Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Marriage Equality Comes to Dixie

For those who do not live in blue enclaves as I do, it's easy to forget that once every American lived in very homophobic times. Among people of my generation, the forty and below set, being LGBT is not a problem, and is hardly even an issue. I admit that living where I do now, in a very blue city, makes life much easier. The area of town where I worship was once a gay ghetto and has since become gentrified. Strength in numbers once mattered very much.

I really envy the kids who grow up today without similar angst and rejection, knowing in a different time that there was much to keep hidden. A while ago, I relayed here my own story of coming out as bisexual to my parents. Though it is not nearly as intense as the account to follow, it involved fits of temper and very hurtful remarks from both parents.

Though I recognize now that the fighting could have been much worse, our quarrel was still awful and wrenching. I'll never feel free to mention my sexual orientation around the both of them, though I have gathered by indirect channels that they've come to terms with it themselves, somewhat. I think they would prefer to forget.

To get you up to speed, a court ruling last week struck down my home state of Alabama's ban on same-sex marriage. Couples who have waited for years to tie the knot legally are doing so as has been the case with other states. I find it incredibly hard to believe that this day has really arrived, but I am overjoyed that it has.

From my own home state's newspaper, I'd like to share a story. A highly educated liberal living elsewhere may find this account hard to believe. I don't. This wasn't my life, gratefully, but it was the life of some I knew growing up. Those of us who were out, and often those who weren't banded together for protection in the same part of town, a silent gay neighborhood that only those in the know were even aware. So while I always encourage us to look forward, it is often instructive to look back from whence we came.

Stories like these were once the norm, not the exception.

"I feel much more protection legally," Sherry Tonini said as friends celebrated both the wedding and Sherry's birthday. "We're pretty conservative, ordinary people, but this gives me courage to allow our story to get out there."
In fact, Jessica and Sherry are so conservative, religiously, that they didn't have a word for the electric connection between them when they met in 2005. Jessica and Sherry could not admit such an outlandish idea to themselves, but the people around them knew. Within a year, both lost their jobs at a large church when fellow staff members decided that something was "unbalanced" about their intense friendship.

Let it be known that my presence in conservative religious circles was short-lived. The right-wing church I attended was more theater than confrontational in its theology. It certainly wouldn't have meddled in the personal lives of employees. Rather than engage in discussion about homosexuality or same-sex marriage, churchgoers most likely would prefer to change the subject. I was never told I was going to hell. I think it's easy to overstate the worst case scenario and not relay the passive-aggression that is more commonplace and usually suffices for conflict in instances like these.

It's an interesting twist that the two recently-married women identify as ideologically conservative. While LGBTs usually identify as liberal, the culture of overwhelmingly red states like Alabama influences the political views of queer residents. Though one might think that voting GOP would be voting against one's interests, many people I knew saw no inconsistency. Before we assume that a system of oppression brainwashes people wholesale both politically and legally, let's grant them the right to believe as they wish.

Narratives like these are too easily propagated and should be seen in proper proportion. That said, they are inexcusably intolerant and authoritarian whenever and wherever they occur.

"The leaders of the church told me they had been monitoring our private instant messenger conversations for some time," Jessie Seals said. "They wanted to protect me from the evils of homosexuality, and had a holy inkling that we were headed in that direction."
Homosexuality? Yuck. For Jessie, that was still one of the most forbidden, taboo and sinful temptations that a Christian could fall prey to. Filled with self-loathing, she cleared out her desk and took the church's offer of free counseling.

Aside from spiteful ex-husbands and ex-wives, it takes a tremendous amount of gall to invade a person's privacy like this. Intrusive behavior may have been excused under the auspices of keeping a person out of hell, but it is not justified. I mostly seek to keep this anecdote from reaching the status of hyperbole. I could tell several stories like this one and many others that were more peacefully resolved. One nightmare scenario is too many, but it should not speak for all.

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