Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tennessee in the Crosshairs: Competing voices on bullying and acceptance

It hasn't been a great month for Tennessee's image in the news.

Converting lesbians in the military?: A story that broke last week and is making it around the planet but has yet to be covered by any Tennessee media outlet revealed that part-time Hamilton County magistrate Joe Rehyanksy was advocating excluding gay men from the military because he thought they would spread disease but that it would be all right to allow lesbians because straight male service members could change them. Raw Story has the key quotations:

"Lesbians should be allowed to serve, gay men should not," declared Joe Rehyansky in an article published Monday. Rehyansky, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is a part-time magistrate in Hamilton County, Tennessee, and a former assistant district attorney.

In the original article, Rehyansky concluded that his lesbians-only policy "would get the distaff part of our homosexual population off our collective ‘Broke Back,’ thus giving straight male GIs a fair shot at converting lesbians and bringing them into the mainstream."

I'm not aware of any reconsideration or apology by Rehyansky, although his original piece at The Daily Caller has apparently been edited. Perhaps it's time for him to consider shifting from part-time to no-time status. Unfortunately the damage has been done. These views hurt real people trying to serve honorably in our armed forces and, once again, the remarks of another public official have made Tennessee a joke.

Pop music takes aim at Williamson County: Paramore front woman Hayley Williams and Ke$ha recently shared less than fond memories of their time in Tennessee schools. Here's how Williams characterized her experience:

“I went to one school [in Franklin] for six weeks and I was miserable,” she told Sugar.

“Even the teachers didn’t like me. The girls were such bitches. They would invite me to parties and I wouldn’t go because I didn’t want to be around them, then the next day at school, there would be all these rumours about me, like, ‘Hayley’s gay’.”

“I went home crying, saying, ‘Mum, I’m such a loser, I’m never going back’,” she added. “She saw how upset I was and she was like, ‘Okay’.”

And here's what Ke$ha said of her time in Brentwood when Spin asked her whether she was bullied:

"Yeah. I was a fucking weirdo. I grew up in the Bible Belt and I made my own clothes and dyed my hair purple. Nobody ever knew what to do with me. I still think America's trying to figure out what to do with me. I deal with haters on a daily basis."

Perhaps the bitterness of that experience has led Ke$ha to take up the cause of speaking out about bullying. The same Spin piece notes:

Ke$ha may be a pop star, but during her performance on Sunday's American Music Awards, she lifted a move straight out of the classic rock playbook. "Smashing my guitar felt fucking amazing," says the 23-year-old, who bashed her white axe into the stage after busting out a Spring Break-appropriate version of "We R Who We R," the chart-topping first single off her new album, Cannibal.

But Ke$ha says there was a message behind the destructive act: Scrawled across the back of her guitar, in bold letters, were the words "Don't Hate." "Young people need a role model to tell them they're beautiful exactly the way they are and that they don't have to be apologetic about themselves," says Ke$ha, who wrote the song in response to the recent spate of gay teenagers committing suicide. "So I wanted to write a super-positive anthem. Plus, in rock 'n' roll, destroying shit is awesome."

Dolly swoops in to save the day: Thank God for Tennessee's own Dolly Parton who in a recent interview with CNN's Larry King embraced her GLBT fans and spoke out against the bullying that threatens our community. The video follows:

Which voice will prevail?: Which voice will define what people around the world think about Tennessee? Will it be Rehyanksy's voice of ignorance and hate? Will it be the voice of people like Ke$ha and Hayley Williams who refuse to sugar-coat the oppressive aspects of our state's culture that they painfully experienced? Will it be a message of love and understanding coming from Dolly Parton and Tim McGraw who have spoken out about bullying?

It's up in the air at this point. All three voices will continue to be part of the conversation. Let's hope the balance will shift toward option number 3.

-Chris Sanders

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