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Walking A Mile In Gay Shoes: A Straight Man Imagines What Being Gay In Nashvile Must Be Like

17 Aug

Eric Stuart

I met my friend Eric Stuart while he was directing me in a cartoon and XBOX360 game called “Viva Pinata.” Eric, who most of you might remember as the voice of “Brock” on Pokémon, made a move from NYC down to Nashville a few years ago. Since then, his frustrations have led him to lots of Facebook chats with me. A New York jew with a whole lot of gay friends, it’s needless to say that he’s had some challenges in his new environment. That being said, If the Kinsey scale is accurate and 0 is exclusively heterosexual and 6 is exclusively homosexual, then Eric is a -4. I asked Eric to write a little something about his experiences for the blog and I’m thrilled to share this with you all.

Walking A Mile In Gay Shoes: A Straight Man Imagines What Being Gay In Nashvile Must Be Like

By Eric Stuart

The other day I was given an assignment by a good friend. Being one to never back down from a challenge, I was asked to write an essay the subject: Being a straight man, what I thought it must be like for a gay man to live here in Nashville.

Wow. Well first off, I think to be fair, all I really can to do is imagine. Without walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, I really can’t tell you. That being said, I will give it a try.

Let me give you a little of my background before I give you my thoughts. I am born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, the son of a dancer and a defense attorney (sitcom material, right?). My family taught me to accept everyone. Being around my mother and her profession, it would be safe to say I grew up around a lot of gay people. That is not to say all dancers are gay (they are not), but I will go out on a limb here and say many I knew were. Anyway, it was just a part of my upbringing. Because of that, I’ve always been supportive of gay rights and equality among all people. Additionally, I am a singer/songwriter and voice actor, so I also work in the arts.

Now you know a bit about me.

When I first moved to Nashville, I knew that I would run into people who didn’t necessarily think the same way I did. Now, I do not believe everyone should agree, what I do believe is that everyone should respect what makes us different and engage in respectful conversations and debates. Ignorance is the root of so much hate and hate really takes much more energy than love. So I like to hear where people are coming from and expect the same in return. For the most part I have found that here. Many of my neighbors feel that since we live in the same area I must have the same political beliefs, far from it. We tend to talk about music and sports more now.

Back to my assignment. Nashville is a unique southern city. In the heart of it (maybe because it is the center of an entertainment industry), there is a bit more acceptance and open-mindedness. There are universities here and with that comes educated people. And with all that, I’ve heard that there is a strong gay community here. It’s not quite like New York — not as out in the open as I am used to, but it is still here. But if you stray a bit outside of the city, you’re certain to find less of a ‘gay friendly’ environment.

What if I were a gay man here? Would I feel safe to be ‘out’? This is the bible belt. If I walked into a restaurant holding my partner’s hand, would people stare and would I be comfortable? I want to say here in Nashville it would be ok the majority of the time. I do think Nashville would do the right thing.

I do not want to generalize the South or southerners. I wouldn’t want them to do that to this Damn Yankee (a northerner who doesn’t leave). I have met loving, kind people here. I love living here and there is a sense of community that many places could learn from. There is, however, a certain image one has of what makes you a ‘man’ here. That would be very intimidating should someone not quite fit the mold. I think I would be very concerned. I would fear how my classmates, friends, co-workers would treat me should they find out. In school, would I be bullied? I think so, or at the very least, I think I’d spend a lot of time afraid that I might be.

The message of ‘Don’t Say Gay Bill’ was a real wake up call for me. I was thinking to myself, “when the kids in school are asked to draw a picture of their family and one kid has two fathers, if he draws that picture, will he be told that’s not allowed? That his family is not ‘normal’ so we cannot talk about it? That really doesn’t send a very accepting message to any gay people growing up here. This seemed to me like something I would read about in history books pre-civil rights. A kind of narrow-minded thinking that is truly ignorant and potentially dangerous. When so many states are making huge strides for equality, to see my new home state support this was like a knife in my heart. It makes you shake your head. If I were gay and my state passed this bill, I think I would leave, but not before yelling ‘Have a nice Gay!’ to every person I met (just because I am like that).

When people are not exposed to people who are different than they are, they develop their own stereotypes and prejudices. Nashville is laid out in such a way that you really don’t want to interact with people who might not be exactly like you, which is pretty easy to accomplish. This is my problem with a lot of the world. I think growing up in Brooklyn, a real melting pot, I was exposed to so much. I learned things about people and I learned to live side by side with them. Not always loving it, but never hating it, or better yet, never hating them.

It’s odd for me not to have any gay friends here, or should I say, openly gay friends. What I really wish for is that one day I wouldn’t even be paying attention to what category my friends fell under. They would just be my friends.

Maybe if more people realized that love is just love and that everyone should have the same rights, we would get to that place. That place sure seems far away sometimes living here in Tennessee.

You can find out more about Eric Stuart on his website. Also, go buy some of his recordings – he’s great!

TN Pastor Who Ordered Assault on Gay Son, Now Facing Theft Charges

7 Oct

Remember that Tennessee pastor we told you about earlier this week? The one who ordered his deacons to assault his own gay son when he and his partner tried to come to church?

Seems like he’s in the news again. According to local ABC affiliate, WBBJ:

According to Trenton police, they recently arrested Pastor Jerry Pittman, of Fruitland’s Grace Fellowship Church, on charges of stealing from a local business.

“It’s hard enough nowadays to trust people and I just can’t believe that a pastor would even steal anything,” said Trenton resident Hayley Gordon.

Police arrested the 52-year-old on September 21, after his estranged wife told them she had heard from co-workers that he had been stealing from her business.

“Our investigation into the incident that was reported showed that he and another gentleman did scrap copper at a scrap yard here in Trenton,” Lt. James Wilson said.

Investigators said he scrapped the copper at least three different times since August. It was hundreds of pounds, and worth more than $1,000.

“It was quite a bit that they scrapped,” Wilson said.

And, shockingly enough, this “Christian” man has been in trouble with the law before:

This actually is not the first time Pittman has been arrested. Police said he was arrested back in 2006 for a simple assault charge.

“It was over an incident where the daughter and the boyfriend had a joint child,” Wilson said. “There were some accusations involving the father of the child, which was the boyfriend, and he confronted the father of his grandchild at a local grocery store.”

One would think that parishioners would prefer a non-criminal to be leading their church.

UPDATE: Principal Assaults Pro-Gay Student, School District Lies to Protect Him

5 Oct

Sequoya HS Senior Chris Sigler

Yesterday, we shared the story of Sequoya High School senior Chris Sigler who wore a T-shirt with the words “GSA: I’ve got your back” to school and was assaulted by his principal for it. The Tennessee high school was in the news recently when that same principal threatened to suspend students for even discussing the proposed gay-straight alliance.

After my conversation with Principal Maurice Moser, Chris’ story was no surprise to me. Moser came across combative and angry when discussing his own discriminatory actions towards the GSA.

Last night, we were able to speak with a lawyer from the ACLU, who yesterday sent out a press release regarding the assault on Chris Sigler.  The ACLU is demanding that the school administration not only confirm that students’ first amendment rights are being protected, but that students also be allowed to form the GSA. Principal Moser had said to me in our conversation that the only reason the GSA is unable to form is because they cannot find a faculty sponsor. Moser has helped other clubs find sponsors in the past, but is unwilling to help the GSA.

We were told by the ACLU that there is a “disturbing trend” in this high school where several members of the faculty have expressed great interest in becoming the sponsor for the GSA. Then they have a meeting with Principal Moser to discuss and return from that meeting “suddenly uninterested.” We have reached out to some of these teachers for comment and to find out what happened in their meetings and will update you should they respond.

We were also able to speak to Chris Sigler’s mother, Linda last night who told us her version of what happened, which obviously agrees with the ACLU’s press release. She also wanted to reiterate the need for the GSA at this high school. She told me “there are at least 30 students who would like to be part of the club and in a small town, that’s a lot.”

While her son is straight, he has a sister Jessica who identifies as bisexual. “Chris saw how these kids were being treated and knew he had to stand up for them. That’s just the kind of kid he is.” Jessica was the only other person in the room when Moser attacked Chris. To date, the Sheriff has not interviewed Jessica. Yesterday, the Tennessee Equality Project started a petition for a fair investigation. That petition has since closed as Linda Sigler will be speaking with the sheriff today to find out why he hasn’t interviewed Jessica. In the meantime, they have created another petition calling for an investigation into the ongoing harassment of LGBT teens at Sequoya High School.

She went on to mention that the school currently houses at least two Christian student groups – the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and “Prayer Around the Flagpole,” where once a week, a pastor comes on to the school grounds and students are asked to go pray around the flagpole. Until very recently, there was also a prayer said before every football game.

While Christian student organizations may not initially be seen as something to compare the plight of the GSA to, according to a poster on the GSA’s facebook page, there are area Christian churches which are getting involved in the fight to stop them:

“Heard this from a friend in Madisonville: At Howard Chapel Church in Vonore, the pastor preached on QUEERS and said the ACLU may be getting involved with the GSA at Sequoyah and for no church members to sign on or be involved, etc.”

The Howard Chapel Church is less than a mile from the home of a lesbian couple that was burned to the ground allegedly by their neighbor. The word “QUEER” was spray painted in large black letters on their adjoining garage. To add insult to injury, the couple’s insurance company is refusing to pay them on their claim. GetEQUAL has started a petition to the insurance company here and to date, more than 50,000 have signed.

Local NBC affiliate, WBIR has more on the alleged assault including a statement from Tim Blankenship, Ass’t Director of Schools for Monroe County:

“The Monroe County School System is aware of the alleged accusations. We have received written statements from all eyewitnesses. Our documentation clearly indicates that there are always two sides to every story. We’ll gladly provide more information when it becomes available.”

The problem with this claim is that according to Linda Sigler, no statement was taken by the school from her daughter Jessica – the only eyewitness to the assault. I called Tim Blankenship directly and when I attempted to ask him about the discrepancy in his statement and the truth, he hung up on me.

It’s become very clear that the school district is trying to protect Principal Moser to the point that they are silencing students and reporting untruths to the media about what is actually happening in Sequoya High School’s halls. When the bullying of LGBT students is literally coming from the top-down, something needs to change.

We’ll have more on this as it comes in.

TN Principal Assaults Student for Wearing Pro-Gay T-Shirt

4 Oct

Sequoyah HS principal Maurice Moser assaulted student for wearing pro-gay t-shirt

A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of Sequoya High School in Tennessee, where senior Nathan Carroll was attempting to start a Gay Straight Alliance.

After starting a petition in the school for the GSA, Nathan was threatened with suspension should he continue to pursue that course of action. I followed up by speaking with Principal Maurice Moser, who informed me that the only reason the GSA was not possible was due to the fact they couldn’t find a faculty sponsor. Moser went on to accidentally inform me that he’d assisted other clubs with finding one, and when I pressed him to find out why he wasn’t helping these students, he became very flustered and combative.

Today, the ACLU is reporting that Principal Moser has assaulted one of his students for wearing a t-shirt promoting the Gay Straight Alliance. 17-year old senior Chris Sigler was reportedly shoved, bumped in the chest and verbally harassed by Moser for wearing the t-shirt that said “GSA: We’ve got your back.”

“It is totally unacceptable that a young man who was peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights would have his speech shut down by the public school principal,” said Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the ACLU of Tennessee. “Last week’s incident clearly illustrates the hostile environment LGBT students face at Sequoyah High School. Given this context, it’s especially important that supportive voices like Sigler’s can be heard in order to overcome the school’s resistance to a GSA.”

According to the ACLU press release, a teacher ordered Sigler to cover up the shirt in the future after he wore it Tuesday. Sigler, knowing he had a right to wear the shirt, wore it again Friday, and resisted an order to remove the shirt. Sigler says that Moser then ordered all students out of the classroom, except for Sigler’s sister Jessica, who refused to leave. According to both students, Moser then grabbed Sigler’s arm, shoved him, and chest-bumped him repeatedly while asking “Who’s the big man now?” Sigler’s mother reported that when she arrived at the school, she saw her son seated in a desk with Moser leaning over him and shouting in Sigler’s face. The Siglers filed a report about the incident that afternoon with the Madisonville Police Department.

“All I want is to have a GSA at my school to help stop the bullying against gays and lesbians and their friends who support them,” Sigler said. “The shirt was a way to use my voice and show my support for the club. The way I was treated shows even more why we need a GSA here.”

“All students deserve a safe and respectful learning environment. Harassment, abuse or censorship of any student – regardless of sexual orientation – is absolutely reprehensible as well as illegal,” said Amanda Goad, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “We expect the police to investigate this quickly and fairly, and take statements from all witnesses who were present.”

The ACLU has sent a demand letter to the school district can be viewed here.

Though the ACLU can only really protect these students’ constitutional rights, this physical and verbal intimidation from the principal of the school must be met with stronger action and a call for the principal’s resignation. If the story is true, Moser should be arrested and charged with assault as a hate crime. If this is the example being set for students in a time when bullying has become fatal, this is a man who should not be in charge of a school.

Sources say that the anti-gay hatred in Monroe County runs deep. One source claimed that churches in the area were telling parishioners to fight the GSA as hard as they can. Another source indicated that religious corruption has dictated governmental affairs there for a long time.

The Tennessee Equality Project has created a Change.org petition demanding a full and fair investigation into the assault. It seems when the Monroe County Sheriff questioned individuals involved in the incident, he left out the only non-participatory witness, Chris’ sister. The petition states:

“The Sigler family filed report about the assault which is being investigated by the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department. Deputies interviewed Chris Sigler, his teacher and Principal Mosby, but did not question Jessica Sigler who witnessed the entire incident. Given the level of intimidation and hostility that GSA-supportive students have experienced in recent weeks, TEP believes that the Sheriff is not fully and fairly investigating the assault of Chris Sigler by his Principal by leaving a key witness out of the investigation.”

Please sign the petition to demand a fair investigation into Chris’ assault.

Please check out our investigation and update to this story here.

Christian Pastor Orders Assault on Gay Son Attempting to Enter Church

3 Oct

Jerry Pittman Jr and his boyfriend Dustin Lee

Last Wednesday night, Jerry Pittman Jr. and his boyfriend Dustin Lee went to visit Jerry’s father’s church – The Grace Fellowship Church in Humboldt, TN.  When they pulled up in their car, Jerry heard someone shout “Sick ‘em” and his uncle and two other deacons ran for the car and began attacking the couple.

The New Civil Rights Movement reports that while beating the two young men through the windows of the car, the deacons were heard shouting anti-gay language. In an interview with WBBJ TV, an ABC affiliate – the men told reporters that when police arrived, they refused to take a statement from them or allow them to press charges. There were twenty churchgoers standing outside the church as the attack occurred and not a single “Christian” attempted to stop the assault.

WBBJ Reports:

“My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smash me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back,” said Pittman. He said bystanders did not offer assistance. He said the deacon yelled derogatory homosexual slurs, even after officers arrived. He said the officers never intervened to stop the deacons from yelling the slurs.

Once officers arrived, the deputy on the scene additionally refused to stop the church-going folk and deacons continue to shout anti-gay slurs at the couple.

The couple has filed charges against the deacons and Pastor Pittman. The Sheriff in the interview, as you will see takes no time to place potential blame on the gay couple. One has to wonder if he would do the same thing if a rape victim came to him.

See the full video here.


							

EXCLUSIVE: Tennessee High School Principal Responds

9 Sep

Sequoya High School Principal Maurice Moser

Normally, when I get a reply from someone having to do with an article I’d recently posted – I’d just add an update to the end of the post. But the conversation I just had with Principal Maurice Moser of Sequoya High School warrants it’s very own post.

I wrote earlier about senior Nathan Carroll, a student at Sequoya who was trying to start a Gay Straight Alliance, but was met with a threat of suspension from the principal. I put in a call earlier and left a message for the principal and I just heard back.

According to Moser, he found that students were having verbal arguments about the potential Gay Straight Alliance in classrooms and it was “disturbing the educational environment.” He went on to say that he was exercising his rights as principal to then stop the petitions and all discussions of the GSA forming. I then asked him if he considered students getting bullied and beaten as a disturbance to the educational environment? He replied that if a student reports it and has sufficient proof that they were bullied, then the bullies are “dealt with accordingly.”

I then went on to tell him that many students are afraid of reporting this kind of bullying because they don’t want to or are not yet ready to come out of the closet. I mentioned that a GSA would actually give LGBT kids some of the courage they need to speak up about this kind of torture they go through on a daily basis. He said many parents would argue that a GSA would do just the opposite – when I asked him to explain what “just the opposite” meant, he replied “you’re a smart guy, you can figure it out.”

I asked Mr. Moser what the process for a new club like the GSA would be and he informed me that the students would need to find a faculty sponsor and that the students were having trouble finding one. He went on to tell me about a faculty sponsor for several clubs that had transferred schools this summer. Moser then assisted in finding faculty sponsors for several clubs at the school. He said he spent a good deal of time recruiting faculty members to fill in the holes left by the former faculty member.

Naturally, I asked him why the students would be responsible for finding this faculty sponsor, when clearly he had just helped out several other clubs in finding theirs. He was noticeably flustered and said that he wasn’t “forcing” any faculty member to be a sponsor to a club and that while he helped many existing clubs find sponsors, he could never help find one for a new club.

His disdain for these students trying to start a GSA came through several times during our conversation and he implied more than once that his rights as a Principal of a high school trumped the rights of students trying to fight bullying and anti-gay harassment.

I hope that there is a faculty member at Sequoya High School who will sign on to sponsor these students – they clearly need some protections from a less-than-supportive principal.

Tennessee HS Student Threatened With Suspension for Attempting to Start GSA

9 Sep

Nathan Carroll

Tennessee High School Senior Nathan Carroll has been bullied most of his life for being gay. The openly-gay teen attends Sequoyah High School in Madisonville, TN and decided a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) is needed at his school.

Nathan started a petition at his school to get support to start a GSA while kids opposing it started a similar petition. Despite Nathan’s efforts and the nearly 150 teens who’ve signed the petition, when he brought it to Principal Maurice Moser, he was threatened with suspension should he proceed in trying to form the GSA. Additionally, the Principal said that any students found with one of Nathan’s petitions would have the petition torn up and thrown away and that they be sent immediately to his office for further punishment.

Of course students are legally allowed to start the club should they find an adviser, which according to WATE Channel 6 News in Tennessee, is close to happening.

We put in a call today to Principal Moser and are awaiting a response as to why he would threaten to suspend students wanting to start this club.

UPDATE: Please see our follow up Exclusive: Tennessee High School Principal Responds

The school already hosts a student club called Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). According to the FCA Website:

“Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ.”

No clubs recognizing any other faith or denomination can be found on the school’s website.

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