Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people are gaining more rights and acceptance throughout the country. Same-sex marriage is now legal in a majority of states, including Alaska.
While support may be rising nationwide, there aren’t any official LGBTQ non-profits or advocacy groups in Ketchikan. But there are unofficial support systems. One such group is called “Transgendered Ketchikan.”
Transgendered Ketchikan is an informal support group for queer people in Ketchikan. Six of them met at The Point Café on a recent afternoon.
“I think there should be more safe places for people who are questioning their identity, just gender identity, sexuality, etcetera,” said Izm, who used to identify as transgender, but now doesn’t identify as any gender.
Izm is one of the people who started this support group about a year ago. Izm says there is a Gay-Straight Alliance at UAS Ketchikan, but they didn’t seem to be accepting of transgender people. And with the challenges queer people face in Ketchikan, a support system was needed.
“Like most traditional, old-fashioned towns, it’s kind of a hush-hush situation if you don’t follow the norm,” said Holly Nore, who identifies as pansexual, or attracted to people based on personality rather than gender.
Nore moved to Ketchikan from Wrangell, with the hope that it would be a more accepting environment. And it is, but there’s still occasional abuse.
“You know, when I was kissing my girlfriend, a man started talking about how we’re gonna burn in hell,” Nore said. “Things like that.”
For Tyler Varner, outright discrimination isn’t the biggest struggle. He’s gay, and says his family accepts him. But it’s taken him a while to accept himself.
“I feel like I have to put on this show so I can go out to dinner,” Varner said. “And I think I just want to strap on some damn fairy wings and go to the club and pump it up. I need to let go, it’s stressful.”
Austin Kalkins, who identifies as gender fluid, says the people in this group often have to explain themselves to others.
“There’s always people looking, people asking, people…all this stuff, inquiring just because you don’t fit into the norm type of deal,” Kalkins said.
The only transgender person at this meet-up is Scott Davis, or Sheen, who identifies as transfeminine. She has lived in Ketchikan for more than 30 years, but didn’t feel comfortable coming out until a couple years ago.
“[You] just get to a point in your life when you go, “It doesn’t really matter, and I’m gonna be happy.”” Davis said.
Davis says at this point, she feels about 75 percent comfortable with being “out” in Ketchikan.
“Because of occasional physical or verbal abuse,” she said. “This morning, at a local place downtown, one worker referred to me as a freak. It hurts a lot less than it used to.”
Davis says this group has given her the strength to ignore harassment like that. The group has helped other members in different ways.
“It took me a long time to accept that I didn’t see myself as being of any gender,” said Jacob Trumble.
Trumble was only able to accept it and come out after this group was formed.
“I probably wouldn’t have said anything for even longer had this group not been formed,” Trumble said.
The people here have found friends who accept and support them in Ketchikan. But there are still times when they feel like outsiders.
“We’re not a circus, we’re not an act for somebody to watch, we’re people,” said Holly Nore.
For now, there are only unofficial support systems in Ketchikan for LGBTQ people, like this group. But that might change in the coming months. Davis says she and others are working to form an official LGBTQ advocacy group with non-profit status.
“If you have an actual formed LGBTQ group in a community, I think businesses, public government is a lot less likely to violate somebody’s rights as a human being based on gender preference or appearance,” Davis said.
James Hoagland is a board member with the Juneau non-profit Southeast Alaska Gay and Lesbian Alliance. He says he doesn’t know of any other similar organizations in Southeast. Without those support systems, Hoagland says LGBTQ people may feel isolated.
“I think it would be really hard to connect to other people who have that shared identity,” Hoagland said. “I think people would feel alone.”
Back in Ketchikan, Davis says the non-profit she and more than 10 others are forming is private right now, because some of the members aren’t out. She hopes by next year, the group will be public and Ketchikan will be home to a more prominent organization that can advocate for people like those gathered here.