Old and New South, Red and Blue

by Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend and Big Brass Blog

As Gary said in his intro post, I'm an actual Durham native -- that seems to be a rarity in these parts at the present time, with all the Yankee immigrants over the last couple of decades.

I have Red State/Blue State "dual citizenship," since I have native New Yorkers on one side of the family and I lived in NYC during its unforgettable heydey of urban decline of the 70s and 80s. When I returned to my hometown in 1989, it was clear that Durham, and its southern identity, had changed dramatically.

The best of Southern Culture has been retained here -- brewed iced tea, good barbecue, a slower pace of doing things, a greeting of "Honey" or "Sugar" to you by people you don't even know -- it can be disconcerting to folks from other parts of the country that move here. Only last week I was at a business meeting with arrivals to these parts from Western and Northern states, and they freely admitted to being freaked out because they were addressed "Ma'am," and that people weren't in a hurry to get in line at the grocery store. Yes, the South is a different place, a lovely place to call home.

The South, even as the culture embraces bagels, scones, trendy coffee shops and NY-style pizza, still has some serious work to do as it adjusts to lives of its residents in the 21st century. For instance, NC has its first openly gay state senator, Julia Boseman, but the bible still beats hard over "values" issues here and elsewhere in the region.

* Woman Sues Over Tar Heel Anti-Cohabitation Law. North Carolina has a nearly 200-year-old -- and rarely enforced -- law that prohibits unmarried, unrelated adults of the opposite sex from living together. Debora Hobbs was "living in sin," and her boss forced her to pick her boyfriend or her job as a 911 dispatcher; Pender County, NC Sheriff Carson Smith says it was a moral issue as well as a legal question; he tries to avoid hiring people who openly live together (convicted offenders face a fine and up to 60 days in jail). The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina filed a lawsuit on her behalf to challenge the law.

* North Carolina's General Assembly Considers Marriage Amendment. We are another state that has a large number of good old boys that are disturbed, afraid, mortified, and intimidated by the idea that two people of the same-sex want to marry. They feel the need to amend the state's Constitution to "protect" the institution. From Senate Bill 8/House Bill 55:
"Marriage is the union of one man and one woman at one time. This is the only marriage that shall be recognized as valid in this State. The uniting of two persons of the same sex or the uniting of more than two persons of any sex in a marriage, civil union, domestic partnership, or other similar relationship within or outside of this State shall not be valid or recognized in this State. This Constitution shall not be construed to require that marital status or the rights, privileges, benefits, or other legal incidents of marriage be conferred upon unmarried individuals or groups."
Major employers in the area include universities, medical centers, hi-tech, non-profits and municipal governments that offer partnership benefits to its gay employees, yet this effort to legislatively enshrine discrimination has significant public support. One can only hope that the economic impact of such a change will carry some weight in this battle, since no appeal to their humanity or concern for their gay and lesbian constituents will reach them.

Sometimes it's a relief to live here in NC; it's a relative bubble of tolerance compared to say, my wife's home state of Alabama. Progressive thinking is nowhere to be found when it comes to being gay and out.

* Is Alabama really the worst place to be a gay person in Bush's America?. Bob Moser, former editor of the great progressive paper in the Triangle, The Independent Weekly, wrote an eye-opening article for Out Magazine, Unsweet Homo Alabama, that shows you just how far the Deep South has to go.
...the vigil was commemorating the third anniversary of Billy Jack Gaither's murder, I figured there'd be quite a crowd. Gaither's slaughter in February 1999 was one of the nastiest hate crimes in recent history. Just up the road in rural Coosa County, the 39-year-old was slashed with a pocketknife, beaten with an ax handle, and burned on a pile of tires by two guys who did the deed because "he was queer."

...18-year-old Scotty Joe Weaver, the first of this summer's victims, to a chair in his trailer in rural Pine Grove, where he was beaten, strangled, stabbed, mutilated, and partially decapitated over a period of several hours. His body was then dumped in the woods and set on fire, just like Gaither's.
There doesn't look like there's going to be much change on the horizon. The state is sending a marriage amendment to the polls, and seeks to make gay adoption illegal. Ousted Alabama Supreme Court Justice, Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore, is a likely candidate for governor in 2006. He had this to say:
"Homosexual conduct is, and has been, considered abhorrent, immoral, detestable, a crime against nature, and a violation of the laws of nature and of nature's God upon which this Nation and our laws are predicated. Such conduct ... is destructive to a basic building block of society-the family. ... It is an inherent evil against which children must be protected."

We're not talking about an intellectual conversation on gay civil marriage at this level. This represents the fundamental intransigence of the religious heart of the South that flummoxes Yankees either into stone silence or a torrent of redneck bashing. Progressive Southerners have to try to understand this dark side and own it, not dismiss it. I don't know how long it's going to take to change the mindset of intolerant people. I do have hope that we can work it all out peacefully, and laugh about it all over a tall glass of iced tea one day -- in my lifetime.