Randall Fair, Special to the Chanticleer
I was a student at Jacksonville State in the early eighties. While at JSU, I wrote for “The Chanticleer,” joined Sigma Nu Fraternity, appeared in three plays, and bartended at The Red Rooster Pub. Despite all this activity, it was a lonely time for a young person trying to come to terms with his identity as a gay man. Because people assumed I was straight, they often aired their worst prejudices about gay people through vulgar jokes and hateful statements. Luckily for me, I found pockets of support even in those dark times.
When my fraternity brothers found out that I was gay, they were supportive even though the previous year, they refused to let someone else join when they discovered that he was gay. I also found support from teachers at the school. When one of my friends went trembling to Opal Lovett, the sponsor of “The Chanticleer,” to tell her that he was gay, her simple reply was, “I kind of thought you were.” Dr. Steve Whitton offered support though the diversity of assignments offered in his class. It was in one of his courses that I read “Boys in the Band” for the first time. My first trip to a gay bar was as part of a field trip organized by some of the sociology professors.
Through my friends in the drama department, I was lucky enough to meet Steve Hightower, a.k.a. Stephanie Towers. As Stephanie, Steve was probably one of the most famous drag queens in all of Alabama and was also a student at JSU. With Steve’s help, I gradually formed an entire group of gay friends who supported each other in what was often a very hostile environment.
Recently, I have seen positive changes for LGBTQ people with regards to the climate at JSU. I noticed that sexual orientation and sexual identity are now included in the school’s non-discrimination policy. I saw with amazement the lights of the school library light up in rainbow colors in honor of Gay Pride Month. I read that the JSU Democrats joined in celebrating Gay Pride through a statement of support. I discovered the formation of a LGBTQ alumni association and the creation of JSU Students for Equality.
With all of these positive changes, I was even more dismayed when I saw that the JSU Republicans invited gubernatorial candidate Roy Moore to speak. I believe fervently in free speech, and the Republicans have every right to invite anyone they want to appear before their group. However, the choice of Moore, while certainly attention grabbing, will only serve to show that this group is on the wrong side of history.
CNN recently reported that Moore “has appeared multiple times on a radio show hosted by a controversial pastor who preaches that the biblical punishment for homosexuality is death.” If this pastor, Kevin Swanson, were just perpetuating the negative stereotypes of the past, that would be bad enough, but instead Swanson is fostering a climate of hate and putting LGBT people in harm’s way by encouraging violence against them. By appearing on Swanson’s radio show, Moore is endorsing this hatred and violence. Even without the controversy involving Swanson, Moore’s own past statements violate the non-discrimination policy of JSU.
I can certainly understand the dilemma for administrators at JSU who are forced to choose between an opportunity for students to hear from one of the leading contenders for governor and the need to ensure that all of JSU’s students are provided with a safe environment free from hate and violence. In my opinion, more speech is always better. I believe that nothing moved the LGBTQ movement forward more than the awful hate speech of the now deceased Baptist preacher, Fred Phelps. When straight people saw their own homophobia reflected in the horrible words and deeds of Phelps, they immediately began to change. This is all easy for me to say because I won’t be in danger at JSU from people on campus who hear Moore and feel justified in their bigotry and prejudice.
In the end, the invitation to Moore can only serve to portray the Republicans of JSU in a negative light. This invitation will place this group in the same category of other misguided, Alabama political movements. Unfortunately, we only have to look at the example of George Wallace. Even though he apologized for his prejudice and hatred before his death, he will always be remembered as the racist governor of Alabama. By inviting Moore, the college Republicans run the risk of always being remembered as the group that supported homophobia.
Editor’s Note: Randall Fair is originally from Weaver, Alabama. He attended undergraduate school at Jacksonville State University earning a Bachelor of Science in Education with a concentration in Language Arts. He later got his Masters of Education in English at Georgia State University, then got a Specialist of Education Degree and Doctorate in the Philosophy of Teaching and Learning. He has been teaching English in the Fulton County School System for 26 years. – Bio courtesy of Emory University and Randall Fair