Monday, August 20, 2018

"You people who’ve got gay children, don’t mess up like I did"

  “Half-baked maggot.” “If he wants to be a female, make him a female. A good sharp knife will do the job really quick.”

  That’s what adults in Oklahoma had to say last week about a transgender middle schooler named Maddie who used the girls’ bathroom during her first week at Achille Public Schools. She is 12 years old.

  A parent’s post on Facebook — “the transgender [sic] is already using the girls [sic] bathroom” — attracted adults from outside of the school district. In just a few hours, hundreds of shockingly violent comments had proliferated.

  “Let Parker whip his ass until he quits coming to school,” wrote one man. Sixteen people reacted with “likes” and “laughing” emojis.

  Tell students to beat up Maddie in the bathroom, wrote another, so “it [sic] won’t want to come back!”

  Achille Independent School District shut down for two days, concerned that it could not keep Maddie and other students safe. Maddie's mom obtained an order of protection after she said the husband of the parent who wrote the original post blocked her in the road and "verbally assaulted" her after they dropped their children off at school.

  The husband of the parent who wrote the original post blocked Maddie’s mother in the road and “verbally assaulted her” shortly after they dropped their children off at school; Maddie’s mom obtained a restraining order.

  In rural towns and throughout the South, these are the stakes of LGBT bigotry — stakes that Alabamian Nathan Mathis knows only too well. Mathis lost his daughter Patti Sue to suicide in 1994 when she was just 23 years old.

  “I regret very much the mean things I said to Patti when I found out she was gay,” Mathis said from the pulpit of Unlimited Ministries, an LGBT-friendly church in Madison, Alabama, on Father’s Day. “I realize now there was nothing wrong with Patti. Something was wrong with me.”

  Pattie Sue’s death plunged Mathis into a deep depression. “There’s a while there where you don’t care if you live or die,” he told Tori Truscheit for BuzzFeed News.

  Truscheit wrote a long feature on parents fighting for their LGBT children’s rights in Alabama, inspired, in part, by a video that went viral last year of Mathis protesting at a Roy Moore rally. As Truscheit writes:

    What stood out about Mathis wasn’t just that he supported LGBT rights like few straight white men of his generation. What’s rare and compelling about Mathis is that he transformed his grief into tangible solidarity, putting his body on the line for queer and trans people.

  For too many LGBT Alabamians, the idea of their own parents doing that is tragically far-fetched.

  “It would mean the world to me,” Lawrence Haliburton told Truscheit. “Doing anything would just be a big step for either one of them.”

  “If [my mom] was out there with me trying to push for LGBT rights and all that, I’d be overwhelmed,” Jasmine McIntosh added.

  The LGBT community is facing a slew of attacks from groups that want to enshrine bigotry into federal law, and a hate crime epidemic that stretches from coast to coast.

  But nowhere is the ground for organizing and deep transformation of bigotry into acceptance more fertile than it is in the South. As Truscheit writes:

    In other parts of the country, better laws may protect LGBT rights, but superficial “tolerance” can mask bigotry right below the surface. The challenges of the Deep South, in contrast to milquetoast acceptance elsewhere, can forge a deep commitment to change.

    “There’s almost an element of defiance for me in claiming my home,” Dana Sweeney, 23, told me … present[ing] ... a coffee mug with a quote from activist Grace Lee Boggs on it: “The most radical thing I ever did was to stay put.”

  That’s certainly what Maddie plans to do.

  “I’m going to keep my head held up high and stay strong and go to school,” she told The New York Times. “And won’t let those bullies drag me down.”

  This article was published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based civil rights organization.

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