HUDSON -- As the Hudson Area Public Library continued its Voices in the Valley event with an LGBTQ panel, it was a struggle to find people willing to participate, Interim Co-Director Shelley Tougas said.

“We are doing this ongoing series of Voices in the Valley to help build understanding in our community and hopefully improve the culture in our community because it’s been pretty rough, honestly,” Tougas said.

Participant Sarah said she was hesitant to be part of the event, and wasn’t sure if it would feel like the right choice tomorrow.

She and her wife moved to Hudson four years ago knowing it was a conservative area. They were concerned and intimidated by a string of pride flag thefts at the time.

“We also knew there was a lot of people here that were working really hard to recognize the diversity and make it more welcoming,” she said.

Still safety is something that she thinks about all the time, and she is especially vigilant when she’s out with her wife. The concern is about more than just feeling physically safe, Sarah said.

“It’s also being on guard from being sexualized or reduced to my sexual orientation,” she said.

The council's consideration of a diversity committee is promising, Sarah said. She also encouraged people not to elect homophobic or transphobic candidates and to discourage those that are looking to make people in the LGBTQ community feel unsafe.

Brandon said as a white male his concern for safety is low. He said he could ensure people from the LGBTQ community could move here and know they won’t be harmed, but he can’t ensure they’ll be accepted. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t come though, he said.

“You are not alone,” he said.

Hudson still has a lot to do in terms of awareness, he said, and encouraged people to stand up for others and check in on them.

Viki lived in Hudson briefly. As a queer woman she said the only response she has to deal with is what most women deal with on the street. She has different concerns for her husband Jason as a trans man and other transgender people.

Allies don’t always understand how serious the concerns are, and she encouraged them to be outspoken if they hear people speaking against those that are LGBTQ.

“That’s the only way they’re going to be challenged if we make them uncomfortable,” she said.

Jason lives in the cities, and said he’s often uncomfortable coming into communities like Hudson because he doesn’t know the level of supportive, unsupportive and neutral people.

He also emphasized the importance of allies speaking up.

“You need to be louder about it because you’re in less danger being loud about it than the people that are a member of our group,” he said.

Asked what advice they would give to youth, Brandon’s said they should vocalize when they need help.

“It’s tough and it is hard and it is scary and it will make you want to leave this planet faster than the SpaceX Falcon 9 takes off, but you need to talk to somebody,” he said. “You are not alone.”

Brandon said he has hope that things are getting better.

Youth should know it’s OK if they’re not ready to come out yet, Sarah said, and they can do it when they’re safe.

“You belong to the world, you belong here just as you are, your authentic self,” she said.

As for those who know someone who is struggling with their identity, she said, “Don’t force them to choose between loving who they are and being loved by you.”

Among his adult friends now, Jason said he’s found many didn’t get the support they need in family or community as youth, but found it elsewhere as they group up.

“They have what they call their chosen family,” he said.

Sometimes that chosen family can be found in those who don’t stand next to you, via online groups and forums. Internet friends are real friends, though he said there is a need to be careful and cautious online.

When asked for final advice or steps Hudson can take to be more inclusive, Brandon said that is hard to do because he can’t tell others what to do or feel.

“What I can do is listen, what I can do is be here, what I can do is say you are valued,” he said.

One thing he would love to see in this community, though he said it sounds cheesy, is a gay bar.

“Some people are afraid to go to some of the most mainstream places here,” he said.

A coffee shop would be great too, Sarah said. She also thanked those in attendance, saying an event like this one is part of continuing the conversation to make the community more open and welcoming.

“You are the ones wanting to make things better in the community,” she said.

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