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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Give Hate a Holiday - the event that almost wasn't.

Yesterday, hate crime became real for me. First, you should know the City of Tupelo witnessed an extraordinary affair. "Give Hate a Holiday" helped "raise visibility and public awareness about the lives and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Mississippi and throughout the South, and [helped] build support for ongoing local, state, and regional efforts to make our communities more just, inclusive, humane, and safe for LGBT [people] . . ." TEP co-sponsored the event with a coalition of groups including the Link Centre of Tupelo (former home of Harrisburg Baptist Church), the Unitarian Universal Congregation of Tupelo, PFLAG of Tupelo, PFLAG Oxford/University, PFLAG Gulf Region, and the Universal Unitarian Association of Congregations "Standing on the Side of Love" campaign. Tupelo served as the point location because it is the home of the notoriously anti-gay and Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC] designated hate group, American Family Association. The Link Centre which occupies the former Harrisburg Baptist Church building hosted the event.

We began the day with a well attended news conference covered by WCBI out of Columbus. Neither WTVA of Tupelo nor the local paper the Daily Journal made an appearance. The paper clearly had notice of the event as Tim Wildmon, president of AFA, had written a letter to the editor the day before. Nevertheless, Bob Spencer, a lay minister with the Universal Unitarian Church, opened with a statement that his personal campaign for equality had become a crusade. Tim Jordan, a former member and youth pastor at Harrisburg Baptist Church, followed. Tim told his story of being gay and being afraid that God did not love him for that reason. Yesterday, he stood on the very spot where he gave a sermon in 1979 about God's love for all and reclaimed that sermon after a life time journey as a gay man away from and back to faith. Representatives from Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays [PFLAG] from Oxford and the Gulf Region offered their support while Amanda Todd told of her efforts to bring a PFLAG chapter to Tupelo. Jaribu Hill with Mississippi Worker's Center for Human Rights spoke of its support for all human rights and her ongoing efforts to see justice done in the James Anderson murder in Jackson, Mississippi. Representatives of Americans Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] of Mississippi spoke of their action on behalf of Constance McMillan and their involvement in two current school bullying cases in Mississippi. I represented TEP and assured the GLBT citizens of North Mississippi that equality knew no state boundaries and that we supported their efforts to live fully realized lives. I also called upon the straight allies in North Mississippi to respond to National Coming Out Day and come out in support of the GLBT population. Mark Potoc, Director of the Intelligence Project for SPLC explained why the American Family Association is a SPLC designated hate group, and he rendered the attendees speechless with quotations from AFA's spokesperson Bryan Fischer.

The press conference dismissed to a colorful and enthusiastic demonstration along West Main street where the attendees waved banners and signs and proclaimed yesterday as a holiday from hate. Many passing motorists thrilled the numerous demonstrators with honks of support. However, the hate came in through the back door. While we were demonstrating, Tupelo City Police responded to an anonymous bomb threat and swept the Link Centre during our outdoor event. After the building was cleared, we breathed a sigh of relief and rejoined the day's planned festivities.

At 2:00 Joe Wilson and his partner in life and filmmaking Dean Hamer presented Out in the Silence, a film telling of the AFA's destructive interference in Mr. Wilson's life and in the lives of GLBT citizens in Oil City, Pennsylvania. The powerful film documented the far reaching impact of Tupelo's AFA and its often devastating effects on ordinary people's lives. The movie was, however, in the end, uplifting, moving, and inspiring, and the misters Wilson and Hamer distinguished themselves with the telling of the story. After the presentation, the filmmakers encouraged audience participants to tell their stories, and what emerged was an unexpected outpouring of support from the "straight" community of North Mississippi. A group of concerned citizens in Tupelo have informally joined to start challenging the status quo, and they identified themselves by website as They indicated that the GLBT community had a place at their round table and invited them to participate in the dialogue encouraged there. Another woman promoted the facebook page, It's Not Easy Leaning Left in Mississippi, which deals with progressive issues in the state. She invited the GLBT citizens to friend the page and participate in the conversation. Aleigh Farris, the daughter of lesbian parents, told of her life growing up in Tupelo, and Rick Davis reported the story of an attempt to establish a GSA at Tupelo High School which was derailed after the principal allegedly threatened the job of at least one of the only two teachers who agreed to sponsor the group. PFLAG Tupelo invited all to attend their new meeting on the last Tuesdays of the month at All Saints Episcopal Church, and Dr. Latoya Brock, a professor of social work at the University of Mississippi Tupelo campus, indicated she had invited her social work class to attend the film, but that none had been there. She was disappointed, but she hoped to see some present at the evening showing.

The takeaway from this day? The people of Mississippi are ready for equality, and they are incredibly courageous. I met my facebook friends Brandon Lacey and Cody Bruff, young partners who are ready to become activists. Benson Hill and his mother Mikrah are working with PFLAG and are making a change in Tupelo. Bob Spencer, a retired lay minister, seeks equality in his lifetime. I heard an African American Baptist minister who just wants to love everyone as he believes Christ intended everyone to be loved. I met a woman from my home town who knew my parents, and we were both so gratified to see Myrtle girls working for equality. Misty Waldrop attended, and she works in central Mississippi with GLBT youth. Lyrik, a very outspoken lesbian leader @thatdamnlyrik, entertained us all with her enthusiasm. I talked with Dale Merkle, PFLAG regional director, Gulf region, the Southern father of two gay sons. I spoke with Mr. Potoc and told him that his boss Morris Dees is my legal hero. I talked to two lovely performers from Tremont and Fulton, of all places. And I spent time with Casey who has been an out transgirl/woman since high school. A bomb threat did nothing to discourage these people from standing up to the AFA and to their own fears.

At the end of the day, I was the beneficiary of this outpouring in small town Mississippi. I saw a man reclaim his faith heritage. I saw an older generation reach out to a different generation and uplift them. I saw drag queens holding signs of encouragement. I was in a bomb threat situation. I met a transwoman who is seeking understanding and encouragement. I had dinner with this lovely couple who wants to change North Mississippi. I saw a film about empowerment and joy and commitment and the defeat of forces of destruction. I helped challenge the AFA on its home turf. I cried, I laughed, I gasped, and I cheered.

I am renewed and invigorated. I want to change my world, but if I cannot change it, I want to at least, irk it a little.

Anne Gullick

co-chair TEP Shelby County Committee

board member, TEP


Tim Jordan said...

Thank you Anne, for your passion and dedication to Equality for all in our home state. It was such an honor to be with you for this monumental event. You inspire me to do more!

Crusader Liberty & Justice for ALL said...

Thank You Anne. With allies like you the homophobes don't stand a chance. Oct 10th was but a small first step, there are many to come before EQUALITY is for ALL (no exceptions). I'll be asking for more in the weeks ahead. Bob Spencer, UUC Tupelo Lay Minister