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Skies brighten a bit for gays in Alabama

Back in December 2004, I wrote a post about the sorry state of affairs for LGBT citizens in Kate’s birthplace, Out Mag: “Is Alabama really the worst place to be a gay person in Bush’s America?”.

It’s nice to be able to point out an article that shows the progress being made and a ray of hope for our fellow queers trying to carve out community in the deep South. David Crary’s AP piece, Affirmative in Alabama: Gay Acceptance Rising in the South does just that.

So why does Howard Bayless want to stay? Well, his roots are here, he says. So are his friends. He’s partial to the congenial neighborhood in Birmingham that he and other gays helped rescue from decline.

“This is where I’ve carved out a niche for myself,” says Bayless, who has spent most of his 40 years in Alabama. “We’ve created our community here, and I don’t want to leave. I’d rather do the extra work of making my neighbors realize who and what I am.”

Leader of Equality Alabama, a statewide gay-rights group, Bayless is one of many with the same conviction. In Mobile, Tuscaloosa and elsewhere, Alabama’s gays and lesbians – like their counterparts throughout the U.S. heartland – are slowly, steadily gaining more confidence and finding more acceptance.

…An openly lesbian candidate, Patricia Todd, has a strong chance of winning a seat in Alabama’s legislature this year – that would be a first. Mobile’s recent Pride Parade drew upbeat local news coverage and only a handful of protesters. Gay-straight alliances are active at most universities; in the cities, if not the suburbs and small towns, gay-friendly churches are proliferating.

Birmingham city council member Valerie Abbott, left, and Howard Bayless, board chair Equality Alabama. (Photo:AP/Rainer Ehrhardt)

…Activists say the sternest anti-gay rhetoric comes mainly from evangelical pastors and politicians. Among them is Republican gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore, who was ousted as state chief justice after refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had placed in the judicial building.

Moore has many fans and many critics, including Birmingham city councilor Valerie Abbott. After the judge wrote in a court ruling that homosexual conduct is “abhorrent, immoral, detestable,” Abbott persuaded the council to condemn those assertions.

“I expected to get hate mail from the crazies – it didn’t happen,” she said.

Her district includes Howard Bayless’ neighborhood, the formerly rundown Crestwood area. “Gay people came in and took to that area and made it a wonderful place,” Abbott said.

Like Bayless, she firmly believes gay rights will come to Alabama, albeit slowly and with minimal help from the statehouse.

“Our legislature is like no other place on earth – it’s stuck back in the dark ages,” she said. “But Alabama is changing, like the rest of the country is changing. Like every new idea, it takes a while to absorb.”

It’s a lengthy article and worth the read. The state has a long way to go, but if progress is apparent, even in the reddest of states, it shows the bible beaters that they are on the losing side of history.

The also piece recounts a story many in Red states can identify with — a young person needing to leave in order to find community and acceptance in a less restrictive environment, but the bright spot is that the young man’s mother has now become an PFLAG activist because she wants to help Alabama become a place that her son will want to return to — where he can be out and proud in his home state.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding