Elijah “Lige” Clarke (1942-1975) was a native of Hindman, Kentucky and a formative figure of the Queer Liberation Movement in the mid-20th Century. In the mid-1960’s, while he was in the US Army (with top security clearances, assigned to the Army’s Chief-of-Staff at the Pentagon), Lige would pass out gay rights pamphlets in the evenings.
He was an early member and organizer of the Mattachine Society, the first gay liberation organization in the United States, and became a leader of the group’s New York and Washington, DC Chapters. He helped organize the first gay rights picket line at the White House in 1965—hand lettering protest signs himself. With his partner, Jack Nicols (1938-2005), he created and edited “Gay”, America’s first national LGBTQ newspaper, founding it in 1969 on the heels of the Stonewall Riot.
The Lige Clarke Liberation Fund honors his life’s work by supporting LGBTQ+ activism, leadership, and infrastructure in his homeplace—Appalachian Kentucky.
Clarke’s Activism and the Appalachian LGBTQ+ Community
While much of his activism was based on the East Coast, Clarke’s work led to systemic change that shaped the lives and rights of LGBTQ+ people in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky, the Commonwealth, and across the country. To honor his life and work, this fund was created with Clarke’s family, including artist Eric Rhein.
Its purpose is to ensure that LGBTQ+ youth and leaders have the tools and resources they need to build a more just, diverse, and vibrant Appalachia—where everyone can have a seat at the table regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Contrary to popular belief, Appalachian Kentucky has a vibrant LGBTQ+ community with a new generation of young leaders and nascent nonprofit organizations working to shape the region to be more inclusive. Lacking are the tools and resources to enable these nonprofits, writers, advocates, educators, and community organizers to drive this work.
Appalachia’s history is characterized by out-migration due to so many in our communities having to seek education and work opportunities outside the region. Like Lige, our region’s LGBTQ+ youth are exponentially more likely to leave the region in search of connectivity and safety in areas with larger, more visible LGBTQ+ communities, and in localities that provide greater legal protections for LGBTQ+ people.
In honor of Lige’s work, the Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky has committed to housing and supporting this fund, in order to build the capacity of our region’s LGBTQ+ leaders, to propel community engagement and policy reform—with the goal of ensuring that our LGBTQ+ community can find that necessary connectivity and rise where they are already rooted.
How You Can Support the Lige Clarke Liberation Fund
We invite you to give to this fund to support and affirm the contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals in our wider society.
If you would like to get involved with the fund as a community member, are a donor or funder and would like to learn more about the goals of the fund, or if you have any other questions, please contact Lora Smith.