Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Josh Mers, August 29, 2018

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Partial Transcript: This is Adriana Sisko and the date is August 29th.

Segment Synopsis: Josh Mers introduces himself as a resident of Lexington, the owner of an insurance agency, and an alumnus of the University of Kentucky. He was born in rural Western Kentucky near Bowling Green.

Keywords: Insurance agencies; Rural towns

Subjects: Bowling Green (Ky.); Lexington (Ky.); University of Kentucky

00:00:31 - Upbringing / Relationship with faith and organized religion

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Partial Transcript: So, let's start at the beginning. Growing up. Tell me about that.

Segment Synopsis: Mers shares about his upbringing in Franklin, Kentucky. Mers characterizes Franklin as a rural, conservative, and agricultural community. He describes his family growing up as committed Southern Baptists who frequently went to church. Mers discusses his relationship with organized religion and faith over the years, describing distinct changes in his relationship with organized religion as he became older.

Keywords: Bible Belt; Brothers; Faith; Farming; Parents; Rural towns; Siblings; Sins; Small towns; Southern Baptist Church; Volunteer work

Subjects: Agriculture--Kentucky; Agriculture.; Conservatism.; Franklin (Ky.); Homophobia.; Liberation theology.; Religion.; Sexuality.; Southern Baptist Convention.; Volunteers.

GPS: Franklin (Ky.)
Map Coordinates: 36.723375, -86.577812
00:02:25 - Early schooling

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about elementary school specifically. How would you summarize that experience?

Segment Synopsis: Mers speaks positively about his experience in elementary school and middle school. He notes that both the elementary and middle schools he attended were very small and close knit. Mers mentions that his grandfather was the mayor of Franklin at the time. Mers says that eventually he and his family moved to Warren County, within the Bowling Green school district, so he ended up attending a high school much larger than the schools that he previously attended.

Keywords: Communities; Community; Rural towns; Small towns

Subjects: Bowling Green (Ky.); Education--Kentucky; Elementary schools.; High schools; Mayors.; Middle schools; Sports.; Warren County (Ky.)

00:04:36 - Awareness of LGBTQ people and topics growing up / Subject of homosexuality at church

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Partial Transcript: And growing up, what was your awareness of the existence of LGBTQ people, or even just associated words or notions?

Segment Synopsis: Mers describes his awareness as a young person of LGBTQ individuals and associated subjects. Mers primarily talks about his aunt, who identifies as a lesbian. He describes the strong connection he felt with her. Mers talks about how various members of his family viewed his aunt and her sexual identity. Mers also talks about the instances in which homosexuality came up as a topic at the church he and his family attended. He describes the stance their church took on homosexuality as being 'fire and brimstone'.

Keywords: Aunts; Brothers; Families; Family; Fire and brimstone; Homophobic slurs; LGBTQ family members; Organized religion; Relationships; Roommates; Sisters; Slurs

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Gay men--Relations with lesbians; Homophobia.; Homosexuality--Religious aspects.; Homosexuality--Social aspects.; Lesbians.; Religion.

00:09:22 - Dating during high school / Graduating from high school

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Partial Transcript: And when you were in middle school and high school, were other kids dating at your school?

Segment Synopsis: Mers talks about the dating scene at his high school. He describes the scene as heteronormative, and talks about how he participated in heterosexual dating simply because it was what was expected of him and other kids. He was not able to realize other possibilities at the time, Mers says. Mers also describes the experience of graduating from high school as bittersweet. While he liked the kids he attended high school with and has many good memories, he also looked forward to moving away from Bowling Green and to a larger city. He was not sure why at the time.

Keywords: Attraction; Closet; Closeted; Dating; Heteronormativity; Realization

Subjects: Bowling Green (Ky.); Closeted gays.; Gay men--Relations with heterosexual women; High school; Relationships.

00:12:26 - Transition from Bowling Green to Lexington, Kentucky / Attending the University of Kentucky

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Partial Transcript: So that transition to Lexington, that happened after your Europe trip, I'm assuming?

Segment Synopsis: Mers talks about moving from Bowling Green to Lexington in order to attend the University of Kentucky. Mers talks about his first roommate on campus, his dormitory Holmes Hall, and his majors. He discusses how he developed a passion for political science and history (the majors he ultimately selected during undergrad) during childhood. Mers summarizes his overall experience at the University of Kentucky.

Keywords: Changes; Life upheavals; Majors; Roommates; Transitions; Undergraduate

Subjects: History.; Political science.; Politics.; Sexual minority students.; University of Kentucky

00:15:38 - Reconsidering his sexuality during college / Realizing and navigating a gay identity

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Partial Transcript: You mentioned that it was during college that you started reconsidering your sexuality again, in terms of trying to like put a word to it and figure out what was going on.

Segment Synopsis: Mers describes his developing understanding of his sexual identity during college. His understanding shifted from thinking he was straight with some homosexual tendencies, to considering a bisexual identity, then later to accepting the gay identity that was accurate to his preferences. Mers also talks about a small circle of individuals who, during his time at the University of Kentucky, knew about his sexual preferences. He describes himself and others in his circle as being fairly, but not completely, closed about their sexual preferences. They would visit other cities to see gay bars and clubs, safe and beyond the purvey of other University of Kentucky students. Mers describes the reasons behind their caution. He talks about the measures he took, as well as the benefits he experienced by being able to pass as a heterosexual man.

Keywords: Being out; Caution; Closeted; Gay.com; Jim Gray; Outness; Passing (Sexual identity); Privacy; Strategy; Yahoo chatrooms

Subjects: Bisexuality.; Chatrooms, Online; Closeted gays.; Drag shows; Gay bars; Gay men--Identity.; Gay men--Relations with heterosexual women; Gay men--Sexual behavior.; Gay men.; Gay pride parades; Gay youth; Masculinity

00:23:45 - Coming out / Being out privately and closeted publicly

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Partial Transcript: Did you ever stop covering?

Segment Synopsis: Mers discusses becoming more out and open regarding his sexuality as he got older. Mers also talks about coming out to friends and family members. He details his coming out to both of his parents and their respective reactions at the time. Based on the reactions he received, Mers decided not to be absolutely out and open about his sexuality. He talks about for years being out in his private life but closeted publicly. He talks about the journey his parents took, particularly his mother, to come around regarding his sexuality.

Keywords: Arguing; Arguments; Aunts; Families; Family; Fathers; LGBTQ family members; Mothers

Subjects: Church.; Closeted gays.; Coming out (Sexual orientation); Foster children.; Foster parents.; Gay men.; Gay parents.; Homophobia.; Homosexuality--Religious aspects.; Mother's Day.; Same-sex marriage

00:29:49 - The impact of his first long-term relationship with a man / Graduating from college, working in losing political campaigns, and becoming an assistant golf professional

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Partial Transcript: And, earlier you mentioned that at a point you realized that you weren't actually bisexual, you were gay--or are gay.

Segment Synopsis: Mers talks about his mid-twenties. He describes the way his first long-term relationship with a man impacted him, and how it allowed him to realize that he could forge deep romantic emotional connections with men that he could not with women. Mers briefly talks about his career path immediately after he graduated from the University of Kentucky. After working on several losing political campaigns, Mers became a golf pro for a period of time.

Keywords: Assistant golf professionals; Emotional connections; Golf courses; Golf professionals; LGBT community; LGBTQ community; Love

Subjects: Bisexuality.; Friendship.; Gay men--Identity.; Gay men.; Kentucky--Politics and government; Political campaigns.; Politics.; Relationships.; University of Kentucky

00:32:04 - Volunteering for and working in political campaigns

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Partial Transcript: Tell me more about working on campaigns, 'cause I didn't you started that young.

Segment Synopsis: Mers tracks the history of his campaign involvement back to age eleven, when he idolized Bill Clinton. He briefly discusses the first seven campaigns he worked on throughout his late teens and early twenties. He also discusses what drew him to that kind of work.

Keywords: Al Gore; Bill Clinton; College Democrats at the University of Kentucky; Democrats; George Bush; George Bush, Jr.; UK College Democrats; UK College Dems

Subjects: Elected officials; Kentucky--Politics and government; Political campaigns.; Political parties.; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics.

00:34:36 - Political work during his twenties / Being closeted professionally

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Partial Transcript: So keep walking me through your twenties.

Segment Synopsis: Mers describes the political work he engaged in during his twenties. He briefly mentions working for Al Gore's presidential campaign, then lists off other political jobs he held including working with Jody Richards while she was Speaker of the Kentucky House of Representatives, working for the Senate Minority leadership, working for the Kentucky Democratic Party, as well as individual campaigns throughout. During this period, Mers describes himself as professionally closeted. Over time, he became more professionally open about his sexuality. Mers says that becoming more involved in social justice, such as working with Lexington Fairness, inspired him to do so.

Keywords: Al Gore; Ernesto Scorsone; Jody Richards

Subjects: Closeted gays.; Democratic Party (Ky.); Elections.; Frankfurt (Ky.); Gay men.; Jody Richards; Kentucky--Politics and government; Political campaigns.; Politicians--Kentucky; Politics.; Presidential campaigns

00:37:02 - Meeting and eventually marrying his husband / Lexington Gay Sports Commission

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Partial Transcript: And so, tell me about, um, when you met Cody, was it?

Segment Synopsis: Mers shares how he and his now-husband met and how they eventually became married. He also talks about leading the softball team that was part of the Lexington Gay Sports Commission. Mers discusses which of his family members attended the wedding and which did not.

Keywords: Families; Family; Husbands; Lexington Gay Sports Commission; Parents; Siblings

Subjects: Gay bars; Gay couples.; Gay men.; Same-sex marriage; University of Kentucky; Weddings.

00:41:48 - Fostering to adopt children

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Partial Transcript: Tell me about fostering to adopt.

Segment Synopsis: Mers discusses his experience fostering to adopt children. He elaborates on the highs and lows of the process, and he also talks about the experience of parenting as part of a married same-sex couple.

Keywords: Adopting; Children; Families; Family; Foster children; Foster parents; Fostering

Subjects: Adoption.; Fostering family; Gay adoption.; Gay couples--Legal status, laws, etc.--United States.; Gay men.; Gay parents.

00:44:28 - Social circles / Acting as chair for Lexington Fairness and relationship with the broader LGBTQ community

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Partial Transcript: That brings me to one of my next questions. So, your social circles, who do you surround yourself with?

Segment Synopsis: Mers describes his social circles and who he chooses to socialize with. Mers also talks about his time as chair of Lexington Fairness, a position he recently stepped down from. Mers describes the work as an honor, and talks about how time with Fairness as well as other social justice-oriented ventures broadened his social circles. Mers also characterizes his personal and professional relationship with the broader LGBTQ community. He elaborates on his work in social justice, including talking about his position as commissioner of the Lexington Human Rights Commission.

Keywords: Activism; Extroverts; Introverts; LGBT community; LGBTQ community; Political advocacy; Political advocates; Protests; Socializing

Subjects: Friendship.; Gay pride parades; Social justice.

00:48:20 - The perpetual process of coming out during his run for Kentucky House of Representatives

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Partial Transcript: And my next question is shifting gears slightly. Um, as you know coming out can be a perpetual process, particularly as you meet new people. So, do you ever find yourself coming out still, and in what situations does that tend to come up in?

Segment Synopsis: Mers discusses his run for the Kentucky House of Representatives during 2017. He describes that campaign as a perpetual process of coming out. Mers also talks about feeling as if others focused on his sexual identity to the point of eclipsing other potentially more important political concerns and aspects of his platform. Mers speculates as to why people focused on his sexual identity, adding that some people had good and supportive intentions whereas others had antagonistic intentions.

Keywords: Hate mail; Kentucky House of Representatives; LGBT community; LGBTQ community; Sexuality--Religious aspects; State House of Representatives

Subjects: Coming out (Sexual orientation); Frankfurt (Ky.); Gay men--United States--Social conditions.; Gay men.; Homophobia.; Identity politics.; Political campaigns.; Politics.

00:52:12 - Lexington as a beacon for the rest of Kentucky / How Lexington has changed over the years

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Partial Transcript: And another gear shift in questions, uh, what spaces do you feel have been welcoming to your identity?

Segment Synopsis: Mers discusses the difference between Lexington and other towns and cities in Kentucky. He describes Lexington as a welcoming place in which he feels welcome, both in general and as a gay man. Mers talks about Lexington as a beacon for hope and progress for the rest of the state of Kentucky. He also talks about how much Lexington has changed politically and socially over the years, particularly with regards to the LGBTQ community.

Keywords: Acceptance; Belonging; LGBT community; LGBTQ community; Safety; Welcoming

Subjects: Fayette County (Ky.); Gay men--United States--Social conditions.; Gay men.; Gay pride parades; Jessamine County (Ky.); Lexington (Ky.); Sexual minorities.

00:55:03 - Thoughts on the Trump administration and the potential impact on marginalized communities

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Partial Transcript: Uh so earlier--and again leaping topics--earlier you mentioned Donald Trump and I always ask this in all the interviews usually toward the end.

Segment Synopsis: Mers talks about his thoughts and feeling regarding Donald Trump. He describes what members of the government he thinks present significant risk to marginalized communities and why.

Keywords: Donald Trump; Hatred; LGBT community; LGBTQ community; Marginalization; Marginalized communities; Political agreement; Political disagreement; Social circles; Trump administration

Subjects: Homophobia.; Politics.; Racism.; Social media.

00:57:09 - Hopes for the future

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Partial Transcript: And this is gonna be my last question. Um, what gives you hope for the future?

Segment Synopsis: Mers shares what gives him hope for the future. He talks about how looking back on his childhood and seeing how much progress the LGBTQ community has made gives him hope. He uses a scene from the "Will & Grace" television series reboot to illustrate the kind of progress he has seen.

Keywords: Celebration; Childhood; Diversity; Future; Hope; Looking back; Progress; Representation; Rural LGBTQ kids

Subjects: Equality.; Gay men--United States--Social conditions.; Sexual minorities.; Will and Grace (Television program : 1998-2006)