Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tennessee's State Bird Is Apparently the Homophobe (no offense intended to our avian friends)

DADT is gone and DOMA may follow, but no one will be surprised to learn that the country is still well-populated with homophobic idiots. Nor do I suspect that many will be shocked to hear that Tennessee has more than its share of this particular variety of vermin. But I confess that I was a little taken aback to encounter these two stories within about an hour of each other a couple of days ago.

The first story I read concerned a gay couple, Jerry Pittman Jr. and Dustin Lee, attacked as they arrived at a worship service by deacons of the Grace Fellowship Church in Fruitland, TN. (Seriously, what self-respecting violent anti-gay moron would live in a place called Fruitland?) Did I mention that the instigator was the minister, Jerry Pittman Sr.?

Having been assaulted by three deacons (including his uncle), the younger Pittman called the cops, for all the good that did. According to a story on the AddictingInfo site:
The attackers also verbally assaulted the couple continually with anti-gay verbiage which continued even after a Sheriff’s Deputy arrived on the scene. Bystanders and other congregants made no effort to stop the assault. For that matter, neither did the Deputy Sheriff. Once the barrage of punches ended, the Deputy refused to let the two victims press charges.
The young men eventually filed charges the next day. But the case gets weirder: one of the attackers (and yes, I’m calling him an attacker before “all the facts are in”) apparently filed charges of his own a few days later, claiming it was Pittman Jr. who initiated the incident. Uh huh. No, really, this is my “I believe you” face; it just looks like my “you’re full of shit” face. Another attacker was allegedly stabbed in his own garage. Then the first guy packed up and moved, only to have his house burned down the next day. This is getting creepy.

And, of course, the two young men are finding it difficult to secure legal representation, the local lawyers being too homophobic themselves chicken-shit concerned with their image in the community to take on a “gay case.”

There’s more to the story, too. Apparently the elder Pittman had been arrested earlier in the day for the theft of $10,000 related to his imminent divorce from the woman whose presence in his life was the primary reason he hadn’t given in to the raving lunatic side of his personality earlier. This is the preacher, remember. OK… I’ll grant that you can use a selective reading of Leviticus and Deuteronomy to justify your homophobia. But I’m pretty sure I recall something about stone-casting, and I’m virtually certain that stealing and bearing false witness show up among the “shalt nots.” Those Old Testament dudes weren’t very liberal about divorce, either, if I recall correctly.

The failures of Pittman senior as father, minister, (apparently husband)—indeed as person are too manifold to enumerate. I’m not optimistic, of course, but there’s an outside chance he might yet turn out to be someone who could be mentioned in the same breath as Jesus without incurring laughter. Nah, who am I kidding?

Meanwhile, to the east, students at Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, tired of bullying and gay-bashing, attempted to form a Gay-Straight Alliance. According to student Zachary Piccione, he spent all spring semester “trying to find a sponsor, someone who would be willing to start one with me. And everyone's thing was that they didn't have time.” If this is true, then Sequoyah High School has a lot of craven and stupid teachers. They certainly have a bone-headed bully for a principal.

One Maurice Moser seems never to have outgrown his schoolyard bully phase. Trouble is, he’s the principal now. Nathan Carroll, a student who says he’s been bullied since the 6th grade for his sexual orientation and for “acting gay,” met with Moser twice this fall to try again to start an apparently much-needed GSA. He got nowhere, so he started a petition drive, collecting some 150 signatures, a fair number for a school of barely over 1000 students.

If you go to the school’s website, the first thing you see is the mission statement: “Our mission is to provide a safe, educational environment with academic and technical programs that will prepare each student to enter post-secondary institutions and/or the work force upon graduation.” The more perspicacious among you, Gentle Readers, will note the prominence of the word “safe” in the school’s mission. If you’re a little curious, you might also check out the Academics/Faculty page, where you’ll find this: “Every student should have an environment that is safe and conducive to learning.” Trouble is, apparently nobody at the school really believes that. (Given the fact that the Academics/Faculty page also says that “Faculty, students, and community support is necessary to accomplish the school's mission,” I’m guessing their mission doesn’t have much to do with teaching English grammar, either.)

Anyway, there was apparently an anti-gay group that wanted to stop the formation of the GSA. (As if they had any legitimate reason to prevent the club from forming.) A principal with a spine would tell the haters to go fuck themselves (perhaps not in precisely those words), allow the GSA to get started, and go back to trying to figure out the difference between singular and plural nouns. Not Moser. He outlawed any discussion of the proposed group by supporters or opponents (he being an equal opportunity civil rights violator), thereby ensuring that the GSA would not be formed while cravenly pretending to be even-handed. In Carroll’s words, Moser “said anything going pro or against GSA... if any petition is found, it is to be torn up and thrown away. Any student caught with it will be sent to his office for further punishment.”

Moser, of course, ducked press inquiries, passing the buck to the Director of Schools, Mike Lowry, who (surprise of surprises) issued a mealy-mouthed and ungrammatical diversion from the issue at hand and an avowal that students who follow the rules (what rules didn’t these follow?) will be treated “fairly and equally,” which one presumes is sort of like “separate but equal” for the 21st century.

Ah, but Gentle Reader, we’re not done yet. It seems that a young man named Chris Sigler wore a shirt on Tuesday that said “GSA: We’ve Got Your Back.” Oh, the humanity! According to the ACLU, here’s what happened next:
A teacher ordered Sigler to cover up the shirt in the future. Sigler, knowing he had a right to wear the shirt, wore it again Friday, and resisted an order to remove the shirt. Sigler says that Moser then ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler’s sister Jessica, who refused to leave. According to both students, Moser then grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and chest-bumped him repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?” [Are you freaking kidding me? The guy ought to be fired for being a bad pop culture cliché, if nothing else.] Sigler’s mother reported that when she arrived at the school, she saw her son seated in a desk with Moser leaning over him and shouting in Sigler’s face.
True, we haven’t heard Moser’s side of the story, but I have this nagging feeling that an authoritarian homophobe (and I’m pretty confident of both of those descriptors) probably doesn’t have a lot of defense. Denial, maybe. Bluster, perhaps. Excuse? Doesn’t seem possible, does it?

We’ve been acculturated into keeping our respective heads down. Jerry Pittman Jr. may not have had a choice, but at least he filed charges. Chris Sigler didn’t duck at all. This may or may not have been “his fight”: the article doesn’t say whether he’s gay or straight. I like that. Because I don’t care, and I really couldn’t care less about anyone who does. Chris, when you graduate, you’re welcome in my class.

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