ellen mcbee

She's always up to something…

There is no “THEM” in America

on January 29, 2016

For the past few months, I haven’t been posting here. This wasn’t because I didn’t have anything to say but because I have too much to say! Hockey and dance and gym and band and writing and more writing and editing and researching and Bernie Sanders…I have opinions on all of it, and I keep composing these brilliant blog postings that I can’t get posted before I’ve written a new one. But all in my head.

I have close friends back in Tennessee who are friends with people who have formed a Gay/Straight Alliance at Franklin County High School. Now, before I go further, I was born in Sewanee to parents who lived in Decherd. My father and both grandparents were born in Alto. My family in the area goes back to the 1780s and includes Garner, Clark, Crownover/von Couwenhoven, Long, Isbell, Gibson, Dotson, Hill, McBee (obviously) Campbell, and many other families. So at some point I’m probably related to about 3/4 of the people in Franklin County. My grandmother was valedictorian at Franklin County High School in about 1930, when she was fifteen years old. For some reason the people back there think that you have to live there to have an opinion. I haven’t lived there in a long time, so maybe I am already disqualified from commenting, but my connections to the county live on in my family who still live there and the many friends I still have there, plus I was an undergraduate at Sewanee which was my legal residence for the 1990 census.

When I started writing this post, I thought I would have to post about the legal rights of students forming clubs and maybe even write a whole history of the separation of church and state. But, you know, I don’t; I’d be getting at least some of it from easily accessed sources and if you read it for yourself, maybe you understand it better. Suffice it to say that the club has already been formed and a loose coalition of fundamentalist Christians are up in arms about it. Accusing these kids–who just want their own space and their own supportive friends (kind of like a sorority, or the girl scouts, isn’t it? And that’s how it ties in to what I do)–of being “in their faces”, of being non- or anti-Christian, of trying to force their “lifestyle” on good, God-fearing kids. There’s an awful lot of words about “choosing” to be gay, and about “marriage between one man and one woman.” These fundamentalists, whose kids are free to form FCA and after-school Bible clubs thanks to the Reagan administration and the 1984 Equal Access Act, not to mention first-amendment free speech and freedom of assembly rights and 14th Amendment rights, don’t want to allow a GSA because the club offends their religious sensibilities. And I am completely outraged by all of it.

First off, see the title of the post. There is no “them” in America (and, yes, I know that if you spelled out The United States of America, it does indeed include the letters “them,” but that is to entirely miss the point). America is all about banding together and making our own “us.” This is an ideal I first learned in the Franklin County Schools. No, it isn’t perfect; no, everyone hasn’t been historically included, but this is the ideal. For me, this is the reason there is America. To suggest that kids who want to be in the GSA are somehow lacking is horrifying to me. It’s a betrayal of our most cherished ideals.

The second point is related to something else I learned in Franklin County: basic literacy skills (how to interact with text, although not actual reading, which I learned by the time I was four from having people read to me). I have learned an incredible number of things from reading. The vast majority of anti-GSA posters seem unbelievably ill-educated to me; some might have untreated mental illness issues, to judge by their troubling posts. Many seem to think that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, which it was not. Especially in early colonial times, Amish, Jews, Mennonites, Catholics, Quakers, Anabaptists and many others came to the Americas because people would leave them alone here (although the vast majority of people who settled here weren’t religious at all and came to make a quick buck). Anyway, I digress; I’ve learned a lot from reading and reflecting and sometimes writing about what I’ve read, thanks to teachers, many of whom are in Franklin County. And while I can study and learn and have ideas and make connections, I’m never really going to know The Truth. I’m not sure what kind of intellectual snobbery makes people think they do know The Truth. Because, here’s a shocker: the Bible was not written in finished, modern English but in Hebrew (which is written with only consonants) and Aramaic and Greek. These languages all were translated into sixteenth-century English. The words don’t mean now what they meant then! Take a look at a Shakespeare play; the language doesn’t match what we speak now. Wouldn’t basic literacy skills tell you that a translated, much-copied text isn’t going to be accurate?

Last point, which I also learned in Franklin County: one of the worst things you can do is to think you are “better” than other people. I can’t count the number of times I heard that as a child and a young adult; “She thinks she’s better than everybody else,” whether it meant someone’s attitude or clothes or opinions. It was sometimes directed at me because I had a sophisticated vocabulary as a young child (I once used the word “ominous” in a sentence in sixth grade and the teacher accused me of cheating). I personally think it’s a childish, jealous insult, but I’m going to go with it for a moment. To think you are better than others is to assume that you get better treatment and more resources; that your opinion counts for more than others’ opinions.  So, on the one side we have some kids who want to start a GSA and, I don’t know, have a bake sale. It doesn’t matter what the kids want to do in the club as long as it follows the guidelines. On the other side we have some adults (student opposition is oddly not online, though I’ve been told there have been bullying incidents at school) who are saying they don’t agree with the “lifestyle” because it’s an “abomination,” that they “hate the sin but love the sinner,” that “it’s against Christian beliefs.”

In other words, you think you are better than these kids. And that right there is what’s wrong with you.


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