Meeting Kathy in Birmingham
While in Alabama we met fellow blogger Kathy of Birmingham Blues and had a great time discussing the ups and downs of being a progressive in a deeply Red state. She is an amazingly effective ally in the fight for queer rights; her brother is one of the founders of Equality Alabama. And this is a state that sorely needs an effective equality organization. Out gays living here have to worry about life and limb, never mind marriage equality.
She did a great synopsis of what’s going on over at her pad.
Progress is slow, and it isn’t always obvious, but the pace of change isn’t as glacial as it might appear. Democrats and independents are beginning to come together to push for reforms. Just in the past year, we saw the formation of the Over the Mountain Democrats, targeted at progressives who live in the mostly Republican suburbs south and east of town, and a local chapter of the Stonewall Democrats. Equality Alabama continues to provide a voice for the LGBT community in the state, and the Equality Fund PAC works with the Legislature to keep the most egregious anti-gay bills bottled up in committee. I’m seeing more and more Bright Blue Dots on the backs of SUVs , and Roy Moore’s bid to become our next governor isn’t going as well as he hoped.
We also learned about the neighborhoods where out folks have safe spaces. Apparently the Crestwood area has been staked out as gay-friendly territory; Kathy said rainbow flags are proudly flying there. They do so because of folks willing to be out, and allies like Kathy; we can’t do it without them in these Red states. It also cannot be done if the black community in these states doesn’t wake up and see that civil equality is not a zero-sum game.
Incidentally, the Bright Blue Dot mentioned above is a visibility movement for progressives in Red states, and the fact that there are more of them rolling on the roads to counter the Bush-Cheney and “W” stickers is a great sign that they are sick of hiding — and playing nice.
One phenomenon that needs to be overcome is that too many of the moneyed gays in Birmingham that show up to social functions and the EA annual banquet just haven’t stepped up to the plate to fight for their own rights. Despite the massive political forces working against LGBT citizens in Alabama, you have to wonder what does it take to make them roll up their sleeves and join folks like Kathy — who shows up to meetings and organizes events — or even just take public positions of support?
I suppose they’ll step up once they are loading the boxcars with homos to take them to an ex-gay facility. Even then, it may take some additional convicing that a vote for W doesn’t exempt them from homo-bashing. [This isn’t an Alabama problem, of course. Ms. Julien has mentioned many times to me that too many local gays in south Florida are asleep at the wheel, more concerned about partying than willing to do anything to counter the outrageous wingnuttery in Jeb’s state.]
For moneyed gays in Alabama (and Kathy says there are plenty of them), you’d think the heinous murder of a gay man like Billy Jack Gaither would have been enough of a wake-up call. He was slashed with a pocketknife, beaten with an ax handle, and burned on a pile of tires by two guys who did it because “he was queer.” But class divisions run strong here — I’m sure these well-to-do gays think their social standing insulates them from such things.
The more out gay and ally voices that are heard, the less power the bible-beaters have. In Montgomery for instance, when they held the first gay pride festival in seven years last year, the local Christian Coalition engaged in a low-rent and ignorant campaign and threatened a protest. The gay community didn’t back down and when push came to shove, the CC didn’t even show up.
We are really looking forward to getting together with Kathy again — and to meet some of the hard-working gay and progressive activists trying to make a stand in Alabama. It’s good to see the support, energy and commitment in Red places. Thank you, Kathy.