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OpEd: Is Greenville the Carolinas’ biggest closet case?

by Kittredge McFadden

In Greenville County, S.C., there exists three self-proclaimed gay bars, one gay bookstore, several gay-owned and operated businesses and international corporations that understand the importance of including sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policies. In fact, some of the larger corporations (Fluor, Daniel, Michelin) include domestic partnership benefits.

As well, there are several active LGBT individuals in the Greenville area: a businessman who served on the board of directors for a local AIDS organization; another businessman who has helped improve urban development and subsequently provided affordable housing specifically for members of the LGBT community; a nurse practioner who donates the money she once gave to a church that asked her to leave to organizations that support equal rights for LGBT people and an artist who admits she “is inspired by gay themes.” Yet none of these people want their names associated with the gay community or — more specifically — in an arena where the straight community might discover their secrets.

They patronize gay establishments and even contribute to LGBT organizations, but they choose to do it anonymously. At first look this appears to be a dichotomy that just shouldn’t exist, but upon further examination, interviews and observations one finds that being in the closet is a way of life for a large percentage of gay and lesbian Greenville residents.

Given the fact the county once passed a resolution (in 1996) stating the “homosexual lifestyle wasn’t compatible with the values of the existing community,” then why are there so many LGBT people here? Why do they continue to accept the role of second-class citizen, as approved by their very own government?

The responses I received were disturbing and clearly indicative of the state of apathy that exists in Greenville’s LGBT community.

One of the businessmen, who refused to let me use his name said, “I have never felt discriminated against. I live a very comfortable life, don’t plan on getting married and am happy just the way that I am.”

Said the nurse practioner: “My church once shunned me.” Even though she confirmed that she attended MCC-Greenville when it was housed inside of another church, now, she says, “Once they moved, I was afraid someone would see me going into a gay church — I am not out at work.”

The artist said she “didn’t want to associate with the gay community,” because it “would jeopardize her career” and that she didn’t believe the issues concernng “bisexuals and transgender people,” had anything to do with her.

After numerous attempts to contact the mayor and both city and county council for their opinion or insight as to why their LGBT residents seemingly feel the need to stay firmly locked in the closet, I received no response.

After that dead end, I decided on another approach: this time I asked what elected officials were doing to ensure that their constituents could live comfortably, peacefully and without fear in their own community. Butch Kirven, co-chair of the Greenville County Council, left me this email: “We regard all our citizens equally.”

A nice sentiment from Kirven. However, almost 10 years later, I believe we are still seeing a reaction to the 1996 resolution. Before and since that time Greenville’s LGBT community has been made to feel unwelcome in the town they call home.

How can the LGBT community expect to achieve equality from within the closet?

Now is the time for Greenville’s LGBT community to stand up against the forces that oppress us.

Reach out to groups like PFLAG, MCC, Upstate Equality and Upstate Equality Project. If we work together, we can make a change in the way Greenville treats her LGBT citizens and how those very citizens feel about themselves.

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