When my partner, Catherine Brereton, first shared with me her concept for The Diversity Project—a hand-made blanket with squares created for and by members and allies of the Lexington LGBT community—my only real thought was, “Well, at least she’ll get to knit.” Knitting is her innocent vice. Our children joke that nothing gets done around our house until Catherine has “finished just this one last row,” so I wasn’t really surprised that she managed to turn her Jury Project for U.K.’s Gaines Center for the Humanities fellowship into an excuse to knit even more! But as the project began quickly to take shape, I realized how timely, necessary, and important this project can be for our beloved, central Kentucky community.
Immediately, I realized what big gaps there are for participation in our LGBT “community.” The activism and social opportunities in our area include some, but exclude so many: closeted people, LGBT people with children, the economically disenfranchised, the very young and very old, some families and friends of LGBT people, people in very rural communities surrounding Lexington. My sense is that, as we have suspected all along, the LGBT “community” doesn’t exist for many of us. Isolation, rather than belonging, is the norm.
The Diversity Project is a community project, a cultural project, a grass roots project limited only by the creativity and interests of its participants. It is not even limited to those with skill at fiber art. I’m quite certain that, an hour into a knitting lesson, all I’ll have is a mountain of frustration and a poked eye, but I might give it a try. I can certainly dedicate a quotation or donate yarn, needles, and time. The project offers all of us the opportunity to connect with one another through shared goals or shared skills. It is about collaboration, education, and celebration.
Since The AIDS Quilt, fiber arts have been used in more national, political ways. Knitting in particular has become associated with certain kinds of environmental and feminist activism. But a blanket consciously evokes the domestic sphere. To me, there is nothing more comforting, nothing that says “home” more than a hand-made blanket.. My associations are Kentucky memories, Kentucky experiences: blankets in family and friends’ houses, blankets made by my grandmother and aunts, blankets knitted for babies’ births and crocheted to comfort grievers, weeks after funerals. I know blankets my grandmother made using the cheapest yarn around, purely for sturdy use, and gorgeous works of art, almost too detailed and expensive to look at. For my partner and creator of this Project, Catherine, knitting was her first real entrance into the Lexington community. She brought her wool and her needles from Derbyshire, England, and immediately found friends and comrades among the knitterati of our city. She, quite literally, knitted herself into Lexington. And so, woven into the Project is the tacit acknowledgment that all of us deserve the dignity and support inherent in the blanket of an affirming community.
The metaphor of the blanket is thus public and private, social and domestic, intensely local and potentially global. Like the blanket The Diversity Project imagines, our LGBT community must be created, worked on, invested in, and literally “pieced together.” It includes people who may surprise us—pieces of our community that we do not immediately recognize as being part of its fabric. It allows anyone—including non-Kentuckians who nonetheless identify with the project’s goals—to become a part of our community, thus connecting our small city with the national and international projects of inclusivity and human rights. It is an ongoing, growing, changing idea, not only a physical creation.
Above all, The Diversity Project provides an interactive, physical representation of an LGBT community that is at once pre-existent and emerging. It invites us to contribute a piece of ourselves to a piece of fabric of which we are already very much a part.
Susan K. Stewart
September 5th, 2011