Story by Da’Sha Tuck, Staff writer
She was a Vietnam veteran. She had served this country and served it well but her injuries from the war would be the death of her. She was a soldier who transitioned into a woman. She received all her medical treatment from a veteran’s hospital. On the night of her death, her treatment was delayed because the hospital would only put her in a private room because she was a transgender female.
“Friends and family believe if she had been admitted faster she may still be alive today to see all the great strides the LGBT community has made,” said Roey Thorpe, Director of Advocacy Programs for the Equality Federation.
Thorpe said this instance was only one of the many stories she had witnessed. In her lifetime she said she has seen so many people of the LGBTQ+ community mistreated and even die because of their choices.
“The darkest time, I would say, would be the AIDs epidemic,” Thorpe said.
The issues the LGBTQ+ community face have led to a conference being held every year to discuss those issues, as well as progressions. This year, for the first time, the Come Together Kentucky conference was held at Murray State..
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the conference. Students from the University of Louisville, Morehead State, University of Kentucky, Western Kentucky and Northern Kentucky attended.
The goal of this conference was to give people in the LGBTQ+ community a chance to network with students like them and discuss pressing issues.
On the schedule for the weekend were various workshops that addressed equality in universities and Kim Davis, LGBTQ+ health care, LGBTQ+ allies, building the LGBTQ+ community and more.
Attendees flocked to the workshops of their choice and quickly became engaged in the conversations.
After listening to the presenters, the audience asked questions while they related the discussion to their own experiences.
“We went from a love that dare not speak its name to a love that won’t shut up,” Thorpe said as she began her presentation.
She said it is unspeakably uplifting that she and her fellow LGBTQ+ community members can now marry. She said one of the hardest parts of coming out as a lesbian meant she had to give up her dream of a big wedding.
Thorpe challenged everyone there to not just celebrate the win of marriage equality but to keep pushing forward in their movement.
She said it is going to take the younger generation of LGBTQ+ members to keep the movement going and it is far from over.
She said looking out into the audience she could feel the power of the LGBTQ+ movement.
“Look at all of you,” Thorpe said. “I’m proud of you all and I can’t wait to see what comes next for us.”
The entire ballroom lit up with excitement and pride as Thorpe left the stage. Many students lined up to thank her for her words of encouragement and shared their stories with her.
“I think she was a great kick start to this conference,” said D. Andrew Porter from Scottsville, Kentucky. “She spoke to the spirit of the conference.”
Carly Lehwald, trans advocate and cast member of ABC Family’s “Becoming Us,” spoke on her experience and issues within the LGBTQ+ community.
“Becoming Us” is a show that looks into the struggles that come along with loving oneself and family relationships.
Lehwald transitioned in 2012 after several years of planning. She said this experience has been the healthiest part of her life.
She was modest in her presentation giving credit toher supportive wife and son. Lehwald said there are so many people in the world that have been through this transition and they deserve recognition for their strength.
Lehwald gave advice to other transsexuals and also gave advice to those who consider themselves allies, saying allies tend to think if they do one supportive thing for someone in the LGBTQ+ community they have done their life’s work, but that’s not the case. Lehwald said an ally’s job is never done just as the job of those in the LGBTQ+ community job is never done.
Brandie Balken, Program Officer for the Gill Foundation, presented on Sunday. She spoke on religious issues facing their community.
Specifically, she discussed how religious exemption from allowing LGBTQ+ marriages is an issue and what can be done to make it less of an issue.
“We are experiencing the last gasp of ridiculousness in the world right now,” Thorpe said.
There are plenty of people who are still against marriage equality. Some people say those who are opposed will eventually move on but the opposed ideas will never completely disappear.
Come Together Kentucky gives LGBTQ+ members tools to use in order to combat the negativity that comes from those who disagree with equality.
No matter if the world likes it or not change is happening all over. The ink on the Supreme Court ruling supporting marriage equality is still fresh and the movement continues.
“Be kind to each other and embrace your triggers and show the world your beautiful truth,” Thorpe said.