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Queer Talk: You Can’t Change Things By Leaving

Joyce L. Arnold, Liberally Independent, Queer Talk, equality activist, writer.

John Aravosis has a post up, “A straight North Carolinian weighs in about Amendment One.” It’s an excerpt from a May 12 piece by Bobby DeMuro at CLT Blog in Charlotte, NC (emphases in original).

Last night, North Carolinians passed Amendment One. As they should be, many North Carolinians are disappointed. …

My out-of-state friends are busy making fun of North Carolina today, and it hurts. The way they see it, all North Carolinians are a bunch of rednecks … .

Hell, maybe we are.

But the only way that perception of us changes is if North Carolinians stay here, and do what needs to be done to make this right — for gay people, for unwed couples, for children – for our state.

This hits on one of my biggest sources of frustration, on two levels. First, the stereotypical labeling itself. Second, the argument that if you’re an LGBT resident of, in this case, NC, you should just leave.

At Aravosis’ post, one of the comments makes this kind of thinking explicit.

… The majority of Southerners are assholes. Bigots, under-educated boobs, and hillbillies. That is the predominant culture of the South, aided and abetted by the indifference of many good people. …

If leaving is the answer, as is frequently stated, then basically that’s deciding to lose, in this case, an entire region of the nation. Cede it to the “bigots.” The attitude shown in this comment isn’t unusual, and apparently easily done, slapping an “under-educated boobs and hillbillies” label in one big, predictable, stereotyping move. I fully agree that votes like the recent one in NC are indeed “abetted by the indifference of many good people.” But if you think that there are “many good people,” you have the basis for a very different kind of answer. It’s not as quick as a move to NYC, but it’s one that refuses to give up and has already made very big changes toward equality. You stay and fight.

One reason that LGBT equality, and the acceptance of the right to that equality, continue to increase is because people in “the South,” like everywhere else, haven’t abandoned their area. It’s really rather sad for me to hear this kind of argument because, among other reasons, it discounts and demeans LGBTs and allies who live in “the South.” Or say, in Texas, where I am. Or how about in Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, Idaho, Nebraska or any of the other states which have amended their constitutions to prevent marriage between same gender couples?

There are certainly times when leaving is the best decision, one I respect. But leaving isn’t the only good option. It’s only by people willing to fight the equality fight where it’s most needed that national change will occur. Further, the choice to stay goes well beyond orientation considerations.

I recently talked with a twenty-something year old lesbian in a Texas small city of about 30,000. She stays, among other reasons, because she shares the care-giving for her grandmother. A gay friend, some years ago, left the safety and support of the large LGBT communities in NYC to return to tiny town Oklahoma because friends needed his help. A lesbian couple left the, relatively speaking, progressive Nashville area to return to Alabama. That’s where family, friends, job opportunities and more took them. It’s where they want to be. It’s where “we can do some good Alabama work for queer equality,” including raising children who won’t fit the stereotype. Why should they give that up? Why should they be judged as somehow failing to be the lesbians they “could be” if they’d just be “smart enough” to move to Chicago, or at least Atlanta?

People who chose to live in regions, cities, towns, rural areas; and people who do so because of obligations and commitments, or even out of lack of ability to move, and who then use the opportunities they have — right there in “hostile territory” — to work toward equality … why should they be judged as somehow less than LGBTs living in big, gay enclaves or particularly friendly cities? Why should allies who share the efforts be demeaned with labels that are as ignorant as any forced on “the homosexuals”? And why should potential allies be abandoned to the labeling process?

As long as we allow entire regions to be reduced to generalized ridicule, we’re part of the problem. See the variety of real people, not a lazy label. See the possibilities of changes already occurring, not just the actions of those who oppose them, even if they are in the voting majority.

Equality, as I know I frequently write, comes over time, with lots of work and patience. Over time, you build numbers. I remember conversations with friends in Nashville about the need to gain a “critical mass” at the Pride Festival — a large enough number of people to make us much harder to ignore, dismiss or demean, and much easier for those who were “selectively out” to feel safe in coming. We got there, with the very hard work of a lot of people — including some straight allies. It was a part of larger advocacy efforts by various LGBT and supportive organizations and individuals. Homophobia certainly still exists in Nashville. But thousands of LGBT people refused to leave when it was even harder to live openly, and slowly, things improve.

That’s the same kind of thing that’s happening in every region of the nation, because people in every region of the nation refuse to walk away.

(You Can Make A Difference via WipeoutHomophobiaOnFB
PFLAG North Carolina Triangle North Carolina Triangle PFLAG
Straights For Gay Rights via WipeoutHomophobiaOnFB
PFLAG Birmingham, AL via Birminham, AL PFLAG )

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5 Responses to Queer Talk: You Can’t Change Things By Leaving

  1. Cujo359 May 24, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    Or how about in Michigan, Missouri, Florida, Ohio, Idaho, Nebraska or any of the other states which have amended their constitutions to prevent marriage between same gender couples?

    Or that bastion of progressivism California? I grew up in the Northeast, now live in the Northwest, and have done a lot of traveling in between. There are plenty of bigots everywhere.

    I’m of two minds on the whole moving thing. On a personal level, it’s often easier to leave than to continue to deal with a situation. If it’s gotten to the point where things are intolerable, and they’re not likely to change, then I say leave. OTOH, I can’t see any benefit to us as a society of creating pockets of stupidity in our country. That strikes me as the potential outcome of everyone leaving for more “enlightened” locations like California.

    • Joyce Arnold May 24, 2012 at 6:51 pm #

      Yep, bigots are everywhere.

      And as I said above, there are times when leaving is the best thing to do, and I respect that decision. It’s one that each person or couple or family makes.

      I’ve watched and worked with LGBTs and allies in a number of states. I spent the most time in TN, and the progress made there (which mirrors that in other states in “the South”) is astonishing. Organizing and attending a Pride event of about 250 people took courage in ways that people who’ve only known 10,000+ sometimes don’t quite understand.

      One things certain: wherever one lives, there will be equality work to be done.

  2. secularhumanizinevoluter May 24, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    “OTOH, I can’t see any benefit to us as a society of creating pockets of stupidity in our country. That strikes me as the potential outcome of everyone leaving for more “enlightened” locations like California.”

    WE as a society are NOT creating these pockets of stupidity. It is the stupids doing that.

  3. Taylor Marsh May 24, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Anyone remember the slogan “America, Love It Or Leave It”?

    • Joyce Arnold May 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm #

      Oh yes, that one comes to mind fairly often, actually.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong