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Arts & Culture

Clemens exhibit aims to better represent diverse rural queer community

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Country Queers
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"The Country Queers Art Exhibit" uses photos as well as audio excerpts to tell stories of the rural LGBTQ+ community.

An exhibit uplifting stories of rural queer experiences is currently on display at the Clemens Fine Arts Gallery at West Kentucky Community & Technical College.

The multimedia exhibit – entitled “The Country Queers Art Exhibit,” after the collective that assembled it – displays 70 framed photos of community members across the country. The exhibit features audio excerpts from interviews with LGBTQ+ community members. It will remain on display through April 29.

Country Queers was initially created as a solo project by West Virginia native Rae Garringer in 2013. They say perception of the LGBTQ community has changed in urban areas and rural areas as the project has expanded over the past decade.

“All of us have something that pops into mind when we hear that word [rural] or the word country,” Garringer said. “One thing I have learned definitively over the past nine years is that the image that pops into peoples minds looks different given different identities, experiences, relationships and spaces.”

Garringer founded the project “out of an intense frustration with the lack of easily accessible rural queer stories at the time and a sense of isolation from queer community,” they say on the project’s website.

Clemens Fine Arts Gallery director Todd Birdsong says the exhibit is important to bring to the community because it gives representation to a group that is largely marginalized. He says rural communities are stereotypically known for their hyper masculinity and staunch conservative values.

“There is obviously a stigma attached to being gay or queer in society in general,” Birdsong said. “But, I think that is magnified in country life. Ultimately what the show is saying is LGBTQ members come across a large spectrum of society and we should think about their unique perspectives.”

Garringer says since the pandemic is declining people can see the exhibit first hand and engage with the stories more as opposed to virtual viewings. Garringer hopes the exhibit, and others like it, will help the rural LGBTQ+ community feel less isolated and help get rid of any kind of stigma.

“I think at the root of it, there is still this fear of queer trans people,” Garringer said. “We are perceived as a threat. I think it's very harmful and really incorrect. I think a huge thing that needs to change in terms of perception is to move away from this reality where people feel threatened by just our existence.”

The Clemens Fine Art Center is located on Alben Barkley Drive on the WKCTC campus in Paducah. For more information about the Country Queers project, visit their website.

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