There’s Something Seriously Wrong in Jackson

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In case you missed it, Mississippi’s legislature passed a so-called religious freedom bill. It was obviously written to allow businesses to deny services to LGBT people. As an article published today by Vox states, Mississippi didn’t even need this bill. The state already offers no protections under the law for LGBT residents.

I’ve been watching from a distance what’s been happening in North Carolina and then Georgia, but yesterday when this thing happened in Mississippi I was so angry. I think this one hit me particularly hard because I spent a large part of my childhood in Mississippi. I’ve also lived in North Carolina and Georgia, but Mississippi is the state I most often find myself defending to individuals who have never been there. And now I’m asking myself why I bother.

Mississippi is a state with so many problems, why are they so focused on this small, already unprotected minority group? There’s something seriously wrong in the Mississippi capitol. I’m not even sure these legislators represent the views of the majority. Maybe they do and maybe I’m just naïve. But I go there all the time. I have childhood friends there, my brother and sister-in-law live there. As an openly gay person, traveling with my wife, I’ve never experienced any abuse by anyone in Mississippi. Ever. I mean, I’ve gotten the sideways look in Walmart, but I think the woman thought I was Ellen and was moments away from asking for my autograph.

But seriously, Mississippi ranks 51st in education, 49th in overall health of its citizens, and it has the highest teen birth rate in the nation. Jackson, the capital, is so unsafe that no one goes downtown. These are big, BIG problems that need to be solved. So I guess we’ll just continue to watch the state spiral into further decline while the legislature focuses on keeping gay couples from ordering a wedding cake, because that really safeguards the quality of life for the citizens of Mississippi.

I was enraged driving home last night. I can’t remember the last time I was so angry. I was thinking, I’m not going to go to Mississippi any more. I’m not going to give the state’s economy my hard-earned travel dollars. My brother can come visit me here in California. My sister-in-law would probably prefer that anyway. We’ve got amazing weather, incredible food, the wine country and good shopping. (Probably because of all the gays.) Sure, California is not immune to stupid government (Proposition 8) and we’ve got our own water crisis to solve. But we don’t seem as stuck as Mississippi. At least we’re moving forward.

As luck would have it, we had tickets last night to see Patty Griffin at the Uptown Theater in Napa, Calif. (Napa, where everyone drinks good wine, is well fed, and happy.) Patty’s performance was stirring and inspiring. And as I rediscovered last night, music is indeed soothing to the soul. Patty Griffin is doing this particular tour in support of a non-profit, non-partisan, group signing people up to vote. So she talked about voting, democracy and our looming election at different moments during the night. She said she’d recently played a show in Alabama and in preparation, read the speech that Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered in Montgomery after the march from Selma. Patty shared this quote from MLK:

“We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience.”

I share that same hope. Although, today, I feel we are far from that end.

Here’s the entire speech.