Michael and his mother and nephew (WP photo).
Wow. The WP followed a gay teenager in Oklahoma to give people an idea of what it is like to come out in “unfriendly territory.” This first article, In the Bible Belt, Acceptance Is Hard-Won, is quite amazing and powerful.
While the rest of the country is debating same-sex marriage, Michael’s America is still dealing with the basics. There are no rainbow flags here. No openly gay teacher at the high school. There is just the wind knifing down the plains, and people praying over their lunches in the yellow booths at Subway. Michael loves this place, but can it still be home? What if the preachers and the country music songs are right?
…The gay revolution hit the buckle of the Bible Belt with a clang. The sweeping changes of 2003 — the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalizing homosexual acts between consenting adults and the Massachusetts high court legalizing same-sex marriage in that state — pushed gays more toward the mainstream than ever. If the revolution was coming, Oklahoma aimed to stop it. In the first weeks of Oklahoma’s 2004 legislative session, 10 anti-gay bills were introduced, including one to ban gay marriage and another to prohibit the recognition of out-of-state adoptions by same-sex couples.
…For Michael Shackelford, blond and earnest, the question of salvation is a serious one. But his concerns about eternal life are eclipsed by the here and now of being a gay teenager in the rural town of Sand Springs, west of Tulsa. There are only a handful of openly gay students at Charles Page High, and they are subject to ridicule and vandalism. This year, they also became a convenient outlet for the fury against gay marriage, which is why Michael wanted to keep his sexuality a secret.
…While the rest of the country is laughing over “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy,” Michael stops using the restroom during the seven-hour school day.
…Brent Wimmer has a shelf of ribbons for raising purebred show chickens and knows his way around a hog auction. He is 6-foot-2 and also the most unabashedly gay student at Charles Page High. Michael is in awe of Brent’s outspokenness, but it frightens him, too. Brent has paid a price for being so open. He’s been called to the front of his church to have demons cast out of him. Someone sent a mailbox crashing through his living room window. His car gets egged and scraped with keys in the student parking lot. Nothing seems to stop him.
Please go read the whole article.