When Emily Day came out as bisexual two years ago, the support of her mother and her friends at the Cooper County LGBTQ+ Alliance was vital. The 23-year-old united both facets of her support system Wednesday night at the alliance’s annual Thanksgiving Gathering.

Day said having her mother with her “solidifies the fact that she accepts me, that she’s willing to meet my second family.”

In January 2017, Evan Melkersman, 33, founded the Cooper County LGBTQ+ Alliance after identifying the need in his community for a space dedicated to queer people.

“I just knew, growing up here as a gay man, about the lack of visibility for LGBTQ+ individuals,” he said. “That visibility piece was kind of my ultimate goal.”

Day started attending the group’s meetings in September of that year. She said she is grateful both for the existence of the alliance and for the support she has received from the group.

“Littler towns tend to be less accepting, so it’s kind of unique that we have this,” Day said. “If we didn’t have this, people would be more inclined to stay hidden. I know I would.”

One of the first projects the alliance took on was to support the students of Boonville High School in establishing a Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

“A lot of our youth, they grow up here, and they want to get out as soon as possible,” Melkersman said. “And I think a lot of it is the lack of support that they have, either in their family or in their community.”

Ruby Hewerdine, 18, is a senior at Boonville High and a member of both the alliance and the GSA. Hewerdine said that having the support of LGBTQ+ adults is validating.

“It’s good to have older people, because if you don’t, or if you have them but you don’t know, you just feel like maybe there’s like no value to who you are,” she said.

Wednesday evening marked the alliance’s second annual Thanksgiving gathering. About 15 people attended, and before they dug into the feast, Melkersman briefed the group on what they have accomplished in the past year and all that they have planned for 2020.

Melkersman joked that, by this time next year, he hopes to have outgrown their meeting space at the Boonslick Heartland YMCA.

“I hope we fill so many people in this room,” Melkersman said. “And not just queer individuals, but their family, their friends; I want everybody.”

  • Molly Hart is an assistant city editor at the Missourian. She has previously reported on state government. She can be reached at mhart@mail.missouri.edu.

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