The world seems surreal when your own government makes laws against you. You feel like you’ve been sent back in time and space to Nazi Germany. Or like you’re stuck in a Twilight Zone episode or a Daphne du Maurier short story. This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. And yet, everyone around you is carrying on as if nothing is out of the ordinary; it’s business as usual in Mississippi. They don’t even think to ask you how you are coping with this.
My mind won’t stop. I obsess. I can’t sleep and my blood pressure is up. I can’t stop thinking about the incredible breadth and depth of ignorance and mean-spiritedness that got us here. And so I am filled with anger and disgust. And fear and hurt. How can people be so ignorant as to A) allow themselves to be led down this path of hate by their “Christianity”- though they completely ignore the teachings of the man they claim to by their Lord and Savior and B) not to realize that the governor whose own son is gay is using the issue of “religious freedom” as a red herring to distract his base from the fact that he has bankrupted the state, bankrupted education and health and mental health in the worst educated, poorest, least healthy state in the nation. My heart and soul are crushed that preachers and politicians have bastardized the Gospel to make this happen. I keep thinking, have they never read Matthew? Do they truly believe that Jesus would condone this cruelty?
You, dear reader, may be surprised to learn that my wife of 28 years and I and our beautiful, smart, and ambitious 17-year-old son have a good life here in Mississippi. Kathy and I are professionals. We are blessed and privileged beyond measure. And to some degree, we are insulated from the worst of the homophobia. But it creeps in now and again in nasty responses to news stories about us and our social justice activities, in emails and Facebook messages. The power of conservative fundamentalism in Mississippi is strong and pervasive. It’s clear that as HB 1523 goes into effect, there will be audacious displays of anti-LGBT sentiments and actions, the worst of which will torment the less resilient, like teenagers struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity. Last week, I had a conversation with a young person whose mother found out about his gender ambiguity. She threatened to kill him. There is nowhere for this kid to go. 1523 gives therapists, physicians, nurses, the right to refuse treatment to kids like him, to gay males seeking HIV testing, to middle aged lesbians like me needing a mammogram.
That’s what’s frightening. It’s a slippery slope to marginalization and worse. The United States’ vote to uphold the death penalty for LGBT people in the United Nations compounds the fear.
What hurts is that even many of our very dear straight allies don’t get it. They’re walking around like everything is as it always has been and then are surprised when I tell them I am in pain over this. I think we’re getting some small sense of what life has been like for our African-American brothers and sisters all these years. The name-calling, the discrimination, the violence. Meanwhile, life goes on as usual for the straight and cis-gendered.
So, why don’t we leave Mississippi? Why don’t we go somewhere more progressive? First, this is our home; our families and friends are here. Secondly, I don’t know if I could abandon the LGBT folks we would leave behind, many of whom don’t have the means to leave or are tied to this place by family or business. We have chosen to stay here and work for change. That’s why we decided to step out and file for adoption rights for gay and lesbian families (thank God for Robbie Kaplan!) and why we filed with the Campaign for Southern Equality against this heinous HB 15223. And now, we have to keep fighting to educate and advocate. We have to keep working to help people see they’ve been “duped” as our Attorney General finally admitted. We have to keep trying to lift each other up. Sometimes, I am full of fight and ready to go at it. Other times, I feel beat up, not defeated but surely knocked down. That’s where I am right now, and I’m searching for the strength and the will to pick myself back up again. It will come, but it might take a minute.