Becoming Kimberly: A Transgender’s Journey

Becoming Kimberly: A Transgender’s Journey

My dad came out to me a few months ago. She’s in her 60s, and it was a bit of a shock to us three boys. To us she was always the most manly of men, and we never saw this change at all. It’s hard to believe sometimes the sacrifices she made to give us a stable home. If y’all could look at her book, I’d appreciate. It’s an amazing story.

By Thomas Davis

3 Reasons Why the Gulf Coast LGBT+ Pride Day Mattered More Than HB 1523

3 Reasons Why the Gulf Coast LGBT+ Pride Day Mattered More Than HB 1523
  1. Because LGBT people on the Gulf Coast responded to this hateful law by coming together.

LGBT people in Mississippi have a long history of surviving by remaining divided in small groups and living in the shadows.  Their thinking was if there were not too many of them and they remained out of sight, straight Mississippians would not mind their presence. Before you dismiss that assessment, you should consult John Howard’s excellent book, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History, which is about Mississippi from the 1950s through the 1980s.

Instead of remaining true to our closeted tradition, hundreds of people of all ages, genders, and races came together to say they were proud of our community.  And they turned out just two days after HB 1523 became the law in Mississippi.  That means the LGBT community has new started new traditions.

  1. Because Pride Day gave older folks hope and made younger people feel normal.

I talked to several LGBT folks over 50 who told me they never thought a gathering like the one on June 24 in Biloxi’s Point Cadet Park would ever happen in their lifetimes. I am 52, have lived on the Gulf Coast for 14 years, and wish I could say I thought differently.  But I did not.  Speaking for my generation, Pride Day changed my sense of what is possible.

By contrast, people under 30 who came out to Cadet Park acted like it was just another of the Gulf Coast’s many festivals, which it was.  They could read about Pride celebrations this month throughout the nation on social media.  And this year, they also had one where they lived.  Hopefully, this will make them stay on the Gulf Coast and not join the exodus of talented LGBT people from Mississippi.

  1. Because anti-gay protestors at the Pride Day showed conservatives are taking LGBT rights seriously

I talked to a big, tall lesbian friend at Pride day who is normally fearless, but she was concerned about the religious protestor as the entrance to Point Cadet Park.  Having grown up in the Pentecostal Church, she worried about disapproval of LGBT people from religious authorities.  I told her it was good that the protestor was there.  It meant that conservative in Mississippi are taking the LGBT rights movement seriously because we are changing the status quo.

We need to remember that HB 1523 was passed in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Americans have a constitutional right to marry someone of the same sex.  Since I teach Mississippi History, I can tell you this is the first time that the conservative elite has taken our movement seriously enough to pass legislation.  We need to remember that, after the first Wade-Ins in 1959 protesting segregation on the Gulf Coast beaches, the Mississippi legislature passed a law against protests on the beach.  Well, the beaches have been integrated for some time now, and Pride Day was the beginning of the end of LGBT people being second-class citizens in Mississippi. Although there were no political speeches at the Pride Day in Point Cadet, the presence of a wide cross-section of the LGBT community sent a message that was loud and clear.

Please also see Justin Mitchell’s excellent column in the Sun Herald on how to respond to HB 1523:  “Don’t leave, LGBTQ people. Mississippi needs you now more than ever.”

By Douglas Bristol

Lesson from a One-Year-Old

Lesson from a One-Year-Old

This morning, as I dropped my kids off at daycare, I witnessed something that made me feel hope for our society. My son Matthew, without any acts of prejudice, or thoughts of judgement, ran over and reached up to one of the teachers, who is a wonderful African American lady. Matthew reminded me that prejudice is learned. Prejudice must be taught and instilled. A young child who has yet to be taught such lessons, does not know hate. It was a refreshing and reassuring site that had shown me that we can be better. Hopefully I will make contributions to the improvement of society, and perhaps Matthew will inherit a world that is a bit better. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from a one-year-old child.

By Derrick Dyess, Executive Council member, Alliance for Equality, University of Southern Mississippi

 

 

Lessons from the Scene of a Hate Crime

Lessons from the Scene of a Hate Crime

My recent visit to the Pulse in Orlando taught me some difficult lessons.  The foremost was that, although it had been almost three weeks since the shootings there, the tragedy of June 12th is not over.  Crime scene tape still hung on the fence enclosing the club.  And people were still leaving tributes—balloons, cards, flowers, and posters—for the victims. 

Since most of them appeared to know one of the victims, I learned that the loss was personal.  I felt like I was intruding on a private ceremony. There were many people gathered on the sidewalk in front of the club, but I was struck the most by a seven or eight-year-old boy, who was leaving red roses next to the photographs of some of the victims.  The scene drove home the fact that forty-nine people will be missed by their families and friends for the rest of their lives. 

How do you understand this kind of loss?  One minute, a crowd of mostly young LGBTQ people were enjoying a night out, and the next minute, they were terrified as bullets flew through the club.  The shootings were so unexpected.  The consequences were so deadly.  Drawing on my own experience, the only event that could remotely compare in its impact was Hurricane Katrina.  I knew several people who died, and I knew many survivors who would never be the same again.  And even though it has been more than ten years, Katrina still haunts most of us who lived through it.  So, at least in some ways, I think a parallel can be drawn between the two events. 

One lesson from Katrina that strikes me as relevant to the tragedy at the Pulse is that we can be better prepared.  For example, when I went to a big gay club in Fort Lauderdale last weekend, I was happy that an off-duty policeman used a wand to check me and the other patrons for weapons before we could enter.  Patrons of gay clubs need to demand that club owners adopt this practice and to support the ones who do. 

A more long-term precaution is improving our infrastructure.  After Katrina, buildings were raised, levees were reinforced, and new shelters were built.  So, to continue the parallel, how can we rebuild the infrastructure of the LBGTQ community to be better prepared for hate crimes? 

LGBTQ people need to build a stronger legal infrastructure. After Katrina, communities on the Gulf Coast needed many structural protections such as levees and seawalls. Similarly, LGBTQ people need many legal protections.  Cities need to pass anti-discrimination ordinances like the one recently enacted in Jackson, Mississippi.  Police departments need to begin filing annual hate crime reports to the Justice Department.  Most importantly, LGBTQ people need to rally together to support the passage of the Equality Act now before Congress https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/3185.

To get this new legal infrastructure, LGBTQ people need strong allies.  Just as Gulf Coast representatives in Congress forged alliances with politicians from around the country to secure funding for new infrastructure, LGBTQ people need to forge alliances to secure the passage of new anti-discrimination laws.  I think the Pulse shootings established a common interest with organizations worried about violence against minorities.  Although police saved lives at the Pulse rather than taking them, most of the Pulse victims were African American and Latino, which should be of interest to the #BlackLivesMatter movement and to the NAACP.  I agree with these organizations that being a minority increases your chances of being shot without a good reason.

In addition to reaching out to other minority groups, LGBTQ people need to tell their straight white allies to speak up on their behalf.  It is nice that allies include us in their lives, but if they want us to feel safe, they need to join our efforts to lobby city council members and representatives in Congress.  We cannot get laws enacted without them.  Equally important, allies need to speak up when they hear their family and friends say they hate LGBTQ people.  It could save lives.  The Pulse shooter, Omar Mateen, had a history of making threats against African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ people, and women at his workplace, but none of his coworkers reported him to authorities. 

Before closing, let me address the naysayers, who might say that anti-discrimination laws will not prevent the next mass shooting of LGBTQ people.  On the most basic level, they are right.  No law will prevent a disturbed individual, especially someone driven by internalized homophobia as Omar Mateen appeared to be, from killing more LGBTQ people. But if you saw any merit to drawing a parallel between Katrina and the Pulse shootings, you might ask the following question.  Will better levees prevent the next hurricane?  Of course not, but they will improve the chance of people surviving it by limiting the number of people who are affected.  Similarly, more legal rights will mean better protection from threats to the safety of LGBTQ people. 

Let me end by asking this question.  Did the forty-nine innocent people who were murdered in the Pulse shooting die in vain?  If nothing is done to better protect LGBTQ people in the future, I think the answer is yes.

By Douglas Bristol

 

 

 

I Hope Nobody Minds

I Hope Nobody Minds

A few years ago, an older lesbian neighbor reminded me that I live in Mississippi when she told me that she had got married and then said, “I hope nobody minds.”  Although she and her wife have lived together for more than twenty years, she was admitting that the most important relationship of her life depended on the tolerance of her straight neighbors.

It took me a while to take in what my lesbian neighbor had just said.  Part of why I reacted slowly was it was so out of character for her.  A successful business woman, she often came across to people in this small southern town as cold and tough.  Yet she did not look tough when speaking about her wedding.  She smiled broadly, and her blue eyes twinkled.  When I asked her what was new, she looked around the room to make sure no one was listening and then said, “J____ and I got married last weekend up North.  I hope nobody minds.”  Her confession remains vivid in my memory.  She taught me that I could hope for nothing more than tolerance as a gay man in Mississippi.

By contrast, young people in Mississippi, straight as well as LGBTQ, are increasingly calling for LGBTQ equality.  For example, a student on my campus, Becky Bickett, was one of the plaintiffs in the same-sex marriage case in Mississippi.  She illustrates how younger LGBT people have different expectations than older folks like my neighbor or myself.  While older LGBTQ people hope straight people will tolerate them, younger LGBTQ people expect straight people to treat them as equals.  In an interview about her case with the Hattiesburg American, Becky said, “This is not a cause to be fought.  It is a right we should have.”  Since Becky won her case and got married, I think it is fair to ask whether LGBTQ residents in the Mississippi can stop asking for tolerance and start demanding equality.

Generational change has already had an impact because Millennials are much more likely than their elders to support LGBTQ equality.  Consequently, the state should reach a tipping point on attitudes towards LGBTQ people when enough old people die.  Perhaps older folks like me should be content to know that the next generation will have it better than I did.  However, in the spirit of Becky Bickett, I will end by arguing that the price of waiting for LGBT equality is too high.  Let me illustrate my point with a story that Rob Leary, young gay man from McComb, Mississippi told about his grandfather for the I’m from Driftwood Project <link>.

Rob’s grandfather was gay, but Rob did not learn that fact until he was sixteen-years old, even though he was named after his grandfather’s male partner.   Despite the fact that his grandfather and “Uncle Bob” spent all their time together and slept in the same room every night, Rob thought nothing of it.  After all, he said, children spend the night in each other’s room at night, and it doesn’t mean anything.  When he was sixteen, his cousin told him that he had heard noises coming from the room where their grandfather and Uncle Bob slept, and the two boys finally understood that their grandfather was gay.

They confronted their parents, who said they thought the boys were old enough to know the truth.   Their grandfather had come out to their grandmother after their fifth child was born.  While their parents came to love Uncle Bob, they had been embarrassed when they were growing up in a conservative, small town.  That must have been why they never told their gay son that he was named after his grandfather’s partner.  Rob’s parents tolerated his grandfather and Uncle Bob, but his parents did not treat them as equals whose relationship could be discussed in polite company.

Just think about it; if his grandfather and Uncle Bob had been a little quieter, Rob might not have learned the truth for several more years.   And that would have deprived him of an adult role model when he was coming out.  Rob said he admired his grandfather because it must have been tough to be openly gay back then.  In my opinion, the toughest part must have been that his grandfather’s long-term relationship was invisible to straight people even though his grandfather and his partner were out in plain sight.  That is the price of relying on tolerance.  Until Mississippi treats its LGBTQ people as the equals of straight people, LGBTQ residents of the state will have to keep hoping, as my lesbian neighbor did, that nobody will mind them being there.

By Douglas Bristol

Image Credit: This vintage portrait of a woman is done in black and white pastels. It is for sale at https://www.etsy.com/listing/220718746/vintage-60s-southern-lady-woman-original?ref=related-1

Not Afraid of Getting Shot at Edgewater Mall, But

Not Afraid of Getting Shot at Edgewater Mall, But

I am not afraid of getting shot at Edgewater Mall, but the local shopping center is still not a safe place for me and my husband.  I made this point as a guest on the WLOX Sunday Morning Show (on June 19) because I wanted the hosts to understand that the Orlando shootings have a special meaning for LGBTQ people.  Doug Walker was arguing that terror is terror, whether it happens in a school, a movie theater, or a bar.  In response, I explained that a gay bar is one of the few safe spaces for LGBTQ people in the South. I added that safety meant more than not worrying about getting shot at Edgewater Mall, it also meant feeling safe to be yourself. I gave the example of not feeling safe holding my husband’s hand there.  Walker appeared genuinely surprised by my comment.  He asked me, would you really not hold your husband’s hand at Edgewater Mall?  I said, no.  This conversation illustrates that many well-intentioned straight people are failing to understand the meaning of the Orlando attack for LGBTQ people.  They need some of us to speak up and get the issues out into the public discussion.    

Fortunately, I know some really smart LGBTQ people, who I talked to before the WLOX show, and the rest of this post comes from their insights.  Much of what they said was about the response from straight people to the Orlando shootings.  A generational divide runs through their comments.  Middle-aged and older LGBTQ people were vaguely disappointed, but were grateful for the support they received.  They thought the public response to the Orlando shooting was different than to other recent shootings like Sandy Hook, perhaps because it involved LGBTQ victims.  One person said it was like when a family member dies, and your world stops in its tracks, but the rest of the world keeps going.  Her wife said that no one at work mentioned the Orlando shootings.  At the same time, they appreciated straight friends who reached out to see if they were doing okay.  They thought all LGBTQ people needed support following the attack, whether they appeared to or not. 

By contrast, the younger LGBTQ people I chatted with were angrier and more skeptical.  They were critical of the media for not focusing more on the victims and survivors.  They also objected to the media doing more stories on white survivors even though the majority of people at the club were African American or Latino.  They saved their harshest criticism for politicians, especially in Mississippi.  One said, “The leaders of the state will discriminate against us like it’s absolutely nothing, but they want to pray for us as victims.”  He also said that politicians failed to acknowledge that the victims were LGBTQ people.  Interestingly, several people said that younger straight allies were also angrier than older straight allies. 

Although disappointment with the straight response to the Orlando shootings was the main subject that came up in my conversations, several people talked about the status of LGBTQ people in Mississippi.  A man in his fifties said that the main problem in the Gulf Coast LGBTQ community is its relative silence.  Without speaking up and demanding change, he said that the problems LGBTQ people face will not go away.  He said the silence of LGBTQ people is caused by intimidation and by the silence of their straight supporters. 

Others I talked to were critical of straight people for their lack of understanding, focusing on explaining why an attack on a gay bar is so disturbing to LGBTQ people.  One person said that LGBTQ people have to constantly monitor their behavior to avoid discrimination or attack.  This means they have to be “on” all the time.  They are “on” at work, where they can legally be fired for being LGBTQ.  They are “on” with family members, who can reject them for being LGBTQ.  They are “on” at church, where they are sinners.  By contrast, gay bars are the one place where LGBTQ people can relax and be themselves without worry about harm or retribution.  They are safe spaces.  At least that was the case until the nightmare at the Pulse nightclub.

Finally, several people said the Orlando shooting cannot be swept into the larger War on Terror because homophobia is the problem that needs to be addressed in this case.  One person said, “this madness was homegrown.  It was motivated by hate, a self-hate for who he was.  I feel that he was trying to show his family and those he admired that he wasn’t gay and that he was willing to do anything to prove it.”  She also had a remedy, saying that “instead of spreading hate for each other, we need to talk to each other and work towards a common ground where all people can feel safe and live in peace.”  In my opinion, truer words were never said. 

How does one get to that magical place?  I certainly do not claim to have all of the answers, but I think communication between LGBTQ people, especially between people of difference ages and backgrounds, is crucial.  You cannot solve problems until you identify what the problems are.  And remember, your problems might be different from those of other LGBTQ people, but we are all in this together.

By Douglas Bristol

http://www.wlox.com/clip/12537601/wlox-news-this-week-orlando-shooting

Image from http://jwamalls.com/property/edgewater-mall/