Tuesday, October 20

LGBTQ+ Support Grows in the Mid-Ohio Valley

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by Ilona Westfall

It’s no surprise that regions outside of Ohio’s big cities often have fewer resources for LGBTQ+ residents than their more urban neighbors. But when Out MOV formed in September 2019, the Mid-Ohio Valley area gained an invaluable LGBTQ+ resource. Serving the region around Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, West Virginia, the non-profit hosts events, spearheads LGBTQ+-inclusive political advocacy, and even sponsored and distributed a report on LGBTQ+ youth in the region penned by Danielle Thrasher,  an 18-year-old member of the Out MOV Board of Directors. We spoke with Out MOV president, Jeanne Peters, about why the work they do is so important and how you can help.

What is the Mid-Ohio Valley region like and how does Out MOV fit in?
The Ohio Valley encompasses Wood County, West Virginia and Washington County, Ohio. We’re right across the Ohio River from each other. Most people think of Marietta, Ohio and Parkersburg, West Virginia as being the center. It’s a fairly conservative area and it has been a difficult area for many LGBTQ people to live. Out MOV was formed to provide an organization that worked on both sides of the river, that brought our community together: to work with our community to provide educational outreach inside and outside of our community, [to create]social events that we can build our community., and also to do advocacy and activism on behalf of our community. Out MOV has sponsored everything from bonfires to participating in health fairs to going to the state capitol in Charleston to lobby.

Out MOV was formed to be intentionally intersectional. From the very beginning, we recognized it wasn’t enough to lift up and develop our own community in a silo. So we’ve made an effort to be accessible to people without regard to race, but also without regard to finances, so when we have events we always make them free or low cost, especially in this area [where]we recognize that so many LGBTQ community members struggle financially. The poverty level is quite high in Wood County. Our community members are often lesbians who have a double burden in terms of economics. They’re women and they’re working class and they’re raising families. So we try to make sure that we go above and beyond just having rainbow-themed events.

How available are resources for LGBTQ+ folx in the region?
Not very. Over the years—as in many places—the gay bars here served as community centers. That was true across the country. It was the place where you got info in the days before social media. We no longer have a single bar in either of these areas. No gay bars at all. We don’t have what would be a natural meeting place to disseminate information. So it has become the responsibility of us in the community to spread local news and to work on local and statewide issues, as well as national issues.

What change is needed there?
One of our priorities is to provide resources for LGBTQ youth. There is a tremendous amount of bullying in the schools here. It’s a 24/7 problem for some of these young people. One of our concerns is to make sure that we start developing a network that can be helpful to them, so it’s not only a safe space for them, but to help them be brave in their own lives. That’s part of our long-term planning, a lot of which got sidelined this year. Danielle Thrasher, one of our board members did a great study about LGBTQ youth here. It was the result of a State senator saying there’s no empirical data that proves the fact that young people leave West Virginia due to lack of equality. It is something that comes up over and over again and we get lots of contacts from young people and from parents. Another priority is there are people here who can’t afford to be out. I hope that it’s going to get better with the new SCOTUS ruling. Given that we don’t have [nondiscrimination protections]in either county or any of the local cities, I hope that those people will see that there are people who are advocating on their behalf. And also will feel safe to come into our spaces that we create.

How can people support your mission?
We hope that they’ll follow our Facebook page so that they can keep informed about issues that are happening locally and events that we’re sponsoring. We also hope, and I’ll just come right out and say, that they will go to our page OutMOV.org and donate. For us, fundraising is a challenge. Like most small LGBTQ organizations, we just sort of get by with our own pockets at this point. More funding will enable us to do more educational programs in particular. We have requests from teachers across the area to bring in training programs to help them be more sensitive to LGBTQ students. We have requests from business owners to bring in training programs so they know how to be more respectful to their LGBTQ clients and customers.  But in order to make those realities, there’s always at least some small expense involved in it. Any funding that comes in to us allows us to continue expanding the educational process. Representation matters so much. If we can go into schools, as LGBTQ people, and speak to teachers and administrators, it has the potential to move them because we’re no longer an abstract. We’re real people. Funding is vitally important for us to continue to do our work.

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Ilona Westfall is a Cleveland-based freelance writer. When she’s not penning articles for a variety of northeast Ohio publications, she’s roller skating with Burning River Roller Derby, rolling d20s with her D&D group, or getting muddy in the woods. Follow her on twitter @IlonaWestfall. 

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