In my gripe about Karen Cox’s op-ed in the New York Times on the place of openly gay people in the rural South, I highlighted the story Cox related about Helen and Kathleen. That’s the lesbian couple in Louisville, Ga., (population 2,493) who turned an old firehouse into an art gallery that is a hub of local life.
“It’s an unspoken truth that Helen and Kathleen are in a committed relationship,” Cox wrote, “and yet they’re invited to social gatherings as a couple . . .” I called the “unspoken truth” part shameful and nothing to be proud about. Well, it turns out Helen reads my stuff, as she sent me an e-mail reacting to what I’d written. Her response was direct. But it had a strength befitting someone born and raised in an urban environment who now uses it to great effect in her new rural life.
From city living to country life
I was born and raised in DC, then married, came out, and raised my own children there. I've only lately relocated to rural Georgia. I have been out to my family and to everyone I know and work with for a long, long time. I think it's fair to say that after Karen’s column, I’m outer still!
‘Not a question of being out or not out’
The way I live in Louisville is not a question of being out or not out. It is more a question of focus. I don’t feel a need to make gayness — my gayness, in particular — the centerpiece of my social or business or community service interactions in Louisville. I live in Louisville because I love it. But like much of the deep South, Louisville struggles with tough issues of race and poverty, education and social justice that are centuries old and complicated by deep religious feeling. Most of the time I feel it is more important to focus on those issues than to be speaking up about, say, gay marriage — an issue that is also important to me. That said, when gay-related subjects come up, or I feel it is important to raise them, I have no problem speaking my mind in Louisville or anywhere else. For example, on my own Facebook page, which is open to many Louisville friends, including high school students I know, I celebrated the end of DADT [don’t ask don’t tell].
Taking a stand
Also, The Fire House Gallery, which I founded and manage with my partner, Kathleen Galvin, and which is deeply involved in supporting our public schools, takes a strong stand against bullying. If any child in the graduating class I addressed or any other child in Jefferson County became the object of gay bashing, The Fire House Gallery and I personally would be actively in his or her corner. ‘How would you know?’ you might ask. I would know. I will know. It’s a small place — to Karen's point about close personal relationships in small towns — and I make it my business to know. And the standing I have garnered in town by being reasonably circumspect about these things will give me much more influence in helping that child when the time comes.
Nevertheless, I appreciate your comments and agree that we must all be working best we can in open ways to eliminate anti-gay bias, animus and discrimination.
At the start of her letter, Aikman told me that she neither had time to watch television nor had even heard of Honey Boo Boo. That’s the 7-year-old beauty queen whose eponymous reality TV show has made her a star. Thus, “Uncle Poodle,” Honey Boo Boo’s beloved gay uncle, was also unknown to her “till I read Karen’s piece.”
That’s for the best. As you saw from her e-mail, Aikman is no “Uncle Poodle.” She’s more consequential than that.