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How a gay journalist is redefining the face of queer Kentucky

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Spencer Jenkins, the founder of Queer Kentucky, moved to New York City in January 2023 after spending all his life in Louisville, Kentucky, which he clarifies to So.Gay is pronounced “LOO-ə-vəl.” 

He says the general population’s typically incorrect pronunciation is only the beginning of the misinterpretations that exist regarding his hometown, especially in the queer community. 

In 2023, Jenkins was beginning to receive national recognition for Queer Kentucky, a nonprofit magazine he founded in 2018 to bolster and enhance the state’s queer culture and health through storytelling.

Yes, despite the stereotypes associated with the region, Kentucky has a burgeoning LGBTQ community – Queer Kentucky was his way of bridging it all together for the outside world. The publication’s work gradually gained donations from major organizations (and figures), including the Jack Harlow Foundation, the Tegan and Sara Foundation, and the Brown‑Forman Foundation.

Queer Kentucky highlighted stories including “Blending identities as a trans, Jewish boy in Kentucky,” “Finding asexual self-love,” and “Discovering a shameless role model as a bi boi in the Bluegrass” that showed a new lens to the state’s community.

In NYC, misconceptions continued to abound. “Oh my god, I thought you would be a farmer,” a Grindr hookup told him upon learning about his origins. Jenkins clarified that, like most Kentuckians, he did not work in the field, picking crops or maneuvering cattle. 

Louisville has one of the highest LGBTQ populations in the US, and for nearly a decade, it has achieved a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Index

During his move to New York, Jenkins was grappling with addiction and confused a change in scenery as a path to recovery. He was 18 months sober and in charge of a thriving magazine, but he soon learned those demons never stopped lurking too far behind. 

“Many people in recovery will talk about trying to do a geographic relocation and thinking that it’s going to fix all their problems,” he says. “And that was New York for me.”

He says the city could get really lonely. He remembers not getting along with his roommate and sitting by himself on a bench at Maria Hernandez Park in Brooklyn, and he couldn’t shake the awful cravings in his head. “Eventually, it just happened,” he says. “I got high, and then I got high again.” 

“I’m glad that happened,” he says, “It made me return home and go to my board of directors and explain what happened, that I needed to seek treatment, and I was able to come back so much more effectively and do my job better.” 

Jenkins says his relapse in New York gave him a newfound appreciation for his hometown and that his magazine’s mission wasn’t a stepping stone to something better but his life’s purpose. He made a career covering Kentucky’s queer community, but this time, he finally gave himself fully into his role guiding the magazine.

Jenkins had time to reflect on his journalistic roots during treatment and think about when he first started the publication. His journey began with a Polaroid camera capturing the motley individuals seen on the streets of Louisville and telling their stories. He wasn’t driven by money but by a genuine curiosity and appreciation for queer Kentuckians. 

He knew from the beginning the only way a localized queer magazine in the South could thrive was as a nonprofit. And even then, the only grants initially offered to him were to promote HIV testing and prevention. 

He was painstakingly aware that the community’s struggles – and joys – went beyond PrEP and health screenings. “We’ve become so much more than a magazine and really focus on connecting the queer community here in person and have hosted plenty of workshops across the country,” says Jenkins. 

His team has run spreads targeting issues at the heart of queerness, such as redefining masculinity or uplifting transness with a hyperfocus on local creators and businesses doing the work. 

Most recently, they’ve collaborated on a multi-city-wide campaign with the state called “Bourbon and Belonging” for their next print issue, which spotlights their land’s cherished nectar while putting a new rainbow face to the drink. It will be a week of events connecting queer individuals to their culture and each other, even those who, like Jenkins, are sober. 

After all, belonging is a state of mind and a feeling his team has relentlessly worked to blanket around the state. 

“We’re so much more than just the gateway to the South,” says Jenkins. 

And thanks to Queer Kentucky, their LGBTQ community will no longer be forgotten. 

Discover more about Queer Kentucky on its website, at QueerKentucky.com

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