Local Competition Celebrates LGBTQ+ Voices
The inaugural Live Out Proud Poetry Contest was launched in the summer of 2021 with the goal of amplifying LGBTQ+ voices in the Wyoming Valley. The contest was created in partnership by Rainbow Alliance, NEPA Pride Project and NEPA Creative.
The purpose of the contest was to bring creative expression to life within the Greater Wyoming Valley LGBTQ+ community. We asked for unpublished poems that move us, make us laugh/cry, teach us something new or a combination. By promoting the creative medium of poetry, our vision was for those who submitted to express themselves and how it pertains to “Live Out Proud” in their own poetic words.
The idea for the poetry contest came from local community member and poet, Alyssa Duffy.
“Poetry has been an outlet of mine throughout my life. An art form which to me lacks community representation,” Alyssa explained. “I was writing a lot of poetry, especially during quarantine. I wanted to incorporate poetry in the community somehow, someway. As a gay woman, I researched and contacted the Rainbow Alliance. I knew how much creativity we have in the LGBTQ community—especially in families or communities who don’t accept us. Holly [Pilcavage] and the Rainbow Alliance Board jumped right in with my idea.”
The Rainbow Alliance was founded in 2004 to provide education, support and advocacy for LGBTQ+ individuals and families throughout the Wyoming Valley.
“As a community-centered organization, the Rainbow Alliance is proud to use our platform as a vehicle to amplify the voices of local LGBTQ+ creatives,” expressed Anthony Melf, Rainbow Alliance Chair. “When Alyssa proposed this contest, we not only wanted to amplify her voice and see her vision become a reality, but use the contest as a platform for others to do the same through their writing. The queer community has a lot of stories to tell, and we’re thankful for all of the poets who used their talent to show the power in our words.”
The NEPA Pride Project is an organization focused on celebrating, educating and demonstrating artistic experience within our youth, LGBT and all underrepresented communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania. “Alongside our partner organizations, NEPA Creative and the Rainbow Alliance, it was important to collaboratively strengthen artistic expression within the community,” explained Justin Correll, NEPA Pride Project co-founder.
“This opportunity allowed participants the chance to open their hearts to the world. It also allowed them to gain control over strong feelings, and let them transform emotions into new and creative energies,” Correll continued. “We have all heard stories of individuals needing an outlet while struggling in daily life’s routines, and by having this contest, we helped to share their stories for many just like them.”
NEPA Creative is committed to supporting local creatives, fostering creativity and connecting opportunity, so when the ask to get involved as a partner for the inaugural Live Out Loud Poetry Contest was presented, it was a resounding yes from co-founder Holly K. Pilcavage. “Every week with our Sunday Spotlight and every month at our Creative Meetups, we focus on spotlighting and creating spaces for creatives and non-creatives alike to share their stories and passions,” Holly explained. “When asked to partner to bring this poetry contest to life, it was the easiest and biggest YES for us!”
In addition to the partners, there were four judges that participated in a blind judging selection: Samantha Bucher (she/her), Jennifer Judge Yonkoski (she/her), Kris Atienza (they/them) and Dawn Leas (she/her). Once the judges’ work was done, they provided the Live Out Proud Contest committee with the results. For this inaugural contest, there were top three prize winners, each receiving recognition across digital and traditional media platforms as well as monetary prizes.
First Place: Billie R. Tadros
Billie R. Tadros (she/her or they/them) was the first-place winner of the contest.
“I am really grateful that this exists. I think it’s a really cool thing,” Billie said. “This contest helped me to feel like I’m at home, since I’m pretty new to the region with just starting at The University [of Scranton] in 2018. And when I say ‘home’ I mean both in the sense that I’ve found a home for my work and a home for myself in NEPA. I really am grateful for this particular honor.”
“In 2021, we’re so used to saying representation matters. It’s almost now a common cliché, to the point that I think it’s easy to forget what we mean when we say it,” shared Billie. “It’s truly crucial that LGBTQ-identifying individuals share their voices. One of my favorite books is The Wounded Storyteller by sociologist Arthur Frank, and he argues that although our individual experiences are unique and personal, we don’t make up our experiences on our own. In other words, we learn how to be who we are and what we are by witnessing others’ stories and experiences. Having access to those stories and experiences in some ways is crucial to being able to articulate our own. It helps create and give us space, and spaces, in which to feel welcome to articulate our own experiences.”
Billie is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Theatre at The University of Scranton. She earned her Ph.D. in English from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and her M.F.A. in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College, and she is a graduate of the Writers Institute at Susquehanna University.
Interestingly enough, while growing up Billie wanted to either be a marine biologist or an astronaut. Somewhere in between, she said she wanted to be an “author.” Billie shared that she lost her father to suicide in high school, and as a result she began writing more, as a means of trying to find language both to represent that loss and to heal from it. She began writing and submitting poems and having them published at the high school level.
Once in college, Billie grew more serious about writing. While attending Susquehanna University, her professors challenged and encouraged her, ultimately teaching her to really look both at what language can do and what it can’t do—and that investigative approach really pushed Billie as a writer.
“On a good day, I hope I am offering students at The University of Scranton something like what my professors offered to me,” shared Billie. “A lot of LGBTQ students end up in my classes. They’ve told me they are grateful to see me on campus. I hope that I am doing more than just being visible for them, though. I hope I am helping them to be storytellers and facilitators of their own lives.”
She is the author of three books of poems, Graft Fixation (Gold Wake Press, 2020), Was Body (Indolent Books, 2020) and The Tree We Planted and Buried You In (Otis Books, 2018), and three chapbooks, Am/Are I (Francis House, 2020), inter: burial places (Porkbelly Press, 2016) and Containers (Dancing Girl Press, 2014). She is currently working on a narrative research project exploring the gendered implications of traumatic injuries to self-identified women runners, and seeking to articulate a feminist injury poetics. You can find more of her and her work at www.BillieRTadros.com.
You can read Billie’s winning poem below:
D is for Delta, or,
Estuary, as Two Marry, a Tidal, a Bridal Opening
The mouth of mouth-
water, where the land forms
embayment: I bayed, I said, I meant—
I saw her, a bayou, a holding, or,
like deposition, desublimated, how I tried
to condensate but frosted your surface
unseasonable but sure-
faced and familiar, like the hungry basin and its receding
lobes, the lost shoreline, the gulf
how I swallowed it, how like other mouths, other
outfalls, I swam it, the fallout, treading, so
warm, your tributary
Second Place: Jolene Maleski
Jolene Maleski (she/her/hers) is a nearing-middle-aged lesbian and first-time mom that likes writing, baking, weightlifting and deep introspection when time allows. She has been working from home for years in the health industry and recently started working on her own mental health journey with no shame to her game. She has used humor to get her through most things in life and her brains for the rest with the help of her Bachelor’s from King’s College. She can usually be found reading, humming, overthinking and loving her friends and family, mostly all at once. She has been known to be a nervous procrastinator, but she is good people.
One of Jack’s Moms
When I grew up, I wanted to be a nun who raised dogs on a farm.
No joke. That’s not a punchline, more like the pipe dream
of the young married lesbian mom of one boy, one cat, I am today.
I not-so-fondly remember when I used to pray,
so unsure what I was heartily sorry for.
I was a good girl. I followed the rules.
Couldn’t a girl love God and girls too?
I never asked anyone
And so I grew into this half proud version of me
That learned to perfect the ability to bite their tongue while smiling, beautifully.
Until she kissed the lipstick off my teeth before the picture was taken
but after I traced her faced lest I forget every detail on it.
This earthly angel my proof of faith
From the caramel flecks in her eyes to her sweet, crooked smile,
her hidden tell for sincerity.
Fast forward to today, I trace her face lest I forget
what our love created.
Our baby boy being baptized before my very eyes,
Countless nights we all wanted to cry
And how it all started-
With a 45 minute kiss that led to this,
Never to be taken for granted.
Now that half of me smiles without holding my breath
because I choose, too
and partly because I buy my serotonin from the Target Pharmacy
appropriately located next to the health and beauty.
This once severely personal person,
with love and love alone
walked through each circle of hell at different hours
to come out wholly, on her own
and half responsible for another’s introduction
to self-esteem, itself.
I learned to manifest my happiness
And live out proud my wedded bliss, daily
Forever divinely blessed
To have this title, this family.
Third Place: Jacob P. Kelley
Jacob P. Kelley is a nonbinary queer-inclusive sex educator. They are driven by wanting to help people live their fullest and most authentic lives. Mx. Kelley has their M.Ed. from Widener University, and they are a local community educator in Northeastern Pennsylvania. They are a local NEPA Drag Queen known as Trixy Valentine, who is a former Ms. NEPA PrideFest 2019 and 2020. Mx. Kelley has an online presence called Jacob Kelley Queer Education along with an educational video series known as Juicy with Jake.
The Armor of Hope To Live Out Proud
Forged from their anger and a will to survive
Without this armor, could I even stay alive?
Developed from the scars of history and my own experience
I learned that this armor grants my resilience.
Strapped to my body with courage and doubt
My armor protects me from misguided clout.
Without it, I could never raise my fist.
In order to prove that being gay, trans, and different is a reason to exist.
I am a warrior within my battle for rights
However, this armor does not protect me from the exhaustion of never-ending fights.
If my armor is ever stripped away from me.
The hope that keeps me going will cease to be.
It is my shield, my protection from the society that’s hollow.
As individuals, we are born naked and expected to follow.
I grew up to understand that being queer comes second
Because the evolution of humanity never took time to reckon.
I carved my name in the fold of the tag
In case I am found unconscious for being a fag.
Within the battle for diversity, equity and inclusion.
There seems to be an unfair advantage to non-queers’ delusion.
I watch the scene on our rural battle grounds
There, people who do not need armor always seem to hound.
They curse at me that I am a sin with their pointed tongues.
No matter who they are; big, small, old or young.
I wield my sword and raise it to the sky
I am ready to charge; to strike down the lie.
I am always prepared to defend myself
Because my armor was not built to be put on a shelf.
Many fallen warriors who were bold to be loud
Gave me my armor of hope to live out proud