Businesses and Tourists Take Note: There are reasons why Tennessee is known as The Hate State. When you invest in Tennessee, you're bankrolling anti-gay bigotry.
At the beginning of October, a teenager in Tennessee was viciously assaulted by his principal for attempting to organize a Gay-Straight Alliance club in Madisonville's Sequoyah High School. The attack was witnessed by the youth's sister and didn't stop until his mother showed up at the scene. Only days earlier, also in Tennessee, a gay couple was punched and beaten by a group of deacons when they tried to enter a church. Sheriff's deputies eventually arrived, but they refused to intervene as churchgoers yelled homophobic slurs at the battered and bloodied young men. Ignoring President Obama's directive, the staff at Rolling Hills Hospital rejected numerous requests of a lesbian to visit her ailing partner.
In an attempt to keep LGBT Tennesseans cowering in the closet, state legislators enacted a draconian measure repealing all local anti-discrimination ordinances. They even voted to prohibit teachers and students from mentioning gay rights or referring to any non-heterosexual orientation in public schools.
How much lower can the state's religious conservatives stoop? Pretty damn low, it seems ...
Tennessee's so-called Family Action Council is exploiting the tragic suicide of a bullied high school student in order to encourage the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a statute that would protect "Christian children" who abuse and demean their LGBT classmates - in Jesus' name, of course.
On December 7, Jacob Rogers decided to end the four years of constant hectoring, ostracization, and name-calling he'd endured from classmates who objected to his sexual orientation on religious grounds. After Jacob killed himself with a gun, born-again evangelicals quickly jumped into the fray, waving their Bibles and demanding that their children's right to persecute "sinners" be preserved. Bound and beholden to Christian zealots, GOP pols vowed to address the issue.
Zach Ford for Think Progress: The “license to bully” bill, HB 1153, was actually introduced last year, but FACT is hoping it will make headway in this new legislative session. Mirroring similar language that was recently proposed in Michigan, the bill creates specific protections for students who share any “religious, philosophical, or political views” that are “unpopular,” regardless of consequences ... The bill is unabashedly designed to ensure that anti-LGBT bullying persists in the school system, as it specifically eliminates any protections or education that might help curb such harassment.
Nashville Scene reports that some officials are blaming the victim's "lifestyle" for his own death: In correspondence with the Tennessee Equality Project, the state's main gay rights group, state Rep. John Ragan, R-Oak Ridge, claimed gay people commit suicide at a higher rate than others and suggested Jacob's sexuality itself drove him to kill himself. Ragan asked whether the suicide could have had "more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies." Blaming the victim is necessary to prevent Jacob's death from damaging chances for passage of (a bill) to make it easier for young bigots to mistreat gay schoolkids. This legislation brought by conservative Christians who oppose special protections for gay people actually gives special protections to homophobic bullies."
The Tennessean has an article on its website called Stunned Community Looks For Justice After Gay Teen's Suicide. The story is accompanied by a photo of about sixteen women of different ages, teary-eyed, holding candles at some sort of memorial for the deceased teen.
Where were the people who now express their "shock" and "sorrow" when young Jacob was being harassed for those four interminable years? If the concerned residents of Tennessee truly desire justice, they should march against the churches that condemn gay, lesbian, and trans individuals to eternal hellfire. They should work to defeat conscienceless politicians who claim that God commands them to enact anti-LGBT legislation. They might also take a look in the mirror. Homophobia doesn't exist in a vacuum, and expressing regret after the fact will not save the life of a single youngster.
(Top Image courtesy Lauren Swanson.)