|19th century LGBT rights advocate Karl Heinrich Ulrichs introduced the idea of coming out as a means of emancipation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)|
If you missed Joce Pritchett's recent article in The Jackson Free Press, “What’s It Like Living LGBT in Mississippi?,” be sure to check it out. I suspect that many Mississippi atheists will be able to relate to some of what she has to say, although some have certainly had different experiences of Mississippi.
Pritchett notes that people who have lived here long enough to remember all the violence and hatred surrounding school desegregation have good reason to be wary.
When I say that some LGBT Mississippians are afraid to come out of the closet and live authentic lives, it’s not theoretical or an intellectual decision—they are genuinely afraid for their lives and livelihoods.For those who have seen Mississippi at its worst, the threat does not seem hypothetical at all. I was not here for desegregation, and what I know of this period is primarily through the study of history. Still, the threat has always seemed realistic to me. I’ve heard enough of what my Christian neighbors think of atheists, liberals, LGBT persons, and immigrants to be concerned. The fear of “coming out” is something with which I can certainly relate.
Even though polls have shown that atheists are hated more than LGBT persons these days, I still think LGBT individuals have it worse than atheists in many respects. They have fewer legal rights, especially the many rights around marriage, and fewer protections against discrimination. I suspect that an LGBT person is more likely to be assaulted for who they are than an atheist is, and it is bound to be more challenging an LGBT individual to conceal who they are than it is for most atheists.
The part of the article that really hit home for me was when Pritchett wrote:
What’s it like? We find safe places and like-minded people. We create bubbles of safety to live in, and we smile and try to fit in. We don’t talk about it just like we don’t talk about the horrid race relations that still exist in Mississippi or the extreme measures that had to be taken just to get to where we are today. We get up every morning and go to work, visit with friends, pay our taxes and tell ourselves, “That’s just the way it is in Mississippi.”Damn, that sounds familiar! Atheist bubble? Yep. Liberal bubble? Check. Secular bubble in which separation of church and state is valued and secular activism is seen as a necessary step toward equality? Definitely. Too many bubbles, and none are particularly satisfying. None feel safe enough. It takes so little to pop some of these bubbles. It often seems that we spend too much of our lives surviving and too little thriving.
When I read Pritchett’s words, I can’t help being moved. Being told “That’s just the way it is” has never been satisfying. We need to create a better Mississippi where such “bubbles of safety” are no longer necessary for LGBT individuals, persons of color, immigrants, atheists, and others who find this a necessary evil to survive here. We all deserve better.
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