Let’s be clear: Kim Williams does not live in Ohio, nor is she running for office in Ohio.
But fear not! The Buckeye Flame is not going off-brand from our exclusive focus on LGBTQ+ Ohio. Life is just a bit different in the Mid-Ohio Valley where that corner of Ohio and West Virginia really do work hand-in-hand.
“It’s just that mighty Ohio river that separates us,” laughs Williams. “Yes, we’re two different states, but we’re all one community.”
A proud West Virginia native, Williams is running for Vienna City Council. She is the first openly queer person to run for office in Wood County, and if successful, would be one of very few out people ever elected in the entire state of West Virginia.
This week, she was the target of a homophobic attack on social media designed to use her sexual orientation to both stoke fear in the community and well as to discredit her candidacy. We spoke with Williams about LGBTQ+ life in that part of Appalachia and how the homophobic post triggered quite the opposite response than the antigay attacker intended.
For people who have never visited, how would you describe LGBTQ+ life in your geographic area?
It’s not very good, but It’s changing. There are a lot of people who are trying to support LGBTQ folks and to make it a more welcoming community. A few years ago, we had a nondiscrimination ordinance in Parkersburg that came before the city council. It would have provided protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. It was a big fight, it was ugly, and it went on for months. In the end, the city council voted down that ordinance and were the only city in West Virginia to vote down such a proposed ordinance.
As a result of all that, the LGBTQ community banded together. We formed Parkersburg Pride, a 501c3 LGBTQ+ nonprofit, and that enabled us to do a lot of things in our community. We’ve had Pride Parades, we’ve had community clean-ups, and we had food drives. We even got a permanent endowment fund with Parkersburg Area Community Foundation.
All those positives things needed to come out of it. Because this little community needed to be shaken up a little bit. There needed to be recognition to acknowledge queer people who are your family members, your neighbors, and your coworkers. Visibility and representation really do matter.
Why and Vienna City Council and why now?
I’m a Vienna native. I was raised in Vienna, I have a local business right in the heart of town, and I love Vienna. I’m almost 53 years old, have a lot of business experience, and I really want to serve my community. As with any small town, we have a lot of challenges but we also have a lot of opportunities. We need new people in leadership, people who are prepared to help guide the city in the right way moving forward. I believe I can do that. I had never done public service before, but I know I have a lot to offer and can give back to the community.
When elected, what are your priorities?
It always boils down to the same things with the priorities of a small town. Number one is addressing aging infrastructure. We have drainage issues that cause flooding in parts of our community and have resulted in damage to people’s homes. We have some bridges that are deteriorating. I really want to work on a plan to get those fixed. With regard to budgets, we’ve kind of lost our way as far as financial responsibility goes in Vienna, in my opinion.
It’s the boring stuff really. But as a person, I’m really wonky. I really love researching problems, thinking about them, collaborating with people, and coming up with solutions. It’s not a big buzzword that’s going to get people excited, but I’m all about the nuts and bolts of how the city runs and how you can make the community a great place to live.
So this homophobic post attacking you goes up, and the responses–some negative, but most were positive–come flooding in. What’s it like to be the person at the center of all of that?
First of all, I want to say, I am completely humbled by all the support that I got. It was pouring in and it was unbelievable. I’m tearing up just talking about it. I got calls and messages from people I didn’t even know and it was so encouraging. I was at a city council meeting last night and I had people come up to me and were so offended by what happened. People apologized to me and apologized that I had to go through that. They were disheartened that someone would come out with such hate and such homophobia.
Me personally, I was not surprised. When we were involved in the Parkersburg nondiscrimination ordinance, there were so many cruel things that were said in those council chambers. They compared us to pedophiles, much like this post did like attributing “grooming children” to me. They said nasty things about LGBTQ people and especially trans people. Those awful evil things that they said week-in, week-out for months were never covered in the newspaper. It was so degrading. It was so draining. Councilman Eric Barber was the source of so much of that. He was the one who attacked me.
I wish people could have seen back then how LGBTQ people were being treated and had talked to those people in the ways they have talked to and supported me over the past few days.
I’m pretty much desensitized to it at this point. I am who I am. Like I said, I’m 53 years old. I’m a lesbian. I’ve been around the block a time or two. You’re not going to make me cry. But the effect these homophobic attacks have on our young people really, really concerns me. I was very pleased that that post got the reach that it did because it’s affirming, especially for young people to see, “Ok, she’s got this.”
This is how we handle bullies. I didn’t stoop down to this level, and I would never do that. So it’s been a whirlwind of a couple of days trying to figure it all out, because it’s a lot of emotion. I didn’t expect the amount of support I got. It was overwhelming.