Posted by: Renee | February 4, 2015

We Are Starkville

© Melissa Grimes, February 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a small conference room with 15 or so other people.  We were an interesting group to say the least.  There were students, professors, a business owner, a computer specialist, and a couple of counselors, just to name a few.  The thing that brought us all together? Our disdain for our Board of Aldermen’s recent actions.

Last January, I praised our BOA when they passed a non-discrimination resolution that recognized the value of all Starkville citizens.  It was an eventful year in local politics.  Later, they passed and then rescinded insurance coverage that applied to same-sex couples.  The rescission was subsequently vetoed by the mayor, and the Board failed to get enough votes to override the mayor’s decision.  Then in the first meeting of 2015, the aldermen went into a closed door session and voted to rescind the insurance coverage and the non-discrimination resolution.  It was done out of the public eye, with no notice.  It didn’t take long for word to get out.  Once again, the mayor came through for us and vetoed the decision.

At the next Board of Aldermen meeting, the LGBT community showed up in full force.  We packed the room in hopes of swaying the vote when the Board attempted to override the mayor’s veto.  During the meeting, one of the aldermen commented that repealing the non-discrimination resolution and the plus-one insurance coverage was “what Jesus would have wanted.”  I don’t know that I’ll ever be arrogant enough to think that I speak for God, but repealing those protections seems to be at odds with the God I have experienced.  I tend to agree with Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Throughout history, the Bible has been used to justify many things.  White slave owners always liked to quote Ephesians 6:5 where slaves are told to obey their masters.  Corinthians tells us that women should remain silent in church; a verse that is often used to discredit female pastors.  Of course, we shouldn’t forget the many examples of God-sanctioned genocide in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 1 Samuel.    When we take a literal interpretation of scripture, we often miss the entire point because we’re too busy trying to stuff God into a little box that make us comfortable.  I think Anne Lamott said it best when she said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  So when people start claiming to speak for God, I tend to tune out.

At church, I run the sound system.  It’s a job that suits my general disposition.  I like to be helpful, without being in the spotlight.  Sometimes, though, God has other plans. Recently, God smacked me on the back of the head and drug me from the safety of the sound booth.  He revealed to me a calling to be a Christian voice for LGBT people, for my people. I guess God took my New Year’s resolution about taking chances a little more seriously than I did.  I hate when that happens.

So a week later, there we found ourselves… a group of Starkville residents gathered to discuss what could be done about the situation.  While there were a lot of highly intelligent, well educated, and talented people in that room, I don’t think any of us would have considered ourselves political masterminds.  We decided that one of the best ways to get the word out would be through social media.  Inspired by comments made by our opposition, #WeAreStarkville was born.

We asked our friends and families to send in photos, we held a photo shoot, planned a press conference, and marched with the local NAACP on MLK Day.  It was a crazy week, filled with reporters, anxiety attacks, and angry phone calls.  And somewhere along the way, I became the de facto leader of our little band of merry misfits.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  However, in the midst of all the craziness, I saw something amazing happening.

Friends who were once so deep in the closet that they might have stumbled upon Narnia were now marching down Main Street waving pride flags.  They stood behind me at a press conference, posted #WeAreStarkville photos with their partners, and spoke out at the Board of Aldermen meeting.  It was inspiring and terrifying.  We sacrificed our comfort, safety, and anonymity.  Despite the consequences, we made a choice between doing what was right and doing what was easy.

 

“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Without a doubt, my favorite book/movie series is Harry Potter.  I think there are great life lessons to be learned from the series.  The heart of the story is about loyalty, friendship, perseverance, and doing the right thing despite the consequences.  Harry basically embodies everything parents hope their children grow up to become.  In fact, he’s everything I hope to become, minus the extreme loss and suffering part.  Although, it’s a lot easier to hope to become someone who embodies those principles, than to actually journey down that path.

I don’t know where my journey of faith and hesitant obedience will lead me.  What I do know, is that I have been called to live courageously and unapologetically.

“I may never be enlightened enough to decide how I want to die. So, this morning I’ve decided how I want to live.” Andrea Gibson, Enough

For more information about the We Are Starkville campaign, visit our Facebook group.

 

Melissa Grimes is a graduate (and now employee) of Mississippi State University, and a resident of Starkville, MS. She is involved with Spectrum and LGBTQ+Union, the LGBTQ groups on campus, and an active member of University Baptist Church. You can reach her by email at mdgrimes01@gmail.com

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