As many fellow North Carolinians, both gay and straight, would likely agree, May 8 served as a difficult reminder that perhaps times have not changed as much as we thought, or at least not in the South. The disappointing numbers were arguably more disheartening on the heels of a Fayetteville, N.C. pastor's call to physically punish children for not conforming to his arbitrary conception of appropriate gender roles. And even though the clouds lifted, to an extent, after President Obama's declaration of open support for same-sex marriage, I'm once again forced to fear the state I call home.
While the most recent call to violence from a pulpit, courtesy of Providence Road Baptist Church's pastor Charles Worley, is just another example of a fundamentalist's misinterpretation and exploitation of scripture, it is threatening and poses a legitimate risk for me and other members of the LGBT community:
This particular threat, however, hits disturbingly close to home.
Mr. Worley's church, in Maiden, N.C., is located only a few miles north of where I work as an English instructor and tutor for a local community college. And even though managing my work load (being the best teacher I can be for the North Carolina Community College System) is challenging enough at times, I now have to worry about the frightening implications of Mr. Worley's violent and extreme rhetoric. Now more than ever, it seems, I am faced with the fear that a member of the Providence Road congregation, possibly even Mr. Worley himself, will literally do whatever it takes "to get rid of all the lesbians and queers."
Fearing for my safety, my partner's safety, and the safety of anyone else in the area who identifies as LGBT, I did the rational thing and reported the verbal threats to the Maiden Police Department. After speaking with Deputy Hicks (who chose not to reveal his first name) on Monday evening, I was forced to come to terms with the inevitable: People like Charles Worley, Sean Harris, and other proponents of hate speech face virtually no consequences for their words and actions. Hicks informed me, in other words, that until someone is physically injured as a result of Mr. Worley's rhetoric, the police will do nothing to intervene. Unfortunately, my attempts to explain the absurdity of that approach and the severity of the issue were fruitless.
So what do I do now? Sit and wait until someone gets hurt? Go back and forth between home and work knowing that Mr. Worley is legally at liberty to foster hate and abuse his influence in the community? I guess my concerns mean nothing until I'm actually put behind that electric fence of his. I suppose I'll continue to work for, contribute to the economy of, and remain a law-abiding citizen in this state -- a state of which I grow more embarrassed, and, more importantly, more fearful with each passing day.
But here's one thing I won't do: I won't go down without a fight. I will speak out and let my voice be heard as an openly gay man and a Christian; I will correct certain pastors' misrepresentations of and misguided approaches to scripture; and I will continue to fight for the safety and basic civil rights of my LGBT brothers and sisters.
Mr. Worley posed the following question in his "sermon": "Can you imagine kissing some man?"
I can, actually. And I thank God every day that I get to do so with the man I love -- even if this state, and many so-called pastors, call it unconstitutional and sinful.