Miranda Prescott, News Editor
Jacksonville State University hosted its second annual Lunch and Learn on Wednesday, where guest speaker Freddy Clements, a JSU drama professor, shared his experiences being a member of the LGBTQ+ community in Alabama.
“When I first came to JSU, things were very different than they are today,” said Clements, the first openly gay professor at JSU. “You could not be open about your sexuality. I was told that if I wanted to pursue a personal life, I would have to take it to Atlanta.”
Clements first came to JSU in 1988 and has been here for 33 years. He married his husband, Rainer, in Maryland in 2013.
Clements said that he and his husband were among the first same-sex couples to be legally married in Alabama, as they went out of state and came back, explaining that it was “something we never thought we would have.”
“I remember us being very nervous about going to HR and filling out the paperwork that comes with being legally married,” says Clements, “But people came from around their desks and hugged us, telling us congratulations. That moment nearly brought tears to our eyes.”
Clements also told other stories that were a part of his experiences being gay, such as an early moment in life when he was in the second grade and a man was “stabbed to death” in his town. He said that this action was justified by his mother, as she called the victim “one of those.”
Clements said it was moments like this that would go on to “haunt” him for the next 11 years.
“I was in the second grade and learning about the varying degrees of sin,” he said. “I thought that it must have been a pretty bad sin for someone to kill you over it.”
Clements detailed a personal experience going to Billy Graham tent revivals with his family and afterwards being convinced that he would be sent to hell for his sexual orientation. He also tells of the day he came out to his mother, who then went to confront her pastor and was told her son was going to hell but was “curable” of being gay.
Clements also spoke about the pivotal people that were involved in the anti-LGBTQ movement, such as Anita Bryant, whose platform made it so in Florida that members of the LGBTQ+ community were not considered fit parents in the late 1970s.
“Her anti-gay crusade caused many lives to be ruined and many families to be torn apart,” he said.
He also discussed the birth of the LGBTQ+ movement, which he said was begun by religious groups to push different alleged goals of the LGBTQ+ community and mark it with a negative stigma.
“The goals of the LGBTQ+ community are not any of these,” he said. “It is to be protected against violent crimes, to be married and get a job and keep it. It is to be allowed to adopt and parent as LGBTQ+ couples.”
Clements went on to discuss James Byrd and Matthew Shepard, whose deaths in Texas helped spark a movement to create the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009, which recognizes targeting someone for their sexual orientation as a federal hate crime.
However, while 31 states have sexual orientation listed as part of their state hate crime laws, Alabama does not, even with a movement in 1994 to do so that was sparked by the murder of Billy Jack Gaither in Sylacauga.
Despite his experiences, Clements said that he still has a very strong spiritual relationship and says that he is “a Christian who just so happens to be gay.”
When Clements was 19, he spent the summer acting in a religious-based story and when he heard the person playing Paul read a verse from 1 Corinthians, he had a realization.
“Love is patient, love is kind,” reads 1 Corinthians 13:4. “It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”
Clements said he then recognized that the underlying theme of the New Testament was love, and that Christians who were using religious beliefs to show hatred to others were not Christians.
“I’m a good person, or at least I try to be,” he said. “When people meet me, and realize that I’m gay, I hope they think, ‘oh my gosh, he is a talented artist and an awesome professor who looks out for his students. He goes to church and helps out in the community. He is a fun person and a good friend.’”
Clements also talked about his experiences with LGBTQ+ students who would come to his door with tears in their eyes.
“The first thing they need to know is that they are loved, that they are accepted,” said Clements. “Then, I tell them that God doesn’t make mistakes. Usually, if they aren’t crying by that point, that will make them start. Even if they aren’t religious they need to know that they aren’t a mistake.”
The Lunch and Learn was a part of the university’s initiative to celebrate LGBTQ+ History Month on campus and was sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Some of the events of the month include Safe Zone Trainings, a Scripted Studio Play Reading Series sponsored by the Drama Department, a production of “The Laramie Project,” and PDF files that were available for students to use during Coming Out Week to signify their personal coming out story or their allyship. The office also provided PDF files of small circles that students could use to signify their preferred pronouns to others while on campus.