I have found that I suffer from a terminal illness. I have chosen to call it AOGG syndrome. I am terminally Anne of Green Gables.
I constantly put myself out there. Always hoping that people in the world will hear me and automatically see that all of the world’s problems can be solved by communicating, and really listening to each other’s stories.
Like Anne, I was placed in a situation I had no control over. She was an orphan, I am gay. People judged her, just as they do with me. She tried and tried and eventually succeeded in convincing everyone that she was not as they originally thought she was. She was a valuable member of society.
With the proposed amendment to the S.C. Constitution coming up in November, my partner Wendell and I decided to sponsor a booth at Summerfest this year. Held in York, Summerfest is one of the largest festivals in South Carolina. Over 6,000 festival-goers attend each year.
So we sponsored a booth, ordered balloons in all the colors of the rainbow, got best friend bracelets, brochures, “Dumb Amendment” bumper stickers from the South Carolina Equality Coalition (SCEC) and embarked on reaching as many South Carolinians as was possible at Summerfest.
I have to admit, I was a bit concerned. Summerfest isn’t just the nice, progressive folks we usually hang with. It is a festival that is attended by the masses.
My thinking was that here was where the rubber meets the road. And that in this venue we could reach people who didn’t know of our plight for equal rights. We could effect positive change!
I was channeling Anne of Green Gables at that moment, without a doubt.
The big day came. We set up our booth at five o’clock in the morning. Our friends Dana and Katie began blowing up our rainbow balloons at seven. Our other friends Leah, Steven, Wanda and her daughter Samara came to pass out literature, balloons and bracelets to benefit our cause. With the exception of Dana and Katie, all of our volunteers were straight folks.
We immediately made friends with the guy and his wife in the booth next to ours. He was a potter, and she a former newscaster at FOX News.
On the other side we had the Beef Grower’s Association. Enough said. Their slogan was “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner!”
When we put the “Dumb Amendment” banner up in the back of our tent, a nice lady from the candle booth across the street came over to tell us that she was “family” and couldn’t believe we were doing this at Summerfest! She later brought over one of her rainbow candles as a gift. We made a good friend that day.
At 9 a.m., the people began their walk down the street.
From that time until around 1:45 p.m., Summerfest was a joy for us at the “Dumb Amendment” booth. We gave brightly colored balloons that had the word “NO!” written in black sharpie pen to every kid in sight. We offered “Best Friends” rainbow colored bracelets to every kid or teenager passing by. And when they took them, we gave the literature to their parents.
We answered questions, we explained our position on the amendment. We got a lot of comments like “I had no idea!” and “This is the first I have heard of this thing!”
We were in our element. Educating the public on the injustice that has become the thing that keeps us awake night after night.
We had a few folks that brought the items back to us, once they realized what they were about. They said things like, “I’m sorry, but I do not support your cause.”
We thanked them, and smiled and they walked away. At least they saw the face of the people who were affected by the proposed amendment.
I felt encouraged. I felt elated. I felt as though I was making a difference.
Then we ran out of materials to pass out. We had only maybe 25 brochures left. Our DVD player battery was dead. We cut the volunteers loose and settled in to canvass and answer questions.
Between this time and 3 p.m., I have never experienced so much rudeness. So much unkindness. So much adversity.
People walked into our booth asking what the Family Discrimination Amendment was all about. We tried to explain. We tried to put the face on the issue. Identifying ourselves as people directly affected by this insidious thing.
I won’t go into details, but suffice to say, Anne of Green Gables had her eyes opened that day.
There were many positive things that occurred that day. We met so many people who were so supportive. One professor from the local college took several of the brochures to pass out in her classes. Tons of my local friends stopped by to show support, or to show me the latest addition to their family. The majority of the minutes of the day were wonderful.
The crowning glory was when the lady who went on TV to protest our wedding announcement being printed in the Rock Hill Herald, came up with her husband to introduce herself.
She had an unintended arrogance about her. The kind of arrogance one has when one is so sure that theirs is the only right side of the question.
Unfortunately, I was not ready to make nice.
She spoke to us. Told us she didn’t want us to think she had three heads.
Wendell was very polite to her. Very kind, and he thanked her for coming over to speak to us.
All I could see was her Ralph Norman T- shirt. All I could think of was the year and a half that I planned our wedding and how hard I worked, saved and how proud I was to finally negotiate to have our wedding announcement placed in our local newspaper. I remembered her comment on TV, “I can’t support the media normalizing what Christ has said is wrong.”
When she walked up to me, I told her how hurtful her comments were to me. I explained that it was our big day and that her comments on TV were hurtful.
She was sorry, she said, that I felt that way, but if I had children as she did, I would understand how she felt.
I explained that like her, I had two children.
Her husband said that he had been forced to explain a lot of things to his children, as a result of our announcement being printed.
Wendell said that maybe those were explanations that needed to happen.
She began talking about how she felt about seeing our announcement, of how it affected her family and I told her that having children is no excuse for discrimination.
She and her husband walked away. I am not sure how they were affected by our conversation. I wanted to make sure that they saw that their prejudice and religious abuse affected two individuals trying to live and to make a life in S.C.
It represented closure for me. It helped me move on from the anger I had felt when she said less than kind things about our big day.
It has taken a few days to process our experience with Summerfest and representing the SCEC on Aug. 26.
I am glad we did it. I feel that we did the right thing. I think that Anne Of Green Gables still lives within my heart. Wounded and healing, she will come back with a vengeance.