There was a national media frenzy surrounding Sullivan, Indiana this week. The small town of just over 4000 people is about 25 miles from my hometown, Robinson, Illinois–population 6000.
Two girls had gone to their Sullivan High School administrator and asked if they could attend the grand march of their prom together. The school gave the girls permission to participate. The prom is scheduled for April 27.
This ruffled the feathers of a handful of folks in the area. A few months ago, a small mix of concerned citizens gathered in a Sullivan church conference room and held meetings to discuss the possibility of having a second, alternative prom exclusively for the straight high school students. They contacted the local newspaper, The Sullivan Daily Times, looking for attention from the press. The paper was hesitant to acknowledge the group. Eventually a Terre Haute, Indiana television station, WTWO, aired the group’s story.
Robinson, Illinois has two Facebook pages. You’re From Robinson, Illinois If You Remember… is a page for nice things: priceless memories and trivia about the town. Anyone is allowed to participate on the page. The second page, Robinson Insider, requires it’s members to be 18 years old and one must be approved by one of the moderators before anyone can post or read the page. The discussions on Robinson Insider usually range from the weather, mushroom hunting season, and 911 scanner activity. There are lots of posts asking for prayers from their fellow citizens for crises and sicknesses.
I left my hometown in 1986 and never looked back. Once I spread my parent’s ashes in 2006, the reasons to return to Robinson became few.
As an outsider, the Robinson Insider page appears to me to be a very active soap box. The page had quite the discussion this week about Sullivan High School’s prom and particularly the comments made by Diana Medley. Ms. Medley is a Special Ed teacher at a nearby school whose comments about gay people were painful to me.
It was especially disturbing for me to hear Medley imply that gay people have no purpose in life. She referenced gay students and her Special Ed students in the same thought as if they were the same to her. However, many people from Robinson Insider felt she did nothing wrong and supported her bigotry. The majority of those on the exclusive Facebook page felt she was merely exercising her constitutional right to free speech.
An online petition circulated the internet asking for her to be fired. A link to the petition was posted on Robinson Insider and I signed it.
I participated in the debates on Robinson Insider about Medley and the Sullivan High School prom. I am passionate about gay rights and feel particularly protective of gay teenagers in small towns because I used to be one of them. My book One Gay American tells my story.
I knew before entering a debate on Facebook about gay rights with the people of my hometown that I would be outnumbered. That didn’t concern me. I was careful not to call anyone names, and no one called me names. No threats were made. Although I did call an individual out for an allegedly harassing gesture on my personal Facebook page. (the person “liked” a picture of my car being vandalized.)
This was perhaps not the best week to be debating gay rights on Robinson Insider. The state of Illinois is very close to legalizing gay marriage as we speak.
It would be easy for me to sit down and write a blog post about how horrible Robinson, Illinois is. Because of my past, I could easy make a sweeping generalization that my hometown is a terrible place with terrible people. But I can’t do that. There are still some great people there–and they are my open-minded friends.
I told a friend of mine who still lives in Robinson that I was going to write a blog post about the messy debate. I kept a transcript of the debate in case it was deleted. My friend was very concerned I would bring a wrath of attention to Robinson like what Sullivan Indiana is now experiencing. I could easily do that but I don’t think that is my style.
Instead, I am going to highlight five of the good things that folks from Robinson said that show a true sense of humanity. These five quotes remind me that Robinson is not entirely homophobic and are used with the permission of the citizens who posted them on Robinson Insider.
“I hope these kids who have taken this teachers and students comments personally understand there are so many of us behind them. They need to continue to stand up for what they are and what they want to be in life!”
“…the reason Christians have such a bad reputation is because of people like her who claim to be a Christian yet say idiotic things. Christians are suppose to be loving and caring…and we firmly believe everyone has a purpose. Even though we might not agree with different things, we aren’t suppose to judge people.”
“In no way, shape, or form should any sort of segregation be tolerated in our world today. The statement “Gays have no purpose” is completely preposterous! Change the word “gays” in that sentence to “women” or “fatties” or “Asians”… does it make you feel any better?…”
“My children are going to be able to choose what they believe when they grow up…and will not be judged in our house!!!! ”
“What you don’t realize is that her “personal opinion” is going to affect the dream of high school kids….I understand that everyone has the right to personal opinion but when she is a teacher and throws her opinion around like that she needs to understand that it is going to draw attention. She is supposed to be a role model for the children at the school…gay, straight, bisexual, black or white. How can anyone look up to her when there is a chance they are going to be judged because they do not have the same beliefs as she does…wake up people.”