Sunday, May 5, 2013

Commentary on Jason Collins's Coming Out: Importance of Hearing Gay Voices Talking About Gay Experience (with Arkansas Footnote)

A whole row of statements today at Huffington Post about the significance of NBA player Jason Collins's game-changing decision to come out of the closet:

Actor Jamie Lee Curtis notes that she's working on a documentary about the life of Glenn Burke. Here's his story as she tells it, juxtaposing it with that of Collins:

In 1977, Glenn Burke, an African-American, closeted, gay Dodger, delivered the first ever high five to Dusty Baker at Dodger Stadium. Two years later he was out of baseball, having been traded to the A's and then not played by Billy Martin, who famously said, "I won't play a faggot on my team." Glenn Burke changed the world forever with that one hand slap. 
I am co-producing the movie of his life, Out at Home: The Glenn Burke Story, the anti-42, about a player who did NOT get to play to his GREAT potential but instead, after coming out when his career was over, ended up destitute and a drug user who died of AIDS, far away from the crowds and the outpouring of love and support we are seeing today.

I want to write a book on the subject of homophobia and outing, but that would take more words than I know, more pain than I wish to uncover, more rage than my heart can handle in its already weakened state, having been broken long ago thanks to a life of tragedy and blood, bullying and suicide, hatred and disease and so much death.

Why do I speak out in support of the gay community? 
Because the words, "We should round them all up and send them to an island to die," are absolutely abhorrent to any rational-minded person and should never be uttered by one member of the human race about another.

And then he concludes,

Why do I speak out in support of gay rights, of all rights to equality? 
Because if I don't, then who will be left to speak for me? 

As Jill Carroll noted for Houston Chronicle's religion column several years ago, the trope "Round up the gays and send them to an island to die" is a very common one among some American people of faith, and pops up routinely in comments to her own religion blog and others she reads. North Carolina Baptist pastor Charles Worley employed a version of the trope just a year ago when he called for putting gays and lesbians into a big pen with an electric fence around it and letting them die.

In my own state of Arkansas right now, there's a little home-brewed controversy about the decision of a school board in northeast Arkansas to cancel a graduation address by one of its graduates, Bryant Huddleston, who's now a writer and producer in Los Angeles. The sole, solitary reason Huddleston's invitation to speak was cancelled? He's gay. And out.

The Arkansas Times website has made available a letter Huddleston wrote to the district school superintendent Mitch Walton, which was previously published by Shane Deitert of Arkansas Matters. Huddleston tells Walton,

I could just sit back and let this slide, but if I did, the discrimination that has taken place here would go unnoticed like it has so many times in history. Unless my arguments here cause you to reevaluate, nothing will change. But what must change, is the way we treat our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth because, News Flash, the world is changing and it starts in our homes, our schools and yes, even in our places of worship. The suicide rate amongst LGBT teens is staggering. As Superintendent, Mr. Walton—I hope you are aware that LGBT youth already attend classes on your campus. They are going from class to class with a fear of being outed or being treated horribly by their classmates—so adding educators and mentors to that mix prohibits these teens from thriving. The Board represents them too, and by silencing me, you're telling those students that it isn't okay to be who they are.

And it's wonderful that at least some publications in our backwards little uneducated bible-belt state are featuring this eloquent and necessary statement . . . except that the choice of Arkansas Times to do so is undercut for me by the enthusiasm of folks in the paper's food blog--in the same issue carrying Walton's statement--for a new outlet that the notoriously homophobic Chick-fil-A chain is opening in Little Rock. It's not as if the food blog folks don't have reason to know about the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A and its anti-gay policies, since that controversy was discussed last year in the Arkansas Times, and on at least one occasion, food blogger Michael Roberts (who appears in the thread I've just linked) got into it with fellow food blogger Daniel Walker over the servings of hate Chick-fil-A dishes up with its chicken sandwiches, when Walker praised Chick-fil-A's food.

But the food blog at the paper has become a club of heterosexual married macho men who aren't particularly interested in the viewpoints and contributions of gay men and lesbian women, and so the incongruity between wolfing down Chick-fil-A sandwiches and then groaning about the homophobia of a school board in northeast Arkansas never seems to surface in their consciousness. When I have tried in the past to point out on the food blog that the choices we make in the area of food have political consequences and enshrine political presuppositions, I've quickly been ridiculed and silenced by members of the little club, who tell me I'm "shoehorning" politics into the discussion of food.

And so it goes, Sunday morning 5 May 2013 C.E. for gay folks in the U.S., in places like Arkansas, where in the thread discussing what's just happened to Michael Huddleston, a gay man named Michael Bernard who has never been to Arkansas and who says this story makes him very hesitant to visit our state, asks,

What's it like in Arkansas for gay and lesbian people?

And that's a question I'd love to answer for Michael Bernard, except that, when none of our local media ever show the slightest interest in giving a voice to openly gay citizens of the state who speak about our gay experience in Arkansas in our own gay voices, all I can say is,

What it's like to be gay in Arkansas, you ask, Mr. Bernard? Thanks for asking. It's like

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