Progressive politics and LGBTQ rights aren’t the first things most people outside Kentucky think of when the state comes up in conversation. But from the Fairness Campaign to the Historic Context cataloging gay landmarks, lots of Louisvillians are working to help represent LGBTQ voices and share stories about the queer community here and around the state.
Case in point, Queer Kentucky, a website dedicated to telling those stories, that launched in 2018. Queer Kentucky has just one employee — its founder, editor and main writer Spencer Jenkins.
Insider spoke with Jenkins about why he started the website and his plans for its future.
Jenkins is an out and proud white cis gay man. But he’s also out about something else — he’s an addict. The subject comes up almost immediately when one asks about Queer Kentucky and why he started the outlet.
“So I had a huge issue — like huge — substance abuse issue … alcohol, drugs,” says Jenkins.
After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University with a degree in journalism, Jenkins worked at a few newspapers and publications in small towns.
“I was a police reporter in Bardstown the whole time I was, you know, doing heroin, drinking heavily,” says Jenkins. “I never really truly got sober until 2017 in July, and that’s when my head really started to clear.”
After Jenkins got sober, he started thinking about writing again, this time with a purpose and a plan.
“To be honest, I was obsessed with ‘Humans of New York.’ It was a fascinating concept to me,” he explains. “I also love the brand Kentucky for Kentucky. I wear all their gear and have been a loyal customer since they opened. So it dawned on me … what if I kind of put those two concepts together and made it queer?”
Work began quickly, with friends helping Jenkins design the logo and look of the site — distinctive black and white images that kept the site looking clean and streamlined. The logo also looks good printed on a T-shirt.
A visually distinctive feature of the site is the photography, with all the pictures being Polaroids. Each person Jenkins profiles gets a fresh “instant” picture, which gets scanned and uploaded.
“I came up with the concept of using Polaroids because they’re fun and interactive,” he says. “People love watching their photo develop in front of them. Sometimes they’re shocked that I lug this big camera around.”
The photos make each person depicted feel very real and present. It’s a good fit for the content that most often pops up on Queer Kentucky — profiles of Kentucky LGBTQ people. Jenkins highlights people, usually eschewing the peg-heavy breaking news modus operandi of a lot of news organizations. These profiles heavily feature the subject’s own words.
It’s generally a pretty feel-good site — folks just sharing what they love and what they think. But Jenkins did kick up a little controversy recently, and he’s still working through the discoveries he made in the wake of that conflict.
“The only real issue Queer Kentucky has had was when we posted a photo of a self-identified white gay cis male. It was posted around the time a lot of anti-trans talk began with Trump and other conservative folks. It was bad timing on my part, for sure,” says Jenkins. “And you know, he’s very conservative, (I) highlighted him and there was a lot of backlash.”
The conversation that came out of that conflict is important to Jenkins and has led to some tough questions that he is still pondering.
“It did bring up a lot of conversation that I believe needs to be had, though. And it made me really think of Queer Kentucky’s mission,” he admits. “Where do white male cis gay conservatives fit in our community? Should they be welcomed? Should they not?”
In the wake of the 2016 election and the anti-gay/trans sentiment that has surfaced since, this is a question the queer community struggles with both locally and nationally. It’s not an easy question, but Jenkins is glad to ask it and to listen when people answer.
“As a white cis gay male, I can’t deny the societal privileges I have. And when I don’t see them, I always appreciate someone calling me out,” he says.
One of the ways he is addressing this issue is in the spectrum of the contributors.
“Contracted writers have been everyone but what I identify as,” says Jenkins. “I don’t see a need to have another white male cis writer at this time … I’ve really focused on grabbing writers who are different than me. Queer people of color, trans, non-binary, lesbian.”
With a controversy under its belt, a great-looking website and an editor-in-chief willing to work hard and learn as he goes, hopefully Queer Kentucky will stick around and start to grow.
Next up for Jenkins is forming an advisory board and doing some heavier reporting — covering intersectional issues, the lack of safe spaces for LGBTQ youth, and how the drug epidemic is hitting the queer community.
Keep up with it online, and if you’re interested in helping chart the website’s future, there is a meeting about the advisory board at Story Louisville, 806 1/2 E. Market St., on Tuesday, Feb. 12.