Justin Murdock and his husband were the first same-sex couple to marry in West Virginia. He's the co-chair of Mayor Williams' LGBT Advisory Committee.
Justin's family has a long history in Huntington and Wayne County. When Justin was in middle school, he thought he could ignore his identity to make his family happy.
Justin married his ex-wife when he was 20 years old.
There wasn't much of a movement for marriage equality in West Virginia when Justin thought about marrying his partner for the first time. He wanted to change that.
Justin didn't think that his grandma approved of his relationship with a man. But then he saw her newspaper clippings.
Even though it took a while, Justin pushed Mayor Williams to support the LGBTQ community in Huntington.
Bernice and Jacqui are engaged to be married. They met through a church advertisement.
For Jacqui and Bernice, Huntington's second annual Pride Picnic is a big deal.
Sometimes, it's hard to find other lesbian couples in Huntington. But being out and proud is important to Jacqui and Bernice.
For years, Jacqui tried not to be gay. It was difficult to navigate being proud of being black and proud of being gay.
Jody Perry is the IT Director for Marshall University. He grew up in Wayne, West Virginia.
Jody describes his early life in Wayne as a wonderful childhood -- until his first crush.
Jody loved going to church until the day that the preacher said gays were going to hell.
It wasn't easy living in West Virginia in the early 90s. Jody always thought he would move to a big city, but that's not how things worked out.
At Marshall University, students hosted Blue Jeans Day in support of the LGBTQ community. Supporters weren't the only ones who dressed up.
Jody came out for the first time on the internet.
Jody thinks Marshall University makes a big difference to Huntington's LGBTQ inclusivity.
Jan Rader is West Virginia's first female fire chief. She's also openly gay.
I just think it’s important for people to be who they are and to not feel threatened by being themselves. It took me a long time to be comfortable in my own skin. I see death and destruction on a daily basis, so life’s too short to worry about petty little things. But unfortunately, people in the LGBTQ community still have to worry about basic human rights from time to time, and that’s not good."
Matt Jarvis is Marshall University's first ever openly gay student body president. He grew up in Nitro, West Virginia. Matt graduated from Marshall in 2018, and he serves on Huntington mayor Steve Williams' LGBT Advisory Committee.
Matt came out when he was in high school. His grandparents were surprised, but they have always supported him.
Matt never thought he would go to Marshall. His whole family went there. Instead, Matt wanted to leave West Virginia.
At Marshall, Matt found a community in Greek life. He says, his fraternity supports him. But, it's more complicated than that.
When Mayor Williams asked Matt to give a presentation on LGBTQ issues, he first found his voice as a leader off campus.
West Virginia, we know what poverty is. The opioid crisis, Huntington is kind of the poster child for that, unfortunately. We know what a social problem looks like, we know what a health epidemic looks like. It’s not an image problem, the image is real. There are people who are hurting. There are people who are addicted. There are people who have lost jobs, who have lost homes, who have lost their lives. Suddenly queerness and LGBTQ initiatives really aren’t in the same boat as you know, 27 people overdosing in one day within a 4 hour period. And I would like not to compare those things."
Matt's hometown, Nitro, is much smaller than Huntington, the second largest city in West Virginia.
Okey Napier was a writer, an educator at Marshall University, and an outspoken LGBTQ activist in West Virginia. He passed away in the summer of 2018 at 51. Okey made significant contributions to LGBTQ rights in Huntington, and we hope to celebrate his legacy.
Okey grew up in a rural area in Wayne, West Virginia.
Of course I got introduced to Wonder Woman. I think 1975 is when the first episode aired. My mother introduced me to it, and little did she know she was creating a baby Amazon drag queen."
Okey knew that he felt different from other boys at an early age. He was terrified.
As a student at Marshall University in Huntington, Okey came out as gay for the first time.
Okey remembers the AIDS crisis vividly. He calls it the "plague years."
Gay bars played a significant role in Okey's experience in Huntington. Over the years, he watched them disappear.
It took me and my best friend Clyde a week to work up the courage to go into the Driftwood. We would pull in front, I mean, RIGHT in front, and we would look to make sure there were no cars coming up and down the street and we would get out and run to the door. You had to ring a bell and they would look through a peephole. If they knew you or if it didn’t look like you were carrying a bunch of baseball bats and bricks, they would let you in. But every time we would run up to the door and we would see headlights coming, we would run back to the car and jump in the car and sink down so nobody would see us going into this gay bar."
Okey was also well known for his outspoken drag persona, Ilene Over.
For ten years, Okey worked on a writing a book titled Make Me Pretty, Sissy. The novel follows the experience of a young drag queen growing up in Huntington in the 80s and 90s, just as Okey did.