A couple of weeks ago iList heard about OUT Paducah – a new organization founded by local social worker Kiesha Curry. Since March, Kiesha’s ideas for supporting the members of the LGBTQ community, particularly area youth, have mushroomed into two separate organizations, bi-monthly meetings and huge plans. iMeet this trailblazing and indomitable women.
Tell us about yourself...Where's your hometown? Where did you go to school, How did you spend your childhood?
My name is Kiesha Curry, I have two children Micheal, 24 and Keyshun, 18. I was born in Cook County Illinois and raised in the small town of Ashland, Mississippi by my grandmother. She taught me great work ethics and how to care for people who couldn’t care for themselves.
I graduated from Ashland High school and after a little growing up, I graduated from the University of Mississippi with a Bachelors of Social Work. I lived with my grandmother and her two youngest children, who I considered my siblings, in a rural area of Mississippi.
Mama, a single parent at the time, retired as an educator and “worked the land”. We had three plots and she grew produce to sell at market. The garden on the right of the house was to supply our pantries (and give away,) and the garden on the left was usually for the community - anyone who wanted was welcome to get it. We had chicken, pigs, orchards, and strawberry patches. It was typical country living.
We'd love to know about your family, partner, and kids…
Micheal is a graduate of Southeast Missouri University and he continues to live in Cape Girardeau where the university is located. He has opened his own dance studio called, Fingerprint Urban Dance Studio, and owns a media Company called Crank Productions. He and his dance students have contributed over 600 hours to community service in last year!
Keyshun is a senior at Paducah Tilghman and will be attending Kentucky State University in Lexington next year - for free! He has been very active in the community and has done very well academically.
Then there’s my beloved boyfriend, Robert Shy. Robert is the founder and executive director of 3E Leadership Academy. He meets with students once a month at WKCTC and provides them with the tools they need to help reach their academic and career goals. There is no cost to the students.
Tell us a little about your work and career…
For over 15 years I have worked as a social worker in the areas of foster care and adoption, mental health, traumatic brain injury, and infectious disease (HIV/AIDS). I continue to “moonlight” as a community social worker, client utilize community resources. Currently I am a financial aid counselor at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.
You started a new local organization called OUT PADUCAH? What prompted you to do that?
I had many clients from my previous jobs who shared their experiences with being gay in this area. They expressed to me that they didn’t feel supported – they felt isolated. Several of them attributed their depression and anxiety to the inability to “come out”. For others, it was the negative effects of “coming out”.
I feel that western Kentucky is lacking in supporting for the LGBTQ community as a whole. “Yes, of course we know there is a LGBTQ population in our area, but as long as they don’t say anything to “trouble the waters” or to make me feel uncomfortable, we won’t acknowledge the elephant in the room.” I believe that’s how most of our community treats this part of our community.
Within our area school systems there are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBTQ) youth who are unable to be their true selves. They sincerely fear being rejected and bullied by their family and peers. Most schools, (with the exception of McCracken County High,) don’t offer gender neutral bathrooms. There are no Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) and there is a lack of “safe zones” that let LGBTQ students know there is someone they can talk to about the struggles they face.
A school that creates a safe and supportive learning environment for all students can help youth be academically strong as well as maintaining good mental and physical health. A positive school milieu has been associated with decreased depression, suicidal feelings, substance use, and unexcused school absences among LGBTQ students.
Working in an environment with that had several LGBTQ clients and employees, I learned so much in regards to gender and sexual identity. The most important thing I learned was, it’s not a choice. I have witnessed clients who have struggled with being attracted to the opposite sex, having been taught it was something wrong with them. I have worked with people who have lived the life others wanted them to, and were so miserable, only to finally accept their truth years later. It was only then they became happy and fulfilled.
There’s one particular reason that I finally decide to step out and do what I know I have been destined to do is:
A close friend of mine (Stacy) had a child (Bobby) that came “out” to her at an early age. Stacy has been very supportive; however Bobby continued to struggle with coming “out” to other immediate family members and peers. Bobby dealt with anxiety, depression, and self-harming.
There came a point were Bobby, who was an academically strong student was unable to attend school due to increased negative mental health symptoms. The school system was unable, or should I say ill-equipped, to help Bobby and Stacy. There were no resources or support within the school for Bobby. Stacy was faced legal actions against her due to her son’s truancy.
The only solution Stacy could come up with was to homeschool Bobby to cease the legal actions against her and prevent Bobby from being place in the juvenile correction facility. Working with this family, I knew there was something that needed to be done. I thought I would start a small support group of a few LGBTQ youth so Bobby could attend and meet youth much like himself that could relate to him. Never did I expect the tremendous support I have received.
We'd love to know all about your plans for OUT Paducah and how you intend to grow it?
The plan for OUT Paducah was to provide support and a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their families. However, due to the amazing support from the LGBTQ community in a matter of weeks it has evolved into a larger mission.
I spoke with Jalen Harris, an 18 year old, student, who is now OUT Paducah’s youth ambassador/coordinator. I said “Give me a date! We doing this!” Now I had to be accountable to someone, so I knew I had to stick with it.
The first meeting for OUT Paducah was on March 19, there were seven attendees. (Three of those were Jalen, myself and my boyfriend, but we don’t tell that part.) That meeting was amazing! I felt the people who were present were willing and it confirmed for my even more, this was the right thing to do.
The second meeting brought in over twenty - four of which were students. The third meeting blew my mind, we had over thirty in attendance - the conversation and support in that little room made me tearful. I felt everything we needed was in that room. People were offering their areas of expertise, networking, exchanging phone numbers for support. It was an amazing thing to see.
On April 30, OUT Paducah held a community forum which was open for any and everyone who was interested. There was over 65 attendees. I cannot express the love in the room. The panel was diverse enough to open amazing discussions.
So, to answer your question……I recently restructured OUT Paducah. I didn’t think the adults of the LGBTQ community desired support, but bringing them together has been like a family reunion. So, as of now we have two groups, OUT Paducah, for anyone in the LGBTQ community, family friends and allies, and OUT Paducah Youth for youth ages, but not limited to, 12-18. If younger students are identified, this group will split off and meet separately. One for adolescents and one for teens.
Where does OUT Paducah hold its meetings?
Currently both groups are borrowing spaces. OUT Paducah has outgrown the last borrowed space so we will be meeting at both WKCTC Anderson Technology Building in the Bistro and the McCracken County Library every 1st and 3rd Tuesdays of the month from 5:30 - 7:30pm.
OUT Paducah Youth will be meeting at The Zone, a drop in center for teens, courtesy of Four Rivers Behavioral Health, every 2nd and 4th Monday from 6 - 8 p.m.
OUT Paducah is offering education for any organizations who feels they could use LGBTQ training. You would be surprised by the organizations and providers that are not LGBTQ sensitive. OUT Paducah wants to work with the school system to provide students with the support, resources and security they need to thrive.
My desire is to see OUT Paducah in its own space, providing education, support, transitional housing, services, and other resources on a daily basis. OUT Paducah being the number one resource the LGBTQ community in McCracken and surrounding counties, including connecting states.
There will be community events to aid in LGBTQ acceptance and opportunities for educating the community. I like to say, “OUT Paducah is going to paint Paducah rainbows and glitter!” Not so much as to force the community to acknowledge the issue, but to gradually introduce this movement that is about to happen.
As far as the growth, I haven’t had much of a chance to think about that. Honestly, word of mouth has been successful so far. We have used social media, such as Facebook (for the mature audience) and Instagram for the youth. There have been a few flier circulating and I have invited some media outlets to speak with us. We are very thankful for the opportunity iListwesternkentucky.com is giving us spread the word.
What population is the organization trying to help and why?
OUT Paducah’s primary focus was on LGBTQ youth, but now it’s the entire LGBTQ population and any other population open to the education we provide. The LGBTQ community consists of people are our mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles and cousins. This is a fact and it isn't going away.
Being the founder of OUT Paducah I have the opportunity to be an ally and a friend at home, school, church and work. A straight ally is someone who is supportive and accepts the LGBTQ person, but they can also be someone who personally advocates for equal rights and fair treatment. Allies are some of the most effective and powerful voices of the LGBTQ movement.
Not only do allies help people in the coming-out process, they also help others understand the importance of equality, fairness, acceptance and mutual respect. I believe everyone should be allowed to be their 100%, not what I think their 100% should be, and whatever I can do or whatever resources I can direct them to accomplish that goal that is what I want to do.
Tell us about your life outside of OUT – we know you have two awesome sons…
Both my sons, Micheal and Keyshun, are pretty awesome and they are both “Googleable”. I couldn’t ask for any better! Outside of OUT Paducah I try to serve those who call of me. I work alongside of my boyfriend with the 3E Leadership Program, by keeping him in line and focused. Lol.
I am active in my sorority, Paducah Alumni Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., working with our youth program. I’ve recently joined the McCracken County Democrats as an executive board member, I anticipate becoming very involved. I’m a member of the Paducah Tilghman Tornado Alley Advisory Board. I am currently working on a Master’s in Human Leadership and Development with an emphasis in Non-Profit Leadership at Murray State University. Pray for me please!
What do you like to do in your free time…hahaha? Do you have any hobbies or interests?
I have a Cricut! I enjoy making crafts, supposedly to sell, but I end up giving the pieces away. Most of what I enjoy are craft related. Now that the weather is better and you will soon see me riding my bike around town.
Read any good books, listened to cool music, or seen a movie or TV show you'd like to share with us?
At this point, the only literature I am reading is school related and research about the LGBTQ community. Actually, my assignments have been centered on the LGBTQ topic. I do enjoy R&B music. I love a good movie, mostly horror.
Now, as far as TV goes, Law and Order, Forensic File, Snapped, and Criminal Minds. I love Game of Thrones, unfortunately, I was not aware we don’t have the package with HBO. So, my plan is to wait till close to the end of the season and add HBO of one month then cancel after I binge watch for a couple days. I know that’s bad. Don’t tell Xfinity.
What’s your favorite food?
My favorite food comes in “spells” and I binge until I’m tired of it. Recently it has been, banana flavored popsicles, and Cadbury Carmel Eggs - I couldn’t wait for the Easter candy to go on sell. - I stocked up! Honestly, I rather eat at home, not that I’m cooking or anything like that, but almost every restaurant has carry-out.
Tell us something about yourself that few people know?
Well, I have a condition called RBF. It’s hereditary, several of my family members struggle with it as well. Apparently it’s uncommon around these parts, because I get asked a lot if I was upset or mad about something. “Nah, just thinking.” I’m working on it, and either is has gotten better or people have just accepted the look. I agree, sometimes I may not be approachable but it’s nothing personal.
Only a few people who truly know me know my heart. I don’t like to admit it but I am soft as doctor’s cotton. I think I am very compassionate about meeting the needs of people - going above and beyond to let someone know they are important and special. I love to see people strive to reach their fullest potential. I look forward to the end result. However, I may not always see it and that’s ok, but knowing that I planted or nurtured the seed is good enough for me.
I’d like to add one last thing…
There is a movement in the making for the LGBTQ population. Pastor Robert Courtney just started an all-inclusive church. Nancy and Jessica Hughes are about to set-up an all-inclusive lounge. We are looking to have a gay pride festival before the end to the year, as well as other events to help raise money for OUT Paducah. So far, all expenses have been out of pocket – and we can’t keep doing that!