Saturday, June 4, 2011

An article about the homophobia of the Neo-Confederate movement published in the "Southern Voice."

I know this article is from 1994, but the homophobia of the neo-Confederate movement is largely unchanged and this portrayal could just as well apply to the neo-Confederate movement of today. Note, this is a quick Optical Character Recognition scan and I did catch some of the errors, but I am sure I missed some.

From the Southern Voice, March 31- April 6, 1994, of Atlanta, Georgia

Stars, Bars, and Homophobia:

How the battle to preserve Confederate heritage is fueling a political movement that takes aim at gays and lesbians


Throughout the South, the battle lines have ¬ been drawn again. But this time, the fight is not over land nor state's rights nor political hegemony. It is instead over songs and flags and symbols.

Many native white Southerners-gays and lesbians among them believe these Confederate symbols represent a noble chapter of valor and sacrifice that ought to be cherished and remembered. They bristle against the forces of political correctness that, as they see it, are trying to eradicate Southern heritage and the region's particular identity. They reject the idea that the Confederate battle flag and "Dixie" are racist statements. They no doubt cheer the efforts of groups fighting to preserve the Georgia state flag and the Virginia state song.
But what they may not realize is that some of the people who are leading the charge to preserve Confederate heritage, known collectively as the neo-Confederate movement, are often openly, and passionately, homophobic.

The movement, a coalition which includes such innocuous sounding groups as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, the Heritage Preservation Association and the Confederate Society of America, has ties to a number of strongly anti¬gay and Christian supremacist political leaders, including Pat Buchanan, Jesse Helms and Pat Robertson. And the political clout the movement has gained from the controversy over the public use of Confederate symbols-in Georgia in particular-is being used to rally support for political candidates strongly opposed to lesbian and gay rights.

Last year, two Republican state senators elected in special elections with neo-Confederate backing became part of a fundamentalist clique in the Georgia Senate that has pushed that body sharply: to the right. This year, the neo-Confederates plan to go after their public enemy number one-Gov. Zell Miller, who drew their ire when he pushed, unsuccessfully, for the elimination of the Confederate battle ensign from the state flag.

In essence, what is being billed as an effort to preserve heritage, for which there is a great deal of sentiment in the South, is instead turning into a political movement that is very unfriendly to gays Lesbians, couched in a conservative brand of Christianity. "I would say that what we're now starting to see is the development of a strategy to promote key parts of an ideology," says Walter Reeves of the Neighbors Network, an Atlanta based human rights group that monitors neo-Confederate activity. "I think they find this is an excellent way to mobilize a segment of white Southerners."

In the context used here, the term "neo-Confederate" is not meant to refer to white supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan or the Southern White Knights or the Nazi Party. In fact, the leaders of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and similar groups go out of their way to distance themselves from overt racism and hardline racists, dismissing Klansmen and their ilk as Southern white trash.

Instead, these are the gentlemen and ladies, reared on reverence for Southern heritage, fighting to keep alive the beliefs and traditions of centuries past. They insist that they abhor the misuse of the Confederate flag by white supremacists and argue that just because these symbols have been misappropriated doesn't mean they should be discarded.

But while neo-Confederates leaders labor long and hard ¬to veil any racist sentiments among their members (though in many cases, the veil wears pretty thin), disdain for gays and lesbians is, in contrast, often expressed openly and boldly. For proof of. that, one need look no further than neo-Confederate literature.

Take, for example, Southern Partisan, a magazine based in Columbia, S.C. that is one of the largest and most important organs of the neo-Confederate movement. On the masthead, as a "senior advisor," is Buchanan, the TV commentator and unsuccessful candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 1992 who excoriated gays from the stage of the GOP convention. Buchanan is a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, one of the oldest and largest of the neo-Confederate groups. Though Southern Partisan is not an official publication of the Sons, the group is frequently mentioned in its pages.

In one of Southern Partisan's 1993 issues, Buchanan -provided a column slamming Bill Clinton, accusing him of supporting gay rights. His comments were mild compared with another writer named P .J.. Byrnes who provided a review of the March on Washington entitled "Armageddon-An Update.": Brynes, saying the news media sugarcoated its coverage of the largest human rights march in history, characterized the event instead as "the most obscene desecration of public property in the history of the nation."

He decried topless lesbians, intimated that female marchers expressed an interest in molesting Chelsea Clinton and said that on the Mall, "genitalia were almost as prominently displayed as midriffs." The March on Washington was, according to Byrnes, "the deliberate, in the face posturing of an obsessed mob, sick with confused lust, determined to infect the rest of the nation."

In this same issue, on the very next page, President Clinton was taken to task for his "don't ask, don't tell" compromise on the military ban. Though Clinton's proposal offered little difference from the ban already in place, SP's editors decried it as a radical departure that would allow people in the military who are "perverse and unnatural," "Of course, this is not to say that Americans are predisposed to persecute homosexuals," the editors went on to say. "The threshold to this problem is the door to what once was metaphorically called 'the closet.' In a world where moral standards are publicly upheld, the closet is a useful place indeed. Many sins reside there in peace, for no one is without fault. But today's militant homosexuals are no longer restrained by the unspoken rules of civility.'

Also in this same issue was an article praising U.S. Sen.. Jesse Helms of North Carolina for his characterization of Roberta Achtenberg as a "damn lesbian,' curing hearings to confirm her as assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and a piece taking the University of South Carolina to task for offering a course last summer by a gay professor on the challenge to public education posed by the fundamentalist agenda.

The magazine also published an attack on hate crimes laws in general and a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding them in particular, and it reprinted part of Virginia's 18th Century criminal code that outlined the punishment for sodomy as castration for a man and, for a woman, having a half inch hole bored through her nose.

All in all, in that one issue of Southern Partisan, there were nine articles that were primarily anti¬gay/lesbian in nature. Gays took more hits in that issue than did Abraham Lincoln.

Another neo-Confederate publication, called Southern Heritage, is equally hostile to gays and lesbians. Though it is independent and not officially affiliated with any group, almost 60 percent of its readers are members of either the Sons of Confederate Veterans or the United Daughters of the Confederacy, according to a survey of its readers published in one of its issues.

Based in Merrifield, Va., the publication lists on its masthead as a contributor Charles Lunsford, an Inman Park resident who is the spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans' Georgia branch. Lunsford has been at the forefront of the fight to preserve the Confederate emblem on the state flag.

In one issue of Southern Heritage, a writer named Kay Moxley Black wrote an entire column decrying the use of the term "gay" to mean homosexual, asking rhetorically how "did a beautiful word like 'gay' become so debauched?" "Look how many of those words were good, pure, beautiful words before 'they' decided to change our culture," Moxley said.

John F. Cummings III, the editor-in-chief of Southern Heritage, writes a column in each issue that he routinely uses to blast gays and lesbians, referring to the United States as the "land of Rodham and Gomorrah" and decrying the fact that "flagrant homosexual expression is heralded as acceptable."

Then there are the letters to the editor expressions of the sentiments of the readers of these magazines that are often stridently anti-gay. One letter writer even advocated that Atlanta be burned a second time because "elements alien to the traditional values of the South (i.e. feminists, homosexuals, northern liberals) have descended on the city in force."

Advertisers in these publications include a number of mail-order merchandise firms that peddle anti-gay T-shirts and bumper stickers. One such sticker reads, "Roosevelt: A Chicken In Every Pot. Clinton: A Fag in Every Pup Tent." (Their history is a bit faulty here-it was Herbert Hoover, not FDR, who promised a chicken in every pot).

Of course, many people who feel a reverence for Confederate symbols are not members of these groups and do not subscribe to their narrow ideology. And not all of the people who belong to ¬ these groups necessarily share these anti-gay/lesbian viewpoints.

So these homophobic ramblings might just be dismissed as the expected rhetoric of a fringe group, except for two things. First, homophobia seems to be a strong, consistent central theme, not an isolated occurrence. And second, these groups have been able to tap into public sentiment in favor of retaining Confederate symbols to bolster their political power.

After Gov.. Miller proposed dropping the Confederate battle ensign from the state flag, polls showed that a majority of Georgians opposed the idea. Amidst the controversy, the Georgia division of Sons of Confederate Veterans-whose Atlanta branch, ironically, holds its meetings in Midtown at the Mason's hall on Ponce de Leon Avenue-began receiving applications from as many as 500 new members a month, according to a recent investigation into Confederate preservation groups by Atlanta Magazine writer R. Robin McDonald.

The Georgia Sons have more than 20,000 members, including a number of prominent political leaders. While many of those people do not publicly disclose their affiliation, Atlanta Magazine identified among their number Georgia state representatives J. Max Davis of Dunwoody and Keith Breedlove of Buford; former Waycross mayor John Knox, who is running against Miller for governor and U.S. Rep. John Linder, a Republican who represents DeKalb and Gwinnett counties in Congress.

During the recent legislative session, Davis was one of the cosponsors of a bill that would have repealed two Atlanta city ordinances setting up a domestic partnership registry and providing benefits to the partners of city employees. "He has been a longtime opponent of progressive legislation," said Larry Pellegrini, the Capitol lobbyist for GAPAC, Georgia's gay/lesbian political action committee.

Knox, who is anti-choice on the issue of abortion, made headlines in January when he called a press conference at the Capitol to ask Miller for force Georgia Public Television to pull Armistead Maupin's "Tales of, the City" from the airwaves. Though he hadn't seen the program, which chronicled life in 1970s San Francisco, Knox termed it "X-rated" television.

Last year, Perry McGuire and Bob Guhl, both Republicans, were elected to the Georgia Senate from suburban Atlanta districts, replacing moderate Democrats. Neo-Confederate groups were involved in those campaigns, according to Atlanta Magazine's report. While there is no way to tell what difference that support made in the election's outcome, both were hotly contested elections where the neo-Confederates may have made a difference.

"Both [McGuire and Guhl] allied themselves with the right wing ," said Pellegrini. "Both of them were beholden to the right wing in the election, and they acted like that once they got down [to the Capitol]."

The Senate had been closely divided among moderates and conservatives. This past session, right¬wing Republican conservatives were able to bring along enough conservative Democrats to swing the Senate to the right on abortion funding and some other issues.

Perhaps the most curious thing about the political involvement of the neo-Confederates-and evidence that they may be promoting ideology instead of preserving history-is their consistent support for Republican politicians. During the War Between The States, of course, Republicans were the enemy.

The big test of the power of the neo-Confederate groups will come in November, when Miller faces re-election. Were it not for the flag contretemps, he would probably be a shoo¬in for a second term. Now, according to Pellegrini and other political observers, "that's one flank on which he might be vulnerable."

And while Miller has been no champion of gay and lesbian issues, he has not been hostile to them in the way other candidates, particularly Knox, have been. Neighbors Network has sent servers to "save-the-flag" rallies, and they have talked to people in the crowd to get an idea of why they were there.

According to Reeves, most don't express racist or homophobic sentiments. Many say they are Civil War re-enactors, people who, as a hobby, put on costumes and participate in authentic reenactments of famous battles.

But these people have been drawn into the flag fight because they have bought into a post-Reconstruction view of the Confederacy as some romantic "Gone With The Wind" fantasy and can't understand why Confederate symbols need to be removed, according to Reeves. He says he has come across well educated, thoughtful people who have told him that they believe the Ku Klux Klan was formed to protect Southern rights during Reconstruction and only later became a terrorist group, when in fact evidence is overwhelming that the Klan was a terrorist group from its very inception.

"I find this prostitution of our history to serve this revisionist political agenda to be thoroughly disgusting," said Reeves, a native Georgian whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy.
Gay and lesbian groups have been involved in the effort to change the state flag- most recently during a demonstration at the Georgia Dome during the Super Bowl-but those who have been doing so have, in large part, been motivated by their dislike of racist baggage attached to Confederate symbols.

There are other gays and lesbians, however, who don't share that same dislike. One can occasionally see patrons in gay bars festooned in Confederate attire or a vehicle with a Stars and Bars sticker juxtaposed with a Rainbow Flag.

However, those lesbian and gay people who revere and display Confederate symbols face a different paradox, and they may not even be aware of it.

Though their motivation may be Southern pride, they are casting their lot with the neo-Confederate movement. And the vocal activists in that movement, if they had their druthers, would render all gays and lesbians second-class citizens-whether or not they revere the Cause.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Popular Posts