Redefining the Rules

Written By: Belle Townsend


“I immediately knew I was gay, and I immediately knew to hide it.”

When Missy Spears was in the first grade, her family moved to Cincinnati. Upon her departure, her first grade class signed a letter for her to keep. Among those signatures was the handwriting of Spears’ best friend and crush, Alison.

After writing “I Love Alison” on the back of that paper as a means of practicing her cursive, Spears’ mom found the letter. Spears remembers this vividly, and she remembers the serious tone to the conversation.

The way the conversation went, Spears knew this meant that she was different. A part of her already knew, but this confirmed it. Spears shares, “I was terrified. Like, holy shit. I need to learn to hide this better.”

But, throughout the years, Spears has given a middle finger to hiding who she is. She has unapologetically taken up space as a queer person – challenging social norms, building community, and expanding civic engagement across the state of Kentucky.

Spears has done community organizing work for about nine years now. Her projects have included “Cut Your Balls Off Covington,” an initiative to spay and neuter forty cats in her community. She has also rallied community members to take down a spread of stickers put up by a white supremacist organization. Lastly, she started “Covunity Fridge.” Food insecurity was a real problem in her community, so this free fridge and pantry was (and is) stocked so that neighbors can access items 24 hours a day.

As Spears put it when asked what her job titles were before Queer Kentucky, “I don’t think there’s a title on LinkedIn for that.”

She’s right; there’s not. However, she has a new title: Executive Director of Queer Kentucky.

Queer Kentucky is a diverse LGBTQ+ run non-profit based in Louisville, Kentucky working to bolster and enhance Queer culture and health through storytelling, education and action. Through their storytelling approach, they give visibility and celebrate the lives of LGBTQ+ people in the great Bluegrass State.

As she continues taking steps in her role, Spears will be focusing on increasing engagement in more rural parts of the state; prioritizing queer health and wellness with an emphasis on substance use, recovery, harm reduction, and access to care; expanding her civics engagement initiatives by hiring two political writers and circulating a Civiqueer Election Toolkit; launching “Bourbon and Belonging: Kentucky’s Queer Bourbon Week” in a weeklong celebration taking place in eight cities across Kentucky; and launching Issues 6 and 7 of the Queer Kentucky magazine alongside Queer Kentucky founder and current Editor-in-Chief Spencer Jenkins.

Issue 6, Queer Kentucky’s Bourbon and Belonging issue, will be released in August. It will focus on bringing more depth and visibility to the LGBTQ+ and BIPOC bourbon community throughout Kentucky. Issue 7, showcasing “25 Years of Fairness,” will be created in partnership with historians, archivists, community leaders, artists, and elected officials in order to track the twenty five year histories and stories behind Fairness ordinances across Kentucky.

Ain’t no hiding it now.