Culture War in Rural America


From the article:

Gold’s message was, on the whole, a tough sell in Alexander County. For one thing, the very reason he gained an audience — his business success — was part of the reason residents viewed him as different, set apart.

He also doesn’t live in the county, instead residing just outside it, in a luxurious Adirondack-style house with lakefront views. He drives a Bentley to the factory and hobnobs with celebrities, decorating his office and home with framed photos of himself with Barack Obama and Joe Biden and Cher.

Moreover:

Anna Watson, the associate executive director of OUTright Youth, works with LGBT teens and young adults in five counties in the region…and she has worked with its P.R.I.D.E. Club.

“We can’t take the stance of bashing the churches,” she said. Since so many educators attend conservative churches, she believes being critical of religion will only hinder her work….When I asked Gold about her viewpoint, he said, “I understand why she has to do that, but it is kind of silly because we do want to change everybody’s beliefs.”

17 Comments for “Culture War in Rural America”

  1. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    My experience, for what it is worth, having lived in Chicago and having lived in rural central Wisconsin until recently, is that the concerns of urban gays and lesbians are almost irrelevant to the way things are and should be done in rural areas. The goals and outcome may be the similar/identical, but rural areas need a different approach, and rural people generally resent folks from the urban areas coming in and telling us what to do.

    It seems to me that Mitchell Gold is the classic example of a big city swaggart coming into a rural area and throwing his weight around. That never works.

    Reply
    • posted by JohnInCA on

      […] rural people generally resent folks from the urban areas coming in and telling us what to do.

      Fixed it for you.

      Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      Fixed it for you.

      You’ve certainly demonstrated the issue.

      Reply
  2. posted by MR Bill on

    Tom, John is right: the chip on the shoulder of too many rural folks (amplified by the racist faux History of “Southern Heritage) is massive, and so,what unjustified..nevertheless, acceptance grows, because of Gay dollars.. here my own bit of rural America : from 2014: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/01/gay-rights-georgia-bible-belt-south?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

    Reply
  3. posted by MR Bill on

    “Somewhat unjustified “

    Reply
  4. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    Bill and John, things are no doubt different in your part of the country (the deep South and rural California) than they are in rural central Wisconsin.

    I’ll grant you that rural folks in Wisconsin don’t think much of urban areas or the people who live in them** (in our area, Chicago is generally considered a cesspool of humanity, Milwaukee not far behind), but I’ve seen outsiders who moved into the area accepted so long as they don’t try to lord it over the locals with their big city ways, and I’ve seen LGBT issues go both ways.

    A tale of two towns (both with populations about 8,000) in my rural county:

    In the first, a GLA (high school Gay Lesbian Alliance club) was established without fuss or bother in 2008. The effort was led by two students, a gay boy and a lesbian girl, both of whom came from families who were third-fourth generation in the county. A local conservative Christian church got wind of the plan to establish at GLA and made a fuss, so the question went to the school board. The kids, knowing the community, worked the issue with local people and when the board meeting came, local supporters showed up in good number and the board ruled in favor of the GLA.

    In the second, a year later, the story was very different. The kids involved were shoved aside when adults who had moved to the town from Chicago a few years earlier stuck their noses in, and the issue became a confrontation between “Chicago liberals” and local people, rather than an issue involving local kids. The GLA didn’t get established that year. It eventually did, five years later, but it could have happened in 2009, not 2014.

    The difference between the two stories (and between the second story and two additional high schools in the county where GLA’s have been established without controversy) was that in the successful efforts, the locals did it, and in the unsuccessful effort, outsiders decided to tell the locals what they should do.

    I read the story Stephen linked and I see the same thing happening in that story.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am.

    In any event, I don’t want to get into a pissing match with either of you about it.

    **A worn old Wisconsin joke: “We can shoot deer during deer season, why can’t we shoot tourists during tourist season?”

    Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      My brain is fried, apparently. The club is was thinking about was Gay Straight Alliance, not Gay Lesbian Alliance.

      Reply
      • posted by Jorge on

        **A worn old Wisconsin joke: “We can shoot deer during deer season, why can’t we shoot tourists during tourist season?”

        I wonder what hunting season it is from the tourists’ point of view?

        My brain is fried, apparently. The club is was thinking about was Gay Straight Alliance, not Gay Lesbian Alliance.

        🙁 that would have been an awesome development

        You did notice that was Gold’s crime here, right? He was publicly gay and in close enough proximity, that he became a scape goat regardless of his own actions.

        I seem to be in the middle on this one. I agree with Tom Mr. Gold’s noblesse oblige is a little overboard, but it is necessary and good for the community to have a patron. Without his excesses, there would be no opposition to them. Serious problems would have no airing, and thus no solution. Mr. Gold speaks about the families that, because of his outspokenness, have had open conversations about the best interests of their gay family members because of his presence. It is not necessary for the content of those conversations to match his pure image. Without him, maybe there’d be a conservative-themed GLA without any fuss, maybe there’d be none at all.

        It is far from time to declare “Mission Accomplished”

        I’m beginning to like that expression. Go for it.

        Reply
        • posted by Jorge on

          Edit: I seem to be in the middle on this one. I agree with Tom that Mr. Gold’s noblesse oblige is a little overboard, but…

          Reply
    • posted by JohnInCA on

      You’re not wrong, you’re just not sufficiently broad in scope.

      Yes, folks (of any kind) resent being told what to do, and that resentment hits a lot harder when it’s perceived as the “other”. Whether it’s one branch of Christianity telling another that they’re worshipping wrong, Urban and Rural folks fighting over land use laws, or Texas and California having a congressional tiff over the EPA. It’s 100% true that folks resent being “told what to do” by “the other”.

      But that’s not the limit of the rural/urban conflict. Not even close. You find resentment over education (Santorum’s “smart people will never support us” line), you find resentment over pollution (see the fights over the EPA), you find resentment over illusory issues (like rural folks thinking that their tax dollars are being wasted on cities, when the cities are the net payers and rural communities net consumers).

      And probably the biggest resentment of all? That their kids don’t come back. That their kids grow up, move to the “big city” (which often isn’t all that big) and only come back for the holidays. That even when they leave the “big city”, they don’t move back home, they move to suburbia.

      Rural resentment isn’t limited to being “told what to do”. It’s a lot bigger then that.

      Reply
    • posted by Tom Scharbach on

      You’re not wrong, you’re just not sufficiently broad in scope. … Rural resentment isn’t limited to being “told what to do”. It’s a lot bigger then that.

      Sure. But I don’t think that there is a need to universalize “rural resentment” to understand what is going on between Gold and local residents in Alexander Central High. It is pretty clear.

      I think that we’ve chewed this one to death.

      Reply
      • posted by JohnInCA on

        Yes, it’s pretty clear that it’s a classic Catch-22.

        What’s less clear is why we should ignore the root cause of rural/urban divides and pretend the symptoms would be alleviated if urban folk just stopped existing in proximity to rural folk.

        You did notice that was Gold’s crime here, right? He was publicly gay and in close enough proximity, that he became a scape goat regardless of his own actions. The only way for him to not upset people would be to shut up and go away while conveniently leaving his business behind.

        Reply
      • posted by Tom Scharbach on

        You did notice that was Gold’s crime here, right? He was publicly gay and in close enough proximity, that he became a scape goat regardless of his own actions. The only way for him to not upset people would be to shut up and go away while conveniently leaving his business behind.

        I disagree, based on what I know from the article

        Gold lived in the community 30 years, but never became part of the community in any meaningful sense, and never learned to respect his neighbors’ beliefs and work with them toward a goal — in this case protecting the gay/lesbian kids in the high school through a GSA. Instead, he injected himself into the issue, demanded that conservative Christians change their religious views, and became the issue.

        It didn’t have to be that way. It shouldn’t have been that way.

        Reply
        • posted by JohnInCA on

          It didn’t have to be that way.

          You’re right. Based on the article, it would have been worse without Gold. Both culturally (see the Anna Watson quote) and economically (see all the parts about the business).

          Reply
  5. posted by Tom Scharbach on

    It is far from time to declare “Mission Accomplished” (far from it), but we have been beating back the anti-equality attacks in state legislatures, little by slowly.

    And I think — at least in Wisconsin — we have been making steady progress at the local level, as well. At present, by my count, 9 of the 13 cities in Wisconsin with populations over 50,000 now have non-discrimination ordinances protecting transgendered Wisconsinites in place. Wisconsin has protected gays and lesbians at the state level since 1982, but getting statewide transgender legislation is not yet a realistic goal.

    That’s good news.

    Reply
  6. posted by Jorge on

    “Inside, the seven members of the school board opened the floor for public comments. There was a sign-up sheet and five minutes allotted for each speaker.”

    How quaint. Trying to put out a fire by giving out oxygen for free. Don’t forget to cheat by moving the campfire. Hey, look at this, I got your bait and switch right here: “What many of the county residents did not realize was that the club’s existence had already been decided. Some people came to the board meeting thinking there would be a vote on the issue, but the district superintendent and the principal were supportive of the club, as was the board.”

    “Gold approached his activism like a salesman running a marketing campaign.”

    Yeah, that sounds like a pretty apt description–someone who won’t take no for an answer and doesn’t even pretend to lie about it.

    But he shows up, often. That’s damned difficult to do, and that earns an A in my book. Like Barney Frank in his day, he’s not the guy I’d want to wear the crown as the figurehead of a gay contingent, but in order for the true king to arrive, someone needs to be that ruler and keep things safe. That is what he is doing.

    By the way, with respect to people’s “beliefs.”

    I of course think every single one of those Protestant pastors is about as heretical as a Wiccan who role-plays threesomes with Satan and Pan (I say this with the utmost respect for the wit, passion, and impatience of my Wiccan fellows). But I would also like to suggest the small possibility that maybe God actually speaks to those pastors and sets us against each other for some kind of higher purpose. If so, the very idea of changing another person’s beliefs is worse than useless.

    As someone who firmly believes that God has a presence, will, and intention on this earth, I don’t consider it my job to explain to someone of a different religion why God decided to adopt him into that religion. It’s part of the price of my own freedom of religion.

    Reply

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