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Alabama: still the worst place to be a gay person in Bush's America?

Last year, Bob Moser wrote an article for Out Magazine that opened with the question “Is Alabama really the worst place to be a gay person in Bush’s America?” A snippet from my December post :

My wife Kate, a native Alabamian, escaped from the nightmare, and even she couldn’t believe the depth of the hatred and homophobia exposed by this article, including the heinous statistic that 44% of gay Alabamans are physically beaten and assaulted — by their own family members. It’s truly upsetting, and depressing. You wish the queer community would just get the hell out of there, but as with all stories like this, there are those that still want to stay and fight for their rights. I would consider this an almost insurmountable mountain of intolerance that runs both deep and high — and all the way to the state house. Judge Roy Moore, famous for wanting to keep a gigantic slab of the Ten Commandments in the courthouse, is planning to run for governor. He says some frightening things about gays in this story that make you wonder what could happen if he is elected — and he just may be.


Rense.com

As you all may know, Moore has officially announced his run for governor, though one has to hope he has no chance of winning. He has declared homosexuality “abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature.” he considers gay sex “an act so heinous that it defies one’s ability to describe it,” an “inherent evil” that “should never be tolerated.”

Moser, author of the article, currently works and lives in Montgomery– he served as editor of the great progressive local paper here in the Triangle, The Independent Weekly, from 1995 to 2000. He is a senior writer for the Intelligence Report, an investigative magazine published by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

While the competition is stiff for what is the most gay-hostile state since that Out article, Alabama is trying to hold its own. So many gay Alabamians have to remain in closets that are tightly shut for their own safety. It’s sad, yet all too predictable that an incident like this — another ‘gay panic’ attack — makes the headlines. (Montgomery Advertiser):

An autumn wreath welcoming visitors into his home hangs just above the crime scene tape barring entry into Billy Sanford’s house, where he was allegedly beaten last month because he is gay. Sanford, 52, lay in a coma at Jackson Hospital Tuesday, clinging to life as police announced that they had arrested the man accused of leaving him near death on Oct. 19.

Marcus Dewayne Kelley, 26, of Union Springs was arrested Monday night following a traffic stop in Alexander City. He is charged with attempted murder. Lt. Huey Thornton, a Montgomery Police spokesman, said the case is not being considered a hate crime. According to Alabama law, a hate crime is committed against a person because of his “race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or physical or mental disability.” Sexual orientation is not included in the statute.

Kelley, a handyman for Sanford and his roommate, told Montgomery detectives he hit Sanford in the head with a hammer because the older man wouldn’t stop making sexual advances toward him.

Sanford’s neighbors don’t buy that explanation. “I just don’t see Billy doing that,” said Jackie Richardson, who lives next door to Sanford on Palmetto Drive. “He wouldn’t have done that. There has to be more to it.” Sanford’s family feels the same way. “Billy is such a sweet spirit, a gentle, non-violent soul,” said his sister, Sherry Luna. “It’s really hard to imagine.”

Luna declined to talk about her brother’s sexuality, citing the sensitivity of the issue. “That would be a question best left to him,” she said.

It is uncertain if Sanford will ever be able to answer it, or tell people what happened to him. Doctors initially gave him little chance for survival and, even if he does wake up, severe and permanent brain damage is a possibility.

Howard Bayless, chairman of Equality Alabama, said it is time for Alabama lawmakers to take action and include sexual orientation in the hate crime statute. He also expressed outrage at Kelley’s alleged crime.

“It is not okay to hurt us, and this kind of response is ridiculous,” Bayless said. “If it were a straight person who hit on someone of the opposite sex, he would have gotten a ‘No, thank you,’ and that would have been the end of it. “We don’t get a polite ‘No, thank you.’ We get clubbed with a hammer,” Bayless continued. “I hope the district attorney prosecutes this to the highest degree.”

The article also notes that this is the second alleged anti-gay crime in Montgomery in the last year and half, and in the last incident, “gay panic” was also the lame excuse given for a defense. In that case, Roderick George of Montgomery was shot in the head by Anthony T. Johnson, citing “inappropriate sexual advances.”

While the picture can seem bleak for gay Alabamians, there is hope and activism that can be found in pockets around the state. It’s too easy to tell queer folks to just pack up and get out — even in Montgomery. In July, the city held its first gay pride celebration in seven years, while facing bigotry and disdain from the likes of the Christian Coalition. It’s a significant thing to note is that there were no protestors at this event.


Howard Bayless welcomed attendees to the Montgomery Gay and Lesbian Association’s gay pride festival held at Equality Alabama’s headquarters on Perry Street in Montgomery last July.

The strategy that gay folks should escape from the Red and Purple states (Red states with Blue enclaves) to safety of Blue states is an illusion. Our interests in the long run are better served if those in Purple states reclaim them by coming out, getting politically active and protecting their interests. In a deep Red state there’s only so much open hostility you can take, never mind outright danger. But there are those that want to stay and fight, and they deserve our support.

It’s also notable that there a legislator is now stepping forward in the state in the wake of these last gay-bashings. I can only imagine the grief he is going to get from the homo-bigots, black and white.

State Rep. Alvin Holmes, D-Montgomery, called the attack on Sanford “awful.” “If a young man would make a remark to a young l
ady, you don’t think we’d shoot him and kill him,” Holmes said. “You can’t treat people like that.”

Holmes said he plans to introduce on Jan. 10, the first day of the 2006 legislative session, an amendment that would change Alabama’s hate crime law to include crimes based on a person’s sexual orientation. Gay and lesbian rights activists in Alabama and beyond are lauding that promise.

It’s not OK to just beat up on someone because you don’t like who you think they are,” said the Rev. Felicia Fontaine, a lesbian minister and head of Soulforce Alabama. “When someone assaults someone because they are gay, that’s terrorism. It’s about scaring other gays and lesbians.” Fontaine said it was the same situation during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “Lynchings were never about the person who was strung up,” Fontaine said. “It was about scaring everyone else.”

[BTW, Fontaine met with Roy Moore back in 2003, read about that exchange here.] She’s right, changing the status quo, especially on civil rights issues in a state with Alabama’s history is threatening, and the best way to slow change is by instilling fear. Would this step of legislative conscience occur without a growing number of openly gay voices of advocacy (and allies) there, willing to stay and fight for their rights? I think not.

Related:
* Nowhere to Run, a post by The Next Hurrah’s JamesB3.
* Equality Alabama.

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