The LGBTQ community in the United States is not underground, nor should it be. In West Virginia, however, gay rights is still a sensitive issue. Even here in Morgantown, LGBTQ culture is still not quite in the eye of the mainstream. For instance, there is only one alternative club in Morgantown.
Even though same-sex marriage has been legal here since 2014 and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt, both the legal and social treatment of members of the gay community still needs a lot of improvement. There are no statewide protections against discrimination, and only five cities have anti-discrimination ordinances.
In the ongoing battle for acceptance and understanding, Morgantown, and especially West Virginia University, has some resources for those seeking emotional support, political voice or even just new like-minded friends.
Spectrum is WVU’s student organization not only for LGBTQ students, but also for “everyone within the orientation spectrum,” according to its website. They meet every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Mountainlair.
Along with the new LGBTQ Center, the commission is also hosting the third annual Lavender Graduation event on May 1. This ceremony celebrates WVU’s graduating LGBTQ students. Part of the commission’s job is to recognize and highlight the achievements of students in order to promote diversity, and this event will surely succeed in that.
Next fall, there will be a new gender-inclusive housing community, True Colors. This type of housing will allow co-ed roommates and a supportive atmosphere for all gender expressions and sexual orientations. Students can learn how to apply for this community here.
WVU OUTlaw is a legal group on campus. The group is open to all students and focuses on advocacy for gay rights. In addition to the strictly legal aspects of the organization, it also focuses on bridging the gaps between the gay and straight communities and educating people about gay rights issues.
Throughout the state, Fairness West Virginia works to take a stand for LGBTQ rights through lobbying and awareness events. The City of Morgantown also joined the fight for fairness when they formed the human rights commission in 2012. The council takes a special interest in the local LGBTQ community. They won the Ian Gibson-Smith award in 2014 for its great actions toward equality.
Over the past five years, Morgantown and WVU have made leaps and bounds with inclusion and diversity. Local organizations are working to grow these resources. Hopefully, the influence of these changes will help to erase the “alternative” label from the community in favor of equality, not only within city limits, but throughout West Virginia.
The local art community in Morgantown is this week’s unseen scene. While art is growing more popular with additions to the local landscape such as the new art museum, art events aren’t on the calendars of most students and townspeople.
It’s a shame because art can be both a fun and transformative experience, and the Morgantown scene has some hidden gems for both art enthusiasts and newcomers alike.
Stackpole always knew she was an artist. Rather than simply an occupation, it occupies her soul.
“I think I was born this way,” Stackpole said. “I can’t remember ever being anything else. I have a specific memory of sitting out on my parents’ porch when I was 4, studying the flowers and the sunlight and wondering how it is color works. I felt an intense desire to build and create, if not out of thin air, then to take what I had in front of me and turn it somehow into something better.”
She has spent here entire life creating.
“Truly, I started with the walls of my bedroom. I was very young (4) and no matter how many spiral notebooks I was given to draw in, I went right through them,” Stackpole said.
Then, her father gave her crayons and magic markers along with permission to draw on the walls.
“I couldn’t believe my fortune. After that, I was lost to those surfaces to translate my inside to the outside,” Stackpole said. As she grew older, her expression grew into sketchbooks and canvas.
After spending her first year of college at Fairmont State University, Stackpole went to West Virginia University from 1988 to 1993.
As Stackpole reflects on her time at the University, she cites Mountaineer football and basketball games as defining experiences as part of the WVU family – even though it still feels like a betrayal to her drawing teacher, who would ask students to skip the football games to work in the art studios.
“Occasionally, at a game, I’d see another art student and we’d both look away guiltily and act like we hadn’t seen the other,” she said, “because we both knew where our professor expected us to be. But come on; it’s Morgantown. To hear the band, watch them perform, cheer for the team – that was unifying like nothing else.”
In 1992, there was a turning point in her artistic career. There was a judged art show in the Mountainlair. The piece Stackpole entered was called “The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions,” and it caused quite a controversy.
“On the left, a nude woman in red wearing only high heels was standing with her back to the viewer on top of a bar counter in a nearly empty barroom. The color scheme was all red,” Stackpole described. “On the right, an identical woman in a white Marilyn Monroe-type dress was standing in a similar pose but in white heels and on a pedestal. Behind her was only a blue sky.”
The judges argued about allowing the submission strictly because it featured suggestive nudity, something deemed inappropriate in 1992. One of the judges, Charly Jupiter Hamilton, was the single reason the submission was admitted. He threatened to withdraw as a judge unless Stackpole’s piece was accepted.
“I was really beyond astonished and grateful that a professional artist stood up for my work,” she said. “I was the artist that painted the nude woman in the bar.”
Stackpole said the art scene has changed tremendously since her time here as a student. Human nudity was a controversial topic back then. The Monongalia Arts Center wouldn’t show a senior student’s work solely because of nudity, which was protested by the student artist population. Now, the MAC hosts a Bare Form exhibit annually.
Last March, Stackpole’s “Symmetries” series was displayed at the MAC, as well.
“I was really beside myself when I was first accepted into a show there,” she said. “I never thought it would happen, that I would never be good enough, once upon a time. Things change.”
The art included in the “Symmetries” show was autobiographical, and therefore very personal for her. It was about her adventures as an art student who started in Morgantown and followed her dreams “down that open road of Life (sic).”
“I like the word – ‘symmetry.’ To me, it means same – same, or full circle, or complete…,” she said. “There was some great tacit dialogue going on in that show. I feel it was my best yet, and I’m measuring that by sheer dynamics – by how much it connected. I am very happy when the work speaks with the viewer.”
“If that can happen, then I did what I was supposed to do.”
Subconsciously, Stackpole’s art has been informed also by her struggles. Often, observers of her work point out she paints herself in the same way Frida Kahlo would – alone, often more serious looking or lacking a smile.
“Other people would ask, and do, ‘what, are you sad?’ The honest answer is, I’m not sad. I’m just working through all this the best way I know how,” she said.
Besides an artist, Stackpole is a writer, an illustrator and a mother, which as an art student was not a role she anticipated taking up so much space in her life.
Still, no matter where life takes her, she looks on Morgantown fondly.
“I liked everything about Morgantown: the energy, the vitality, the population, the culture and the accessibility,” she said. “Even now when I come back to it, I marvel at the energy of the place. It would be impossible to be bored here.”
“It’s been my experience that Morgantown is a community really rich with opportunity for such creatives,” she continued. “Sometimes we know what we feel but don’t know how to describe it, and that’s where the artists and writers and musicians come in to illustrate. It’s a very necessary function in society.”
Sharon Stackpole’s art can currently be found locally at The Appalachian Gallery on Walnut Street, Glow Beauty Lounge on Pleasant Street and Monongalia Arts Center on High Street.
Her art is also featured in Wheeling, W.Va., Charleston, W.Va., and New York City. She also illustrated a book of poetry for a West Virginia author, which was published this month. In the past, her work has been shown in Barcelona, Tokyo, Montreal and San Francisco.