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Friday, November 18, 2016

If you ignore it, it still won't go away.

In my little town
I grew up believing
God keeps His eye on us all
And He used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord I recall
My little town

Coming home after school
Flying my bike past the gates
Of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging our shirts
In the dirty breeze

And after it rains
There's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagination they lack
Everything's the same
Back in my little town

In my little town
I never meant nothin'
I was Just my father's son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun
Leaving nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

-Simon & Garfunkel, My Little Town (1975)

My interlocutors were, man and woman, outraged. That's not us, they insisted. It's faked. People like that don't live here. It's just a few bad apples. You're a Communist.

Well, since then, I got to wondering how we might quantify just who Cleveland County voters are when it comes to LGBT rights. And it's hard to beat how they vote as a measure of what they believe and support, especially over the course of a hundred years.

Let's begin with Governor Pat McCrory. As The Charlotte Business Journal reported October 5, 2016, the governor said this to the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce:

'“I need to let you know this is not just a Charlotte debate,” he said when asked about HB2. “As governor now, not as a former mayor, I need to tell you, if you think this is only a Charlotte issue, you need to think (about) what people are saying about it 20 miles outside of Charlotte.”

'McCrory listed the names of several smaller cities — Shelby, Lincolnton and Wadesboro — as examples of places where support for HB2 runs much stronger.'

I know you believe what Governor McCrory says, Cleveland County: when he ran for governor in 2008, you gave him 56.4% of your votes.

When he ran again, in 2012, you gave Pat McCrory 61.2% of your votes.

And when he ran again this year, taking credit for HB2- which stripped your faggot friends, relatives and neighbors of their right to be free from discrimination you wouldn't stand for if it was practiced upon you- you upped the ante. 63.1% of you voted for Pat McCrory.

While you were voting, Cleveland County, you cast 60.4% of your votes for Buck Newton, the Republican candidate for attorney general. He's the one who jammed HB2 through the state senate in an afternoon on March 23, 2016.

A month later, at a rally, Buck Newton said this, from the video of the event:

“He [opponent Josh Stein] wants to make me the poster child of this bill. And you know what? I say ‘bring it on,’ ” Newton said, his arms outstretched.

In the end, he thanks the crowd.

“Go home, tell your friends and family who had to work today what this is all about and how hard we had to fight to keep our state straight,” he said.

You also re-elected NC House Speaker Tim Moore this year, Cleveland County, with 100% of the vote. You’ve done that in four of the last five elections. Speaker Moore is a Cleveland County native who earned his first antigay stripes in college: At UNC he opposed funding for a gay and lesbian student association, arguing its members lived a practice against state law and were, therefore, felons. Speaker Moore jammed HB2 through the House on the morning of March 23, 2016, and sent it over to Buck Newton, and that’s how they got it over to the Governor’s Mansion for Pat McCrory to sign before he went to bed that night.

And none of you blinked when, in August 2015, the Cleveland County Comission- chaired by Moore's first cousin, once removed, hired Moore as county attorney, on a $25,000 annual retainer and an hourly billing rate of $250 per hour.

Moore was clearly moved by your generosity, Cleveland County. As The Charlotte Observer reported, 'Moore’s contract requires him to attend the board’s meetings, which take place on Tuesday evenings twice a month. He’s said he’ll “try to be at as many of those meetings as I can,” even when he presides over the House earlier the same day.'

Raleigh and Shelby are 207 miles apart.

Two years ago, my Cleveland County friends, you gave Moore’s predecessor, House Speaker Thom Tillis, 55.8% of your votes in his run for the United States Senate. Tillis spent the last two months of his campaign raging against a 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision legalizing marriage equality in North Carolina, and throwing wads of your tax dollars at a pointless and spiteful and losing appeal.

Four years ago, Cleveland County voters, those of you who turned out for the spring primary gave 80% of your votes to Amendment 1, the last state constitutional amendment in America passed to ban marriage equality. That was the handiwork of a team led by then-Speaker Tillis, now-Speaker Moore, candidate Pat McCrory, and supported by State Senator Buck Newton, then seeking his second term.

Tillis sold you a bill of goods on that one, my friends. In March 2012, before it was even passed, speaking at NC State in Raleigh, he told his student audience there was no point to Amendment 1 besides short-term politics and long-term animus:

A question and answer session prompted questions on students’ minds, among those issues the upcoming Amendment One that would constitutionally ban homosexual marriage. “It’s a generational issue,” Tillis said. “The data shows right now that you are a generation away from that issue.”

According to Tillis, researchers have predicted Amendment One will pass with approximately 54 percent, but Tillis, who voted to pass the amendment, believes it won’t remain long. “If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years,” Tillis said.

Tillis was only wrong, in his breathtaking cynicism, by a factor of ten.

And I well remember, because I worked on the first two, the US Senate campaigns of Jesse Helms in 1972, 1978, 1984, 1990, and 1996. Senator Helms despised LGBT Americans with a laser-like contempt. When he died, The New York Times remembered,

He fought bitterly against federal financing for AIDS research and treatment, saying the disease resulted from “unnatural” and “disgusting” homosexual behavior.

“Nothing positive happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” he said, “and nothing positive is likely to happen to America if our people succumb to the drumbeats of support for the homosexual lifestyle.”

Jesse was the kind of man who could write a longtime friend a note of condolence like this:

In June 1995, a year after her son Mark had died of AIDS at 31, [Patsy Clarke] sent Helms a letter imploring him to soften his antigay stance. In reply, she received a note from Helms in which he expressed deep sympathy for her loss but, to her amazement, also implied that Mark had somehow deserved his fate. “As for homosexuality, the Bible judges it, I do not,” he wrote. “I wish he had not played Russian roulette in his sexual activity…. But there is no escaping the reality of what happened.”

And in every one of his five senate campaigns, Cleveland County, y’all turned out for him in droves.

Twenty years before Jesse Helms’ first Senate race, a Shelby resident, Senator Clyde R. Hoey, was finishing up work on a project that had occupied three years of his time:

The Subcommittee on Investigations was a subcommittee of the Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments. This subcommittee led by Senator Clyde R. Hoey from 1949-1952 investigated "the employment of homosexuals in the Federal workforce." A related report, known as the Hoey Report, stated that all of the government's intelligence agencies "are in complete agreement that sex perverts in Government constitute security risks."

Hoey’s work led to President Eisenhower’s Executive Order 10450, issued in 1953, which barred LGBT Americans from employment by the federal government, and led to the public shaming and termination of over ten thousand over the next two decades. It took a federal court decision in 1973 before the US Civil Service Commission agreed to consider hiring gay employees, case by case. It took another twenty years before President Clinton issued an executive order ending discrimination in granting security clearances based on sexual orientation.

Hoy was a feature of Shelby life for over sixty years. He bought what is now the Shelby Star newspaper in 1898. Back then the preoccupation of the ruling class was still race, and another Shelby idol- buried there and celebrated to this day- is Thomas Dixon, Jr. He won fame as the author of the lurid novels, The Clansman and The Leopard’s Spots, which- made into the even more lurid D.W. Griffith epic film, Birth of a Nation. The 1915 movie so excited Dixon’s longtime friend, President Woodrow Wilson- who had in the previous two years resegregated federal employment and much of life in the District of Columbia- that he selected it for the first showing of a movie in The White House in US history.

Faulkner wrote, in Requiem for A Nun,

The past is never dead. It's not even past.

We deal with the past mostly by not talking about the awkward bits. The rest we clothe in long, white gowns for the generations of retelling, reshaping, and forgetting. It’s the Shelby way.

And that’s how that message ended up on the windshield of a car in Shelby last week.

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