In my career, I have worked nationally with several organizations, and made friends across the United States. There isn’t a large city that I can think of where there’s not someone I would want to call and visit or share a smile and a laugh over a beer or a cup of coffee. We are story tellers by our upbringing in the South. It is just something that comes natural to a lot of us. And while I am visiting with my friends, without fail, it will come up, “Why the hell do you still live there?” I am their connection to this mysterious place that gets thrown to the bottom of our national thoughts when it comes to so many things.
I like to think that I tell a different story of Mississippi than one they would expect to hear. I try to tell a story about hope, love, a beautiful landscape, progress (however slow moving), the best food you will every taste in your life, and a life that can be simple and deliberate. We have a rich culture here, hell, our country wouldn’t have Elvis, Rock n Roll, Oprah, Kermit the Frog, Fed-ex, or the Teddy Bear, if it wasn’t for Mississippi! But sometimes, we can’t get out of its own way and history to move forward. In the end, the state as a whole is just a big small town where I would be willing to bet that most of us are just one or two people removed from just about everyone.
But as great as this place can be, I find myself honestly making a lot of excuses for it to my friends and when I go speak somewhere. And this past year alone, I have had to say good bye to over a dozen or more of my friends that have decided to move other parts of the country for better opportunities, and well, quite frankly to be treated fairly. This is the disheartening wake of intolerance that the legislature has created thoughtlessly introducing HB1523, a bill that allows discrimination against LGBTQ people and honestly many others, the full implications aren’t fully understood under the guise of “religious freedom.” The reality is that Mississippi is only state in the South to have its population contracting.
When you live in Mississippi one develops a cringe when you hear your state’s name pops up on the news, because you know it is seldom something that you should be proud of happening here. I have often thought that if we would just change our flag to a non-gender or race specific person shooting themselves in the foot everyone could get on board with the symbolism conveyed in it that our elected leaders have helped to establish for us nationally. As HB1523 goes into effect on Tuesday, I see this happening all over again even as Tropical Storm Nate narrows its sites on our coast. We will again make the national news for our broadcasted intolerance, and not for the true compassion we will have for our brothers and sisters effected by the storm.
I never read anywhere in the Bible about Jesus not having compassion for anyone, other than the “money changers” in the temple, and yet it is the very cherry-picked idea that people use to defend this legislation. And from what I know of the bill and how it came to brought to the legislative floor, that is exactly what happened. A national group with a clear agenda drafted this bill, as they did in other states too, and had it sponsored and introduced here. This is not unique to the legislative process, but it should make one think a little about our political process when we have actual real issues that should be addressed by our respective governing bodies other than bills like this that have only proved to divide us instead of lifting us up.
When we lose site of the individual person, our neighbors, co-workers, and friends and only look at people as a category, or some invented derogatory term, one’s compassions are easily dismissed. History has shown us though that when we see issues personally effecting someone, our hearts and minds aren’t so easily convinced. I see images from the civil rights movement now, and they affect me emotionally. The issues brought up in 1523 are not different for me. I can’t fathom the world that they want to defend treating anyone for any reason differently. I wasn’t raised that way. I say this through the eyes of straight business owner with a lot of strongly held beliefs and ideals, but discrimination is not one of them. I simply don’t understand it!
I know there is absolute evil in this world, but I believe in people and the power of the individual. I think we are better than what this bill conveys, and in the end, it will be ruled unconstitutional. The powers in office will stamp their feet, shout out from the balcony of the Governor’s mansion, and waste more of the money we don’t have to defend it, but we will go on moving forward in history as some drag their heals in the mud. I for one will continue to speak up for my friends and neighbors in the eye of this storm or the next one that comes up. We don’t have to agree to get along and be civil and lift each other up for a better Mississippi. It will be a challenge for some, but hopes are that we can start to learn that discrimination on any level is just that and not how we achieve a better home for us all.