How should we react to bold-faced discrimination against LGBT students in public schools? How should we act when the educators bestowed with ushering our children into enlightenment and adulthood instead become the perpetrators of prejudice and an army of pious conceit? The media fiasco and hoopla generated by these students was not because of their actions, but rather instead by a place: the South.
Conventional advice has been for LGBT teens to seek out more progressive cities, to bide their time silently and get out as soon as they are able. However, if we are going to prevail in the battle for equality, this is not a winning strategy. What we need are more people willing to stand their ground and resist. We cannot win this fight if the only success stories of gay youths in the South are stories of escape. We need people of courage. This year, it seems that high-schoolers have answered that call and headed to the front lines.
So, how did these kids get to be so brave? There are several answers to that question. It is true that we live in a time where the heterosexual paradigm is changing. A time where jocks and cool kids never learned that homophobia was supposed to be part of their persona but, this trend cannot be given all the credit. LGBT kids are growing up no longer feeling helpless to the forces of oppression. We are witnessing the birth of a generation that has pride in more than their community, they have the pride to defend themselves. The gay war on the South has begun and it is being fought between children who recognize what is right and the traditional establishment of intolerance.
The fight will be an arduous one. The establishment has a fortified position. Our strategy must be decisive and deliberate. We need to take aim against the teachers who have cast aside their roles as heroes and chosen to attack their students. We need to demolish the system that would expel a child, cancel a prom, or erase a student’s memory rather than let them be who they are. And we need to find and nurture those who have an invested interest in a New South. They are out there. Ultimately no one wants a legacy of bigotry.
We must also admit fault for not trying harder. For decades the moral majority has bunkered themselves in the South and has pulled the center by pushing the boundaries of how far right you can be. We have let them. We cannot continue to do this. It’s time to retaliate, not by redefining the left, but by reclaiming the right. Our system works best when there are opposing viewpoints to encourage debate. The right’s position of inflexible obstinacy is an obstacle to be overcome, not a point of view. But, we cannot reclaim the right without reclaiming the South.
The South has long been a stronghold of social conservatism but, social conservatism has been transformed into social fanaticism. It’s long been a foregone conclusion that the confederate states are stuck in their ways. We’ve adopted a general attitude of, “What do you expect? It’s the South.” The real question we should be asking is: why we are ok with that? Geography is not an excuse.
We need to question why we allow tradition to continue when that tradition is wrong and unjust. We have to stop taking our arguments to people who already agree if we are to advance. If we don’t, what ground do we expect to gain?
Writer, filmmaker, and photographer Brett Edward Stout is a Cedar Rapids native and recent graduate of the University of Iowa. He spent five years in the US Marine Corps as a Russian linguist. His first novel Sugar-baby Bridge was published in 2008. He is currently working on his second novel, entitled The Lives Between.