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It’s Time for a Revolution in Southern Thinking

As we celebrate Pride Month, our editor prays that our beloved South will rise above old ways that bring hate where there should be love.

The last time I lived in New York City, it was four blocks west of the Stonewall Inn. Stonewall might be the most famous LGBTQ+ bar in the world. In the wee hours of June 28, 1969, as Friday night was giving way to Saturday, NYC cops raided the bar. The New York Police Department often raided businesses that welcomed LGBTQ+ customers, but this Saturday morning was different.

The patrons did not willingly board the police paddy wagon. They resisted, and their uprising was the spark that lit the gay rights movement. Sylvia Rivera, a seventeen-year-old trans woman, was among the patrons as they clashed with the police.

“I’m not missing a minute of this,” she famously proclaimed. “It’s the revolution!”

We celebrate Pride Month every June to commemorate that night fifty-five years ago. June 28, 1969, is just as important as December 1, 1955, when Montgomery, Alabama, police arrested Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person.

On both days, people who had been abused, discriminated against, and far worse took their stands and said, “Enough.”

Why do some people insist on discriminating against people who are, to quote Psalms 139, just as “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God as any of us? Only God really knows what fuels such hatred. And in the South, too many of us for far too long were ruled by this hatred of the mythical Other, those who “ain’t like us.” Many of us still are.

Our region has visited hate on its LGBTQ+ people since forever, and too many still hate. It seems our state legislatures are filled with those who want to roll back civil rights, voting rights, and the rights of individuals to live and love as God made them.

But many others stand up and say enough. We urge all our readers to do so, to remember that none of us may judge people and hold them down simply for who they are.

We are proud this week to bring you the work of two great Southern LGBTQ+ writers whose work and lives continually urge us to stand for equity and equality.

Montgomery, Alabama, December 1, 1955
Montgomery, Alabama, December 1, 1955
Greenwich Village, New York City, June 28, 1969
Greenwich Village, New York City, June 28, 1969

The first is the legendary poet and novelist Silas House, who currently serves as the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky and in that position, every day, advocates for what’s right.

Silas has long written passionately about how the love and hospitality baked into the better angels of Southern nature have the power to overcome the fears we learned in earlier generations. As we prepared to publish his three latest poems, I could not help but recall a passage from an essay he wrote almost a decade ago for Gravy, the journal of our friends at the Southern Foodways Alliance.

There is no monolithic Southern family. Mine is the one I know best, and I have witnessed great change occur within us. My parents, who once chatted at suppertime about rounding up and forcing all gay folks onto an island, now welcome my husband and me to their table as a couple. They buy us joint Christmas presents, go on vacation with us, and refer to us as a coupled entity: y’all. They support and adore our son, their grandchild who has transitioned to male over the last couple of years. Sometimes when we are at the lake or dining together in a restaurant, I stop to marvel that we are all out together, my parents laughing and unafraid of how people might see us.

Over the past decade, my parents reluctantly began an anguished self-examination. They started to listen. They laid down their pride. This is the way forward for the South, for all of us. To listen. To possess humility. To look at ourselves. And ultimately to change. The future I imagine includes everyone who is willing to love. To gather all at a crowded table. And it includes letting the hate-filled ones know that they will always be welcome—but only if they get themselves sorted.

Mississippi-born writer John W. Bateman faced the same prejudice when he was young—most notably from his church. Over the last several years, as he’s watched the denomination of his youth, the United Methodist Church, split over issues of LGBTQ+ marriage and ordination. But he sees hope in the UMC’s decision last month to drop its long-held bans and welcome all people.

John was thirty-one years old before he could muster the courage to overcome those years of prejudice. Today, he shares with you an encouraging open letter to LGBTQ+ kids—a letter like the one he wished he had received when he was a kid.

It’s time we acknowledge that “ain’t like us” is never an excuse for any actions other than education, acceptance, and love.

Perhaps John’s letter might prove to be a resource, words that might offer some light to parents who struggle with the sexual orientation and gender of their children. Perhaps it will be one tool to help parents begin the kind of self-examination Silas describes.

The South for far too long has been ripped asunder by prejudice. It’s time we acknowledge that “ain’t like us” is never an excuse for any actions other than education, acceptance, and love. It’s time we got ourselves sorted.

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Chuck Reece is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Salvation South, the weekly web magazine you're reading right now. He was the founding editor of The Bitter Southerner. He grew up in the north Georgia mountains in a little town called Ellijay.

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