’re still fearful of what it means, thinking, ‘oh my god I can catch it by touching.’
So, why do these people choose to stay in West Virginia?
“Really we’re just happy to be here,” Dunlap said. “But we look after our own. We have a community that hasn’t always been present in Beckley. In Appalachia.”
Kathrine is a mother of an LGBT-identifying teen in the organization. She agreed with Dunlap’s sentiment.
“Why does the state want to throw out productive people,” she asked. “We have a hard enough time with the image in this state. You’ve got smart people, you’re going to make them leave when this state needs educated, competent people.”