I first met Ellen in July of 2017 at the inaugural Ohio Valley Pride Parade. I met her again almost exactly one year later as a new addition to the OVP Board. I have been astounded by her courage, wit, and passion for advocacy. Ellen’s community leadership and perseverance have made indelible marks on the Ohio Valley. I asked Ellen if she would sit for an interview to discuss her advocacy, community work, and the future of her home – the Ohio Valley. Here is her take. – Rosemary Ketchum
WHAT INSPIRES YOUR JOURNEY IN ADVOCACY?
“The causes that are important to me blossomed when I became a mother. I’m a lifelong ally and advocate for LGBT rights and I also try to educate others on addiction and recovery. Both of these issues are personal for me, as I have friends and family members in both of these communities.
I have always been a ‘mama bear’ when it comes to injustice, and having kids of my own only served to strengthen the fighter in me. I will always aim to protect any mothers child in whatever ways I can.”
HAVE THERE BEEN MOMENTS WHEN YOU’VE FELT LIKE AN OUTSIDER?
“Yes. In the 90’s, the ‘Names Project’ came to Wheeling, they were looking for volunteers, I wanted a community organization to get involved but they said “No, thanks, we’re not going to do that kind of thing.”
It was so powerful. I grew up in the seventies, and the times were not kind to my friends and family members. It just broke my heart to see the people I cared most about unable to be honest with their closest friends about who they were.
I would think, “how could you go about your life without feeling comfortable being who you are?” It is a fundamental right of being a human being – to be who you were born to be.
I knew I might not be able to make huge changes, but I do what I can to educate people.”
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR OTHER ALLIES WHO WOULD LIKE TO HELP THE LGBT COMMUNITY?
“I was flattered when I was asked to join the [OVP] board because I realized that I was coming from a different perspective than most everybody else.
The first step for allies to contribute is to listen to someone else, hear someone out, and leave your opinions out of things at first… If you see something that doesn’t feel right the simplest thing you can do, if you don’t care to get involved with a group, is to speak up.
I’m lucky to be connected to Orrick on a professional level because they are very concerned about the issues impacting the community and are always looking for ways to help”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON SOCIETAL PRIVILEGE?
“I am well aware that I live my life from a position of privilege because of the skin and circumstance that I was born with. If I can use that in any way to help someone else and am happy to do it.
When you talk to some people about privilege, they think “Well, what are you? a Rockefeller?”
That isn’t at all what we mean by inherent privileged, it’s oftentimes much more implicit.
I am a middle class white female – that is a societal privilege most people don’t have.”
WHAT IS THE BIGGEST SOCIAL OBSTACLE WE MUST ADDRESS IN REGARDS TO ADDICTION?
“Regarding addiction and recovery, the first thing we have to do is address is the stigma.
If your loved one was diagnosed with cancer you wouldn’t blame yourself, or be afraid to seek the support of your friends and family, but with addiction there is still so much shame.
I tell the people I work with that, “there are 400 people in this building and there is somebody who is affected… who is addicted.”
You may not know it, they may hide it very well, but everybody knows somebody who is impacted. It is in every socioeconomic background, people want to believe that it cannot happen to their family, but It can.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOUR 20 YEAR-OLD SELF?
[laughing] “Believe it or not, I was very quiet. I had many passions and beliefs but I wasn’t always quick to speak up and defend them, so I would say “don’t be afraid.”
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST OBSTACLES YOU HAVE DISCOVERED WORKING FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE IN THE OV?
“The biggest obstacles I encounter are peoples generalizations and stereotypes, as well as their unwillingness to learn about situations and lifestyles they have no personal knowledge of.
“The homeless are drug addicts.” “LGBT people are pedophiles and are going to rot in hell”
If each of us could step out of our comfort zone and get to know someone who is different from us in some way, we’d all learn some important lessons… we are all more alike than we are different”
HAVE YOU SEEN VERY MUCH SOCIAL PROGRESS IN THE VALLEY?
“Regarding the Ohio valley’s progress socially, I do believe we’ve made great strides in the right direction. I am so thrilled that the younger generation can be open about who they are without as much criticism. However, things happen from time to time that make me realize we still have a long way to go.
And, as long as there is progress to be made, I’ll be advocating for vulnerable populations.”
WHAT DRIVES YOU TO CONTINUE YOUR COMMUNITY AND ADVOCACY WORK?
“I always wanted to win the lottery so I could establish the ‘McCroskey Foundation.’ But, since that hasn’t happened yet, I’ll settle for using what little influence I might have to make the world a better place for everyone.
I’ve always believed that although one person may not be able to do anything mighty, there is power in small acts done with great love.
If each of us just did one thing each day to uplift another person or to consider things from someone else’s perspective, we’d be a lot closer to having peace on Earth.” –
In addition to being on the OVP Board and Ohio County Democratic Women, Ellen is also a sustaining member of the Junior League of Wheeling, a member of Orrick’s Diversity & Inclusion committee, a member of Christ United Methodist Church, and a contributing writer for Weelunk.