Jolson sang the tune whose name I’ve butchered to head this piece. That’s Al Jolson, kiddies. And it happened so long ago that it’s even well before my time. And, quite frankly, when the tune came out of Tin Pan Alley in the early 1920s, I don’t think there was a real, honest-to-God reason to celebrate going to Alabama. In the 90 years since the song’s introduction, there seems less and less reason to entertain heading down to Mobile (moe-BEEEL) to languidly sip a bourbon and branch water on the upper portico of a Spanish-inspired old manse.
No. You’ve been reading too much and you’ve mixed Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams and William Faulker in your memory, thrown in a bit of Eudora Welty and all those ancient RKO Radio Pictures about the “Old South” and come up with a lovely place that does not now nor has ever existed.
The history of Alabama — especially post-Reconstruction Alabama — can be summed up in this sentence: “We don’t want any of you (fill-in-the-blank with a skin color, ethnicity, nationality, non-Christian religion or sexual orientation) ’round here.”
Last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Callie V.S. Granade that the Alabama Marriage Protection Act was unconstitutional as was a state constitutional amendment “protecting” traditional marriage is the latest salvo in the marriage equality culture wars. Like several others on the federal bench who have ruled in favor of equal marriage recently, Granade is a George W. Bush appointee, something that scandalizes this new wave of “conservatives” who don’t really understand what constitutional conservatism means.
So, yes, we can be thankful that equality is moving ahead like an unstoppable locomotive, but that doesn’t make me think there won’t be tragedy around this issue in the near future in Alabama.
Why do I say that? Alabama has form, that’s why.
While we would like to think that George Corley Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door or the “Bloody Sunday” voting rights march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge or making Rosa Parks give up her seat on the damn bus are a part of Alabama’s deep tragic past, that lessons have been learned, that things are better, we get this, as reported on AL.com, from Alabama House Speaker Mike Hubbard:
“It is outrageous when a single unelected and unaccountable federal judge can overturn the will of millions of Alabamians who stand in firm support of the Sanctity of Marriage Act,” he said in a prepared statement. “The Legislature will encourage a vigorous appeals process, and we will continue defending the Christian conservative values that make Alabama a special place to live.”
Speaker Hubbard, like so many others who want their voices heard on the wrong side of history should be advised to take Government 101 again and learn the (shocking?) lesson that this is exactly why the judiciary was created, that rights are not something that are legislated, and that the United States of America was founded as the opposite of a theocracy.
In the meantime, think of the children.
That’s always the line, isn’t it? “Think of the children.” Well, I have been. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about children in schools in Alabama. Gay ones, straight ones, bisexual ones, gender nonconforming ones and I’ve come to the conclusion that Alabama still scares the shit out of me.
A few months ago, GLSEN released it’s biennial National School Climate survey (These Are The States Where Students Get Harassed The Most For Their Sexual Orientation.) and what do you know?
80 percent of LGBT students in Alabama are report verbal harassment
46 percent of LGBT students in Alabama report physical harassment
28 percent of LGBT students in Alabama report physical assault
According to GLSEN, Alabama is one of the worst places in America to be a gay kid. Even worse, nearly all gender nonconforming young people face, at minimum, verbal ridicule in the state. And there are no protections.
So, as we move forward and watch the tide of equality under the law roll in (that’s right, Alabama, roll this tide*) we must not lose sight of the fact that we have so very far to go. I mean, hell, in Massachusetts, the cradle of marriage equality in the U.S., while GLSEN reports only 9 percent of Bay State LGBT children are assaulted, 58 percent still face verbal harassment. 58 percent! And Massachusetts is at the bottom of the list. A long way to go.
Still, according to GLSEN, only half of all schools surveyed had a Gay-Straight Alliance. While sad, it is progress. When I was in school, exactly 0 schools anywhere had such a thing. But every school had enormous suffocating closets.
*Look, Ma, a sports metaphor!