My good friend Martha in Gatlinburg sent this article ["Love, Hate, and Tolerance" by Rose Kennedy, Oct. 7, 2010] to me here in Illinois.
It sounds like Knoxville is experiencing some growing pains since I grew up and escaped the East Tennessee area in the early 1980s. At first glance, folks think Knoxville is a nice livable city, and it is, even if you take into account the smog and allergens and the color orange.
At the time, I felt I had to leave Tennessee to become the person that I came to be, for better or worse. I think it's sad the immense brain-drain created when young talented people feel they have to leave their homes in order to become their own person. After spending years in places as various as Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston, my partner of over 20 years and I found ourselves living in a small town near Peoria, Ill., because of an aging parent. One thing I knew for sure was that I was never going back into the closet. I am completely out at work, to my family in Tennessee, to my partner's family in Illinois, and I demand equal and fair treatment. I don't make a big deal out of being who I am, but I speak up when I hear something demeaning or irresponsible or just ignorant.
I am glad that things are changing for the better even in small cities. I would jump at the chance to move back home to Tennessee and be able to hike in the mountains I enjoyed as a boy. My partner Ray takes a dim view of Tennessee, however, mostly because of his fears of moving to an environment with such a reputation for intolerance. You know as well as I that it's unfair to lump a group of folks in one category, but folks in Tennessee should know by now that when gay people move into the neighborhood, that property values only go up. Or at least remain stable in the current economy. Some of us go to church. We pay taxes. We like to go to the movies, eat in restaurants, and go to cultural events.
I think it helps that being older now in some ways just makes us the cute, older gay couple. Once when our nephew was very young, but old enough to be curious he asked me, "Just what are you exactly to my Uncle Ray?" And I looked at him and said, "Why, I'm your Uncle Ray's best friend!" That was all he needed to know, and it satisfied his curiosity. Neither of us are much for public displays of affection, and never were. We live our lives, respect our neighbors' privacy, and would never dream of burning down someone's house just because we didn't care for how they lived their lives. That sort of intolerance needs to be addressed by the community at large, and not just in the LGBT community.