Larry Kitchen will receive the 2013 Mark DeWolfe Award from Interweave Continental (Unitarian Universalists for Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Concerns) at the UUA's general assembly in Louisville June 20. The award memorializes the first openly gay UU minister.
Were you surprised to win the award?
My jaw dropped—I didn't even know I was nominated! I am humbled and proud to represent Tennessee and TVUUC.
Where did you get your start with activism?
I was raised in Battle Creek, Mich., and coming out to my family resulted in the loss of support, family, and employment. Starting over in Illinois brought me to the Lakeview area of Chicago, where I was befriended by local activists Guy Charles and his partner Mike. This is where I met my partner of 30 years, Ken Palmer Kitchen—we had our Holy Commitment ceremony at Good Shepherd MCC 28 years ago. I dragged Ken into upfront activism and appearing on television, resulting in Ken being fired. We moved to Knoxville 10 years ago and quickly got involved in local LGBTQ issues when we met local activists Gary Elgin and Beth Maples-Bays. Through Beth, I'm very active with Tennessee Equality Project, Knox county chapter. 2014 will mark 10 years dedicated to promoting and sustaining the equality of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer persons in the state of Tennessee through the establishment of fair and equitable laws protecting these rights. We also work for the elimination of laws that would seek to counter this effort. Each March Ken and I rent a van and take a group to Nashville to speak with their legislators. I also supported Mayor Rogero's election. I staffed the phone bank and was part of her "human billboard" campaign. A very short time after she took office, a non-discrimination ordinance was passed for city employees. And six other people and I are actively working on a non-discrimination policy for county employees.
How does the award reflect your relationship with TVUUC?
After the 2008 shooting there, we transitioned from friends to members at TVUUC. The 7 Principles are lifelines to me. I'm an usher and greeter and for the past five years have chaired the social action/justice committee. TVUUC sustains and renews our efforts with love and guidance—and they feed us bagels!
What's been your favorite/most successful activism participation effort so far?
Helping Chicago to pass non-discrimination in housing, jobs, etc.—for the whole city, not just city employees. And helping the city of Knoxville pass non-discrimination for its city employees.
Where will we see you next?
I will continue to keep the conversation going so I and all LGBTQ people will not feel like second-class citizens.
Where would you like to see the general East Tennessee population focus next regarding civil rights ?
Equal employment! Everyone has to put food on the table.
Not all your activities center on LGBT issues.
No, I also drive a van for the Family Promise organization, where first-time homeless families are shuttled between a host church and the day residence. And I drive for the FISH organization that collects and delivers a week's worth of groceries and toiletries to indigent families.
How come you're always the go-to guy for driving the van?
I consider myself as a very good driver, and am nervous when others drive. I hope things will go well on the four-hour drive to Louisville for the award—friends are taking us.