published Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Cook: Anyone like me

Several weeks ago after church, I met a woman who told me a story about growing up in Chattanooga.

Growing up gay in Chattanooga.

"Every night, I would search the newspapers," she said.

It was the '90s; we were still a two-newspaper town. Each night, she would shut the door to her room, and read every line from the day's papers, looking, searching, praying for a reference -- a story, an interview, even just a few words -- to someone else out there like her. Someone, anyone, out there who was gay.

"Anyone like me," she said.

This is what difference feels like: It is to experience life as an outsider, never quite certain how firm is the ground around you, never quite sure where you fit in, if at all.

Nothing wounds the heart like isolation. Hours are spent behind closed doors, searching newspapers or the web, hoping for anyone to find you. It is like lighting a bonfire from the shore of a deserted island, hoping you'll be spotted, hoping your question -- is there anyone out there like me? -- is met with some loving response.

The entire social history of America is one long struggle with difference. Our first colonists sailed here to find protection for their religious differences; more than 100 years later, we crafted the Bill of Rights, giving the world a model of how to protect difference.

From then to now, the struggle has continued, as others reached and keep trying to reach the table of acceptance: women, black Americans, native Americansd, immigrants, the disabled, the deaf and blind, gay Americans.

Difference implies normality, and the standard by which we've defined who's different and who's not has always been this: white, straight, able-bodied, male, Christian. In other words, people just like me. The soul-work that America continues to endure is a widening of this standard -- where a disabled, gay Hispanic immigrant has as much social legitimacy here as I do -- and when we fail, it can be monstrous.

Eugenics. Jim Crow. Genocide.

This is how part of the human spirit responds to perceived difference, especially when egged on by political propaganda and outspoken bigotry. We eat our own.

We refuse to see others who are different as equal.

In Nashville, Rep. Sen. Mike Bell has introduced SB 2566, legislation that would allow businesses in the state to refuse service to gay couples who want to marry.

"Any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges," the bill reads. "Counseling, adoption, foster care or other social services."

When the day comes and gay couples are able to marry in Tennessee, this bill would allow a florist to refuse to sell wedding day geraniums or bed and breakfast owners to turn away a honeymooning couple -- no room in the inn! If a business owner holds religious convictions that run counter to the idea of gay marriage, then this business owner does not have to serve any gay couple, and cannot be sued for it either.

(One wonders if Sen. Bell would have written similar legislation against interracial marriage had he been around in the 1960s).

The bill goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

Kat Cooper, the Collegedale detective who helped her city become the first in Tennessee to offer domestic partner benefits, is asking people to call both Bell (615-741-1946) and local senator Todd Gardenhire (615-741-6682), who's a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and ask them to withdraw the bill.

"If this gets passed, it would legalize discrimination," said Cooper. "I don't know why people feel the need to discriminate against people who are not like them."

Humanity is not monochromatic; our struggle is not against a Paint-By-Numbers Creator, who only makes plain Jane stuff, nor with a natural world that only operates with some single vision: just brown butterflies, only flat deserts, nothing but white people.

Life is magnificently different, and our struggle is to realize those who may not seem like us -- the disabled or dyslexic, the dwarfs and giants, the transgendered and gay -- belong just as fully at the American table as anyone else.

So if you're out there, locked in your bedroom, searching the papers or Internet for some wisp of acceptance and community, then I hope you read this column, especially this last line.

Thank you. For pushing us towards a wider America, for reminding us that difference is beauty and beauty is truth, for the bravery of being yourself in a lonely world, thank ... you.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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schizka said...

(One wonders if Sen. Bell would have written similar legislation against interracial marriage had he been around in the 1960s).

Yes he would have. And that's why I can't grasp why local clergy in District 7 and St. Elmo, specifically according to a recent article, are so viciously going after Councilman Anderson.

We've heard the excuses, not reasons mind you: "Our children are being shot in their own backyards and he, Chris, hasn't done anything to stop it. But weren't those same tragedies taking place during the entire time the two black guys were over District 7? What do they expect the lone white gay guy to accomplish in less than a year the two black guys failed to accomplish during their entire time in city councilman?

They're also saying they are taking a moral stand, which means because Anderson is gay and it's in the bible? Well wasn't that the same excuse for anti-miscegenation laws were still on the books up to 1967? In some southern states it was revealed those laws making interracial relationships illegal were remained on the books well into the 21ST century? And they were only addressed when it issue was brought to light? In some of those southern states where no such exposure took place it's very likely miscegenation laws or anti-miscegenation laws still remained law in some state somewhere in the south, and perhaps other non-southern states too?

Those individuals in District 7 need to step back from this issue before it explodes all over them and take them back to a place in history they struggled so hard to escape and take a reality check.

They claim to want a safe place for their children to go? Well what safer place can there be than in one's own home? Isn't that where the 13 year old was believed to have been shot?

On the other hand, there are several recreation centers in the area. East Lake also has a Salvation Army and a recreation center. Alton Park connected to St. Elmo also has a recreation center that sports a swimming pool, basketball court, baseball field. They need to sit down re-evaluate what they want and be realistic about their problems and issues.

February 18, 2014 at 8:56 a.m.
Rickaroo said...

Mike Bell and his self-righteously religious ilk make me ashamed to be from Tennessee. For all of you Christians who like to claim that we atheists/agnostics are arrogant and hateful towards you, it is people like Mike Bell and his brand of overly zealous fundamentalists that bring out the ire in us. We do not take issue in any way with Christians who practice their religion quietly, emphasizing love and compassion towards others, but when these self-righteous zealots not only preach their hateful message to the masses but they brazenly cross the line and try to force their beliefs into the political arena by enacting legislation, then that is when we become vocal and combative.

If this bill SB 2566 manages to pass, Tennessee will have yet another reason to be known as a "Bible minded" state. But it will not be the kind of Bible-mindedness that we should be proud of. It is the same kind of Bible-mindedness that saw witches of old being burned at the stake.

February 18, 2014 at 3:10 p.m.
hotdiggity said...

These are the same hateful christians who could justify slavery from their holy book. No surprises here, just the same hypocrites casting stones and ignoring the words of Jesus.

February 18, 2014 at 10:59 p.m.
GratefulDawg said...

After all of the hullabaloo created by Mike Bell's turn away the gays bill, Bell has decided to simply drop the measure. His reasoning is that the bill is not needed. That begs the question of Bell's motivation to introduce the bill in the first place. If the bill is useless now it was useless when introduced. I suppose Bell needed to appease the holy rollin' sect of his conservative base. Waving around some useless piece of anti-gay legislation is the religious right's panacea for all the ills of society.

In lieu of any real answers...just pick out some minority group, give 'em a good verbal beating, and claim the tacit endorsement of one Mister Jesus H. Christ himself. I know it's the year 2014, but you can still sell that line of BS to a surprisingly large segment of the population.

February 18, 2014 at 11:42 p.m.
hotdiggity said...

Dang, GratefulDawg, you took the words right out of my mouth. Good post.

February 19, 2014 at 9:11 a.m.
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