Campfield’s “Can’t Say Gay” Bill

I’ve been thinking about my parents, with their new lesbian friends, who are just like a “normal” couple. I’ve been thinking about it a lot because it’s kind of a remarkable closed system–how small town America works. You make life so miserable for gay people that they leave, thus ensuring that the only gay people who ever even ping your radar are the most militant activists, thus allowing you to believe that all gay people are like the misunderstandings you have of the most militant activists, thus allowing you to feel fine about continuing to make life so miserable for gay people that they leave.

So you never have to encounter any ordinary, openly gay people who would shake your belief in your own self-righteousness.

Which just goes to show, in part, that both strategies are important. You have to have folks kicking open the door AND you have to have folks who are just like “Nope, not going to leave and not going to hide any more.” You have the ground-breakers and then the folks who come along to live ordinary, open lives on the tilled land, so to speak.

The ground-breakers make a path, but it’s the folks who use that path every day who keep it well-worn and free from brush.

What’s interesting to me about Campfield’s “Can’t Say Gay” bill is not just that it provides cover for bullies, but that it shows you that Campfield (or whoever wrote this bit of legislation) is pretty astute about the “problem” with non-activist gay people.

Non-activist gay people change minds*.

When people learn about gay people, not as some far off urban culture, but as a regular possibility in your very own community, even people you know and like, it’s hard to be afraid of them. Those two little old ladies sitting together on their porch are really a threat? I’m supposed to believe that the dentist and his partner are really corrupting our society?

Of course not. They’re just our neighbors. They’re just some regular folks we know.

The people whose hearts are hardened towards the activists can still be reached, often, by people they personally like.

So, what can you do, if you have an anti-gay agenda?

You have to make it difficult for people to come to know that people they personally like and recognize as “regular” are gay.

And, economic times being what they are, you can’t drive the gay folks out of the rural communities any more. Even if gay kids want to move to the city, who can afford it? Or if a gay couple has to move home to take care of Mom? What can you do? They have to come home and take care of Mom.

So, you practically have to do what Campfield is up to here–if you can’t make gay people leave, you have to make it taboo to talk about the fact that they’re gay.

But, it’s at best, a sieve to hold back the ocean. There’s still TV. There’s still the internet.

And the broader culture is changing.

And, eventually, folks are going to figure out that Campfield is on the same side as the Westboro Baptist folks**, that his agenda and the agenda of folks who protest at soldiers’ funerals are the same.

And eventually, they’re going to look at him with the same disdain they have for the Westboro Baptist folks.

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*This is not to say that activist gay people don’t change people’s minds, too; I hope that’s clear. But while a gay pride parade or two in the heart of Boys Town is going to blow my teenage mind and delight me and be evidence to me that everything I’ve been told about gay people is a lie, it just reconfirms to people like my dad that everything they’ve heard is the truth. Which is why there is no one right strategy in any given social justice movement. What clicks for one person is not going to be the thing that clicks for another.

**I also think that about those folks in Mississippi who went ahead and threw a secret prom so the gay chick could not attend. I mean, yeah, it pisses me off, but, damn, how good can you feel in a few years when you realize that you and the Westboro Baptist people have the same agenda? You’re no better than the folks who picket soldiers’ funerals. That’s going to be one to be proud to tell the grand-kids, I’m sure.

8 thoughts on “Campfield’s “Can’t Say Gay” Bill

  1. Which is why there is no one right strategy in any given social justice movement. What clicks for one person is not going to be the thing that clicks for another.

    Well that and the fact that even within the gay community there seems to often be a profound misunderstanding that people shouldn’t have to change who they are to be accepted. TheBoyfriend™ and I are among the “boring” gay people that might appeal more to your dad, but the drag queens and Dykes on Bikes out there shouldn’t have to give up the lifestyle that makes them happy to achieve basic equality either. There’s a danger in the popular strategy of “let’s show them how boring we are,” because it rests on the false premise that people should have to fit into some heteronormative mold to “earn” the right to be equals.

    Which I know isn’t the argument you’re making here, I’m just augmenting what you’ve already written.

  2. Don’t worry, Dolphin. It’s a point that needs to be teased out, again and again, every time it comes up, for exactly the reasons you point out–

    but the drag queens and Dykes on Bikes out there shouldn’t have to give up the lifestyle that makes them happy to achieve basic equality either. There’s a danger in the popular strategy of “let’s show them how boring we are,” because it rests on the false premise that people should have to fit into some heteronormative mold to “earn” the right to be equals.

  3. Yes, when we need jobs Campfield is crusading to save us from gays. I’d put a cutsey reference to my laughing and rolling around, but it isn’t funny. Thing is, he is brilliant to pimp out these ideas because it gets him re-elected. He exploits the fears of rural folks in Knox County who are scared of how “modern” Knoxville has become.

  4. Here is an interesting bit from a fascinating book called, “The Authoritarians”.

    “Interestingly enough, authoritarian followers show a remarkable capacity for change IF they have some of the important experiences. For example, they are far less likely to have known a homosexual (or realized an acquaintance was homosexual) than most people. But if you look at the high RWAs [Right Wing Authoritarians] who do know someone gay or lesbian, they are much less hostile toward homosexuals in general than most authoritarians are. Getting to know a homosexual usually makes one more accepting of homosexuals as a group. Personal experiences can make a lot of difference, which is a truly hopeful discovery. The problem is, most right-wing authoritarians won’t willingly exit their small world and try to meet a gay. They’re too afraid. And “coming out” to a high RWA acquaintance might have long-term beneficial effects on him, but it would likely carry some risks for the outgoing person.”

    That wouldn’t be so interesting as an assertion, but this statement derives from this professor’s research on authoritarianism. The entire book can be downloaded for free: http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~altemey/

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  6. About this time next year or soon after, I should be registered to vote in Knox County.

    Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait. I’ll be making it my job to work towards seeing that man get voted out of office and never voted in again if it takes every second of spare time I’ve got. It’ll be time well spent and totally worth it.

  7. PS I’m sure all the unemployed and half-starving folks of the great state of Tennessee are oh-so-glad Campfield’s out there working so hard to save us all from “teh gays”.

    Pfffft.

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