Brent Cox of Mississippi ACLU speaks at LGBT Summit
It's hard to put into words the feelings we had after spending three days in rural Mississippi at the LGBT Activists and Allies Regional Summit at Camp Sister Spirit (http://www.campsisterspirit.com/401.html). For people like us who live in San Francisco it felt almost like a step back in time to the dark days when gay people in this country had almost no visibility. And what little visibility we had was anything but positive. On the other hand, to see the courage of the people who attended and their willingness to connect and move forward was exciting. There was a job to be done and they were seeking ways--tentatively and with little outside support--to "get er done". Here are some of the difficulties that were articulated:
- limited resources
- developing a critical mass/mobilizing
- failure to see the bigger picture
On the agenda were workshops by Brent Cox of Mississippi ACLU entitled "Queers Looking for Trouble", a presentation about the rise of HIV/AIDS in the state by Paul Overstreet and another on reproductive freedom/AIDS action by Shawna Davis and Valencia Robinson. Also in attendance were members of the University of Southern Mississippi Gay/Straight Alliance. Check out their video on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZQ9JbTcWDI&feature=related.
The weekend culminated in a drag show in a pig barn on the property. Something like a dozen drag queens from all across the state performed for us, an audience of about fifty people that included the summit attendees, a group of witches (heterosexual) from the area and some assorted straight guys and even a couple of teenaged girls. The divas performed for tips only that were eagerly stuffed into their bras or hands as they performed and returned as a donation to the financially struggling Camp Sister Spirit. You know you've witnessed something special when an elderly straight women in the rural south dances up to a tall, skinny black drag queen and folds a dollar bill into her outstretched hand as the audience applauds and cheers. The weekend changed my thinking--which to be truthful consisted of half-hearted redneck and right wing religous stereotypes--about the deep south.
Overseeing it all was Andrea (Andie) Gibbs-Henson, guiding light of Camp Sister Spirit. In spite of the fact that her neighbors are somewhat more accepting of her and the camp now than in the past, it wasn't so long ago that harrassment, including the killing of a dog and bullet holes in her mailbox were all too common occurrences. Andie attributes the turnaround in thinking to her readiness to help--when the government was virtually a no-show--in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The camp contributed massive amounts of food to local residents who had been devastated by the storm and took in a group of Pentacostal women when the local Baptist churches would not.