I'd like to start this off by thanking GAMA, Executive Director John Stacy, President Eric Price, and the rest of the GAMA Board for allowing me to speak and express my concerns during the recent board meeting that took place during GAMA EXPO. If you were not in attendance I understand there is a video somewhere in the world, I've not seen it, but it exists.
(I also can't seem to find minutes from recent board meetings, with the most recently available minutes being from July of 2021, where the meeting was closed, and minutes note that the meeting ended in a closed session. This is something I shall endeavor to discover more about, because I wish I had these minutes available as I write this.)
At the meeting I spoke out about my deep concerns about going to Kentucky. For an organization that spends a lot of time working on DEI initiatives, paying tax dollars to Kentucky feels like a terrible joke, and that really is what this is about for me. The Kentucky legislature is deeply bigoted. Is every member? No. Of course not. But, enough of them are that the state laws in Kentucky become more and more deeply bigoted on an annual basis, with no sign of sliding back towards anything that resembles freedom of thought or a belief in basic human decency.
Kentucky is blazing a trail towards fascism that makes its neighbors jealous (no, seriously, look at state legislatures in Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio, as they try to steal ideas from Kentucky). Kentucky law restricts discussion of LGBTQ issues in any school, at any age. Kentucky law restricts transgender students from any athletics participation, and tells them which bathrooms they are forced to use. Kentucky law bans healthcare for transgender youth, and bans Medicaid coverage for transgender persons. Kentucky has enhancement laws that punish people for carrying HIV. Kentucky has laws against changing gender on your drivers license or birth certificate, and does not offer a gender neutral option for either.
Frankly, Kentucky is a dangerous place to be a part of the queer community.
We haven't even discussed women's rights. Kentucky once was at the forefront of passing the 19th Amendment, but now works hard to turn back any progress. With the overturn of Roe v Wade courts in Kentucky allowed a six week abortion ban to take effect, and have already threatened prosecution for doctors who assist in a miscarriage. Kentucky technically allows an exemption to save the life of the mother, but they've forced every abortion provider out of the state, so please don't come to GAMA EXPO if you're early in your pregnancy, or it may be at risk. Kentucky could literally be a death sentence.
Should we talk about the deep-rooted racism in Kentucky? We could kick it truly old school here if we felt like it, because Kentucky voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964. We could also talk about a prison system that is more than 22% African American, in a state that is less than 9% African American. Should we talk about these things? Systemic racism is a national problem we should always be talking about, and probably not something I can fix in my lifetime, but I'm not going to stop talking about it anyway. While Kentucky was far from the only state full of Sundown Towns, Kentucky is a place where there are rumored to STILL be Sundown Towns. The signs don't exist anymore, but the census data sure suggests they might still be hidden where only certain folks can see them.
Kentucky is a dangerous place to be anything other than a cis-het, white, man. It helps if you're also an Evangelical Protestant. This is okay though, because we can defend ourselves easily while we're in Kentucky, a state that happily allows anyone who can buy a gun, to carry it concealed. Who can buy a gun in Kentucky? Well, pretty much anyone! There is no universal background check. There are no licenses required to purchase a gun. There are no waiting periods. You can purchase high capacity magazines to go into your assault rifle and carry that thing openly across your chest pretty much anywhere the hell you feel like it.
I wonder if Kentucky being 14th in gun-related deaths is related to these things?
No, surely the problem can't ACTUALLY be the MOTHERFUCKING GUNS! (Yes, yes it can.)
So that's where we are with GAMA EXPO in 2024. I'm thankful the organization allowed me to share some of my concerns, and there was a motion passed during the meeting that GAMA would issue a statement about why we're going to Kentucky, and what we can or might be able to do to mitigate some of this damage.
I want to thank Grace Collins of Snowbright Studio for bringing that motion to the board, and I look forward to hearing about what ideas the board may have for mitigating the damage to not only our membership, but the queer community of Kentucky.
I would like to be able to go back into meeting minutes and see what was discussed in the past, but as I mentioned earlier, I can't see the minutes from meetings for the last two years or so. Has a lawyer been involved? Have we threatened a lawsuit? Has the contract been shared with membership? What happens if we fail to meet a certain attendance requirement? Can we get out of this contract by all staying home next year? I'm willing to make that sacrifice.
I know that I've complained a lot about this issue, and I'm going to keep complaining, because frankly, I can. I am one of those cis-het white men who is perfectly safe in Kentucky. Being middle class, having grown up in a Catholic household, getting to attend college, I'm a part of the most privileged group of people to ever walk this planet. I didn't hit a triple, I was born on third base and scored when someone else hit a sac fly. If people born with privilege refuse to use it to do even one useful thing, they can fuck right the hell off. So, I'm using my privilege to write about this.
I also attended the meeting the next morning and offered my services to the Site Selection Committee, and am willing to serve on that committee to make sure that I don't feel the need to complain again.
Honestly, I'm not completely sure there is anything that can be done to get me to Kentucky, a place where members of my staff would be persecuted for existing, and where many of my customers would be unsafe. If GAMA can come up with ways to mitigate the damage being done to queer communities, we can talk about it, so let me share some ideas: Classes on DEI in our stores, taught by Kentucky members of those communities. How do we make the queer community comfortable in places they might not feel comfortable?
Charitable donations? How about money to Fairness Campaign or PFLAG in Kentucky? If I'm going to have to contribute hundreds of tax dollars to this shitty state government, maybe the organization could find tens of thousands of dollars to give to organizations fighting for queer rights in Kentucky.
I look forward to discussing solutions. I look forward to GAMA's statement by 1 June. I hope that GAMA will extend to me the honor of sitting on the Site Selection Committee going forward so that we only have to find solutions to these problems for this one moment in time, not for the next site as well.