A. Citizen: Gay In South Carolina
WHAT “CHICK-FIL-A” DAY SAYS ABOUT OUR STATE
By A. Citizen || Imagine with me for a moment that you’re gay. A gay man or woman living in South Carolina. For purpose of this exercise, you don’t have to paint yourself in the rainbow colors of a stereotype. You can be a doctor or lawyer if that makes it easier for you. One who plays sports and easily passes for straight.
You’re living in South Carolina because this is your home. You grew up here. You love its mountains and beaches and the way strangers say hi when you get on an elevator. Or maybe you’re not thrilled to be living here, but you’re here because this is where you have a job or maybe because your parents are elderly and ill. Pick whichever one of those that works for you, the one that most easily gets you past that love-it-or-leave-it cliche.
You’re not an activist and you don’t confront anyone about sincerely-held religious or political beliefs. You could, of course. You could go around pointing out that the Biblical version of marriage includes, in a jam, kidnapping women to make them your wives. (Judges 21:19) But that’s not really your style.
You just seek to live a life with your partner, doing those things that people who share lives do. Texting to make sure the evening meal is covered. Arguing over whose turn it is to mow the lawn. Suggesting that maybe that tie doesn’t quite go with that shirt.
Some of your friends know, the real friends, the ones you hang out with. But your more distant Facebook friends, the occasional tennis buddies and the co-workers, have no idea. You’re living in South Carolina, after all. You let people in on your secret on a need-to-know basis. But when you do, you have been universally relieved at the responses. Maybe those responses say something about who you choose as your friends. Maybe they say something about the Southern inclination toward politeness over honesty and candor. But you’ll take it, whatever the explanation. It’s worked to redeem your faith in your fellow South Carolinians.
And then a day like yesterday arrives …
As your Twitter and Facebook feeds fill up through the day, it’s mostly just baffling to you. You wonder if they really believe their own cover story about free speech. Whether the posters know it or not, it’s clearly not really about religion or politics. It’s much more raw, more personal, this unfolding response. You know not one of these people raised an objection that night when the Governor had State House protestors illegally arrested in a driving thunderstorm. First Amendment abstractions, divorced from the underlying message, clearly do not outrage South Carolinians.
Something else, something much more disturbing, is at play here.
Whether anybody admits it even to himself, the chicken sandwich saga was about something much more deeply emotional. Something arising not from an inapplicable constitutional abstraction, but from the content of the message. That message, if one traces it through to the organizations funded by all those chicken sandwiches, is not really about marriage at all. It’s about you. Who you are.
So, in your gay imagining, you realize that they did, indeed, get their point across yesterday. There’s no denying those lines at the restaurants were long. Your friends and followers filled your Facebook and Twitter feeds not with a dispassionate political or religious argument, but with enthusiasm, anger, and vitriol. And in a bizarre display, politicians had their pictures taken literally buried in fast food bags and posing with people wearing cow costumes.
You used to wonder about those old black and white photos showing otherwise good people in the 1950?s and 60?s doing unimaginable things. How could those housewives scream slurs at those kids going into the Arkansas high school? Yesterday was a wake-up call, a reminder that good, fine people can be terribly wrong in a ways that only history can reveal and correct.
And on this, the day after, looking for a reason to be hopeful, that’s about the best you can do.
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