Notes From The Bible Belt: High School Homophobia?

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I picked up my son and his friend from the bus stop. It was only my second time in the carpool rotation and I was still feeling my way around the social life of teenage boys. I suspected their lack of interaction might indicate a rift, but I knew enough to keep quiet until I dropped Mark at his door.

“Did something happen between you two?” I asked, once it was just my son and I in the car.

He took a deep breath. “Well… Mark hates gays.”

With very little input from his parents, my son has come to the conclusion that homosexuality is not a choice. Here in Arkansas, that’s a minority view.

I know this boy, this “Mark.” He is gentle and intelligent. I know his mother. She is sweet and kind. Although I don’t know exactly what she and her husband have taught their son, I suspect that he has been raised to pity and pray for those who do not comply neatly to his worldview. This is not hate, exactly. In the logic of certain Christian denominations, it is a kind of love.

Family Values, Bible Belt Style

This is the Bible Belt, where Midland, Arkansas school board member Clint McCance, in response to a public show of support for five teenagers who killed themselves, stated he’d support the school’s show of solidarity only if all gay students committed suicide. McCance resigned, but hopes to serve on the school board again. On the other hand, the Arkansas Supreme Court finally overturned the law that prevented unmarried couples from adopting or acting as foster parents. Our neighbors – literally – wage war on the Gay Agenda. Thankfully, they no longer invite our children to their vacation Bible schools and youth groups.

I told my son his friend didn’t really hate anyone, that he’d been brought up to believe that homosexuality is wrong. We talked about acceptance, and how this disagreement didn’t have to mean the end of a friendship (or a carpool, for that matter).

An Unlikely Advantage?

Later that day, my son told me he couldn’t wait to grow up and move away from the Bible Belt. This from a boy who is socially accepted, academically advanced, and economically advantaged. He’s not gay, and to his knowledge, neither are any of his friends. He has nothing to escape. I can’t imagine how it must feel for those who do.

Sometimes I wish I could flee, too. But this is where I’m planted – at least for now – and this is where I’ll bloom. Maybe living here is an advantage to my children. If they can emerge strong, kind, and true to their selves in the face of America’s most oppressive family values, they will be equipped for anything.

Image from peasap, Flickr

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