Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Huntington is a Safe Haven for the LGBTQ+ Community

Wade Sullivan
Wade Sullivan

Historically, queer people in West Virginia have had a hard time living their lives without facing discrimination. As someone who has grown up in Parkersburg, I have seen this firsthand when friends of mine have been refused service at places of business simply for their sexual orientation.

As someone who has never faced discrimination of any type as a straight, white man, I wanted to investigate how this discrimination has affected the lives of those in the queer community. However, through my investigation and different interviews, I discovered that in a state that is seen as generally unsafe for members of the queer community, Huntington is somewhat of a safe haven.

One of the people that I met during my investigation was Andi Hardesty, a non-binary drag performer based in Huntington who uses they/them pronouns. They said that Huntington is the best place to come out as queer in West Virginia due to the city-wide support around the community.

“During the initial wave of Roe v. Wade protests,” Hardesty said, “there was a lot of community support, specifically for queer people in Huntington, and I loved to see it, especially from city leaders.” 

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Huntington is more queer-friendly than other cities in the state, scoring a perfect 100 on the Municipal Equality Index taken by the Human Rights Campaign. It is the fifth year in a row that Huntington has scored a perfect 100, and it is the only city in West Virginia other than Morgantown to receive such high grades on the index.

According to Hardesty, with a lot of young people coming in and out of Huntington because of Marshall, it helps the local community more easily digest people who may be different. Oher Huntington community members agree, including Huntington Pride founding member Jody Perry.

Perry, who came out as gay in 1996 while a student at Marshall, remembers his time at school when Huntington wasn’t known for its inclusivity like it is today. Before coming out, he said he “sat back and watched” all kinds of protests against the queer community on campus. 

“On Fridays, you wore jeans to support the LGBTQ community,” Perry said. “It turned out we had a lot more people who were wearing camouflage pants to school than we did wearing jeans.” 

Perry said Huntington Mayor Stephen T. Williams is pro-LGBTQ, and he provides resources and helps the community in any way he can. Perry also said that there is outward support toward the queer community across most aspects of the city’s leadership.

Hardesty, meanwhile, said that there have been times that they were proud to be from Huntington, as leadership has continuously shown support for the community—especially recently.

“I have seen lots of stuff coming directly from the city of Huntington on Facebook and on Twitter about their open and enthusiastic support of queer folk in the tri-state area,” Hardesty said. “It really is nice to see.”

The community support surrounding the queer community is just as, if not more supportive than, that of the city leaders. This is particularly apparent in spaces designed with queer people in mind, such as Stonewall: a bar located in Huntington that serves as a meeting space for anyone, not just people in the LGBTQ community.

As a drag performer, Hardesty has traveled all over the state to perform and always comes back to Stonewall.  

“I’ve been to Stonewall on nights where I’ve run into people who were like, ‘Yeah, I’ve come up all the way from this place from Tennessee or this place in Virginia because I’ve heard this place is great,’” Hardesty said. “I’ve worked with girls there who have traveled from Lewisburg or Charleston and even from other states. They come from just about everywhere, and I think it makes it a more inclusive environment.”

As the state of West Virginia is continuously pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation Huntington is actively pushing back on that sentiment. Hardesty, during their time traveling all over the state to perform, said that Huntington is the place to go for queer inclusivity and support more than anywhere else in West Virginia.

Whether that has been on personal business or to perform at a drag show, Hardesty said Huntington is “a beacon of light in a state that is still very much dark.”

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