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Matthew Ebert Headshot

Mississippi Goddam

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MISSISSIPPI
altrendo nature via Getty Images

We are rural Americans. But as Nina Simone would shout, "Mississippi Goddam!" Tennessee too. Both states recently passed discrimination and bullying laws. And when people stop me and say the fight for the rights of sexual and gender minorities mirrors that of the struggles of black Americans, as well as when others say that is a disrespectful analogy, I say it's not our sides that are similar; it's the bigots who are similar. Bigotry is universal, hate is the same, and oppression never changes its stripes. So while the struggles are unique, the opposition is not. Bigots are bigots wherever you land.

America, I am your gay son. I am your tiller in spring, corn silk in summer, harvest in fall, a snowcap in winter. I can your peaches and blueberries, bake bread, milk cows. I stand at the mountaintop and lie in the valley. I do it year round with no regard for my beginning or my expiration date. One day we will be truly united, you and I. States: ash, decay and soil, that kind of united America.

I visit your desolate cities. I desire to fix what is broken. I need both your flower and your urban blight, the hum of those streets. I need your roads with my car window rolled down, my arms outstretched to catch fistfuls of rain.

I will always be a rural propagator. I want sexual and gender minorities to go home. I want you to see the world from a small town, as I have. If only for one summer, I want you to feel safe and alive in the forest and the field. I want those places to do for you what they have done for me. I want you to be renewed.

Cities on the plains. Cities on the coasts. Ghettos and glass towers. I understand your allure. But do you understand watching a spring thaw move slowly across the rocks, and drop into a brook, and sail on to the river? This is a lifesaving event.

Go home, Americans. Go home and hear the wind in a spruce tree. Touch the moss on blue shale. Go feel the bark of a sugar maple, and jump in a clean stream. Clear your mind. Take yourself, in this moment, to a place where no one wants to stone you for your sexual orientation or gender identity. A place where you are in neither the minority nor the majority. A place where you are a living, breathing part of the fabric of this landscape.

Forget about your troubles periodically and be rewarded with the urgency of a sapling, one searching for the sun, sleeping on a bed of nurse logs beneath its mother, one of those towering pines looming up from the floor. Forget that you are a minority. You are not. You are a part of this world. You have purpose up above what your body craves or colors. You have the strength of 10 bigots. So split their difference like an atom smasher does subatomic particles.

Wonder at the diversity of the natural world and you will see that without biodiversity, life is mute. Then you will be transformed by a connection to all living things. You will walk away a changed person. You will know that there is a way out of fear, self-loathing, and loneliness. You never walk alone in a forest. There are living things, and there is no way to ignore the flower and the bear. You are right in it, walking and breathing, away from the only species whose members target you for your sexual orientation, your gender identity, your class, your race, your religion. That species is your own.

There is no poverty in the wild world, only the currency of stone, water, soil and wood. Go home and be glad. Revel in your resurrection. America, I am your gay son. We are all your sons and daughters, and it's time you understood, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arizona, et al. We are here to stay. And we will gain equal protection, because we are right to call even Mississippi our home. We will fight for that right just like those who've come before us in a long struggle against a divided state of oppression, and we will win. History, equality, and freedom -- they are on our side. And Nina Simone will play on like a battle hymn of this great republic. Turn it up.