#QUEERSOUTHERNSTORIES SERIES

The STAY Project: “Making our communities places we can and want to stay.”

The South is home to one in three LGBTQ people in the United States, and more than four in 10 LGBTQ people in the South are people of color. Contrary to stereotypes about the possibilities for political progress in the South, LGBTQ Southerners are often leading the way nationwide in innovative programming, organizing, and strategies to support their own communities and make meaningful change on their own terms. What can we learn from LGBTQ Southerners on building coalitions & nurturing community? MAP’s blog series on #QueerSouthernStories highlights the organizations featured in Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership, amplifying the vital work already being done by advocates, activists, and community organizers in the region.

The STAY Project, founded in 2008, provides Appalachian youth and young people (ages 14–30) with the community, skills, and resources they need to stay in Appalachia. Using the tagline, “Making our communities places we can and want to stay,” the STAY Project has built a diverse regional network of young people across six states and counting: Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. While the project is not exclusively LGBTQ- focused, many of its members are LGBTQ-identified, including many LGBTQ people of color.

The STAY Project sometimes supports policy-focused work of its youth members or partner organizations, but STAY’s mission is squarely focused on community- and skill-building in order to enable youth “to create, advocate for and participate in safe, sustainable, engaging, and inclusive communities throughout Appalachia and beyond.”

Coordinator Lou Murrey explained that at STAY, “We create a space where we’re able to see each other. That space is sacred for us, that young people can come and be out, or be whoever they feel comfortable being.” Murrey continued:

“The outcomes of our work are less tangible than a policy win. How do you show what a relationship means? But that’s the strength of our work: the relationships we’ve built. To be a young person who is isolated and to know you are not alone? That there are people out there who love you and care about your wellbeing? That is lifesaving.”

Through both in-person meetings at the historied Highlander Center in Tennessee and in rotating locations across their six state region, as well as through a variety of programs, the STAY Project brings Appalachian youth together and engages them “as experts in their own lives and leads them through asking one another what they want and need in order to stay and work in their home communities and then connects them with the resources and skills they need to make their visions for Central Appalachia come true.”

One central program is the STAY Summer Institute, a multi-day gathering of youth with workshops, dedicated spaces for Black youth and for LGBTQ youth, and political and cultural education. As Murrey explains, liberation is at the heart of the project: “We want to build a political analysis that is about justice and spans across all our intersecting identities, including as Appalachians.” Additionally, STAY provides small stipends to support the work of its members, especially Black and LGBTQ youth, in their own communities. Past funding has supported a wide range of projects and community building efforts, from disability justice workshops and professional development trainings to affirming pool parties and more.

Take Action

  • To learn more or to donate, visit www.thestayproject.net.
  • We want to hear your #QueerSouthernStories! Use the hashtag on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to celebrate some of your favorite photos, memories, or organizing tips for moving LGBTQ equality forward in Southern states! We’re impressed every day by the gorgeous community of organizers, activists, and storytellers who are here, queer, and ready to make change. We look forward to seeing your stories and amplifying!

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MAP is an independent, nonprofit think tank that provides rigorous research, insight and communications that help speed equality and opportunity for all.

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