By James Finn | DETROIT — You know what thrills me about trans and gay youth these days? They no longer assume that they have to detach themselves from their family and community in order to thrive and find love. They can be happy where they are…..
I wrote the above paragraph six years ago. I broke into online writing with a viral essay on another platform titled “Have You Seen My Yellow Brick Road?” I described my journey from closeted teenager to happy middle-aged gay man, remembering running away from my suburban Iowa home in search of “Oz,” a metaphor for love and acceptance, only to find that while I wasn’t looking, Oz had come to me.
“Please,” I wrote in conclusion, “if anyone finds a pair of ruby slippers, burn them!”
Wow, have things changed since I wrote this
Someone asked me a question on an LGBTQ Facebook group yesterday: “Where do you see the fight for queer equality going in the next decade?” I hated what my answer had to be because it means the borders of Oz are receding.
“We are going to have to focus,” I wrote, “on building strong communities in cities and states where Democrats are in charge, and we are going to have to reach out to our gay brothers and sisters in red states. . We’re going to have to make room for them to join us, and we’re going to have to work to provide vital and supportive services to queer people, especially children, stuck where they are.
What I meant was that we’re gonna end up breaking up again.
It may not mean a return to the densely populated gay neighborhoods we relied on – which were emptying out because we needed them less – but we are already seeing the beginnings of what could turn into a great migration. In my own circles of queer friends, people are already leaving the southern/heartland/red states…or they’re talking about it seriously. Prism and Pen Writer Logan Silkwood sells his house and travels 1,719 miles in search of his and his wife’s personal Oz.
A queer exodus from the red states has already begun
Not a day goes by that I don’t see posts on social media from gay people from Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Oklahoma or Idaho looking for a job or a job. housing in blue states, or announcing that they are moving. And why not? According to Brody Levesque in the LA blade yesterday, investigations into the “child abuse” of parents of trans children in Texas resumed after a court struck them down. What parent will live with this fear? The US Air Force is even cooperating by allowing families with trans children to leave Texas early without a strike against their service record.
Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roll down the highways every day with Confederate battle flags flapping in the wind.
LGBTQ people are leaving Florida even though Miami has a reputation for being LGBTQ friendly. South Beach is actually one of our gay neighborhoods. Gay couples talk about leaving or trying to leave because of a hostile state government with its don’t say gay law, and with the probability that things will get worse.
Yesterday, for example, The Washington Post presented a story about Nicolette Solomon, a young lesbian who has just quit her job at Miami-Dade County Public Schools. She says his marriage to his wife sparked so much suspicion and hostility in the workplace that “it didn’t seem possible to be a lesbian and a teacher in Florida anymore.”
And it’s in liberal Miami!
Will she shift to a different state to seek the happiness and fulfillment she used to find in teaching? She doesn’t know yet.
Solomon is one of several gay teachers who have already quit in Florida, citing the recent death don’t say gay right. Several of them are actively seeking jobs in blue states.
LGBTQ people also think twice about purple states
Yesterday, the lawyer presented a story about an elite private school in “purple” Maryland that denied admission to 11-year-old Brayden Stratton. Megan Stratton and Jennifer Dane applied to the non-denominational Christian school because their son has friends there and because the school has an excellent academic reputation. They wanted him to have a head start in life, but the school turned him down because his mothers are engaged.
Would you stay in a community that rejects you? I think this is an important question, because this family is only the tip of a growing iceberg. Since same-sex marriage became legal, some institutions, usually conservative Christians, have used it to reject LGBTQ people, and the problem is getting worse. I don’t know what Megan and Jennifer are planning, but I imagine they’ve at least thought about what it would be like to live where they’re no strangers in a foreign country – where their high-achieving child would be welcome or even recruited from an elite school attended by his friends.
Abortion will soon separate us too. It’s already started.
Supreme Court commentator and legal analyst Mark Joseph Stern wrote an important article in Slate yesterday, detailing how the fight for women’s reproductive freedom is moving to the state level. He says blue state legislatures, after years of relative inaction, have focused on passing laws to make abortion more accessible and affordable:
This is the irony of our current moment: the most immediate impact of the Supreme Court’s impending assault on abortion rights has been…an expansion of abortion rights.
But he warns this comes at the cost of a greater national divide. Authorities in red states are already preparing (as in Oklahoma) to ban abortion from “the moment of conception” and seek to impose punitive legal consequences on women who leave the state to have abortions.
Faced with this, will some women in Oklahoma and similar states decide to move? Certainly not all women will have this economic freedom, just as not all LGBTQ people can afford to leave the red states, but some undoubtedly will. I think the only real question is: How big will the exodus be?
Christian nationalism has already made racism and xenophobia respectable again
The same white Christian nationalism behind the anti-LGBTQ persecution and the war on women’s reproductive freedom fuels racism. The “replacement theory” nonsense, regularly featured on Fox News and extremist internet corners like 4chan, was once fringe. But as Fabiola Cineas explored in Voice on Wednesday, the “replacement theory” became commonplace within the Republican Party. White Christian nationalists are panicking over a shortage of “white babies,” and unabashed racism is back in fashion.
Where I live in rural Michigan, trucks roll down the highways every day with Confederate battle flags flapping in the wind. We share a border with Canada. I can only get beans from Amazon. No one thinks these flags represent the heritage of the South.
We all know they mean racism. We know they refer to the Christian nationalist militias, the Proud Boys and the insurrection, increasing national division. Most of my neighbors excuse or defend this.
I haven’t seen a person of color in weeks. Black people don’t live here in the villages of western Michigan. I would have to drive over an hour to Grand Rapids to find black families and black-owned businesses, and even then only in certain neighborhoods.
It’s not unusual.
In New York last week, the “replacement theory” led to mass murder – a young white man motivated by racial hatred walked into a supermarket full of black people and gunned down as many as he could.
This is the kind of division I’m talking about.
The United States may have ended legal segregation, but voluntary segregation never went away. That shooter from New York? He left his predominantly white community to kill black people in a majority black neighborhood.
Voluntary segregation does not mean freely chosen
When black people, gay people, immigrants and women find themselves separated from significant parts of the nation, living apart from conservatives, Christian nationalists or racists, it is not because we collectively want or choose to do it.
Individual human beings like Nicolette Solomon, Megan Stratton, and Logan Silkwood make rational, practical decisions. They don’t have the luxury of basing their life choices on strategy or activism. They must do their best for themselves and their families.
Division and segregation stem from failure to protect human rights
If Congress had ever succeeded in passing the LGBTQ Equality Act, the don’t say gay laws burning in red states would be unenforceable. Texas would not be allowed to track parents of trans children as “child molesters”. If the Supreme Court wasn’t about to strike down roe deer and thereby denying women’s basic human rights, women would not make hard choices about where to live. Had the Supreme Court not eviscerated voter protection for black people, political power would be more evenly distributed.
The right in the United States is now largely the Christian nationalist right, up to the highest levels of the Republican leadership, even if it does not and cannot have a majority of the American people on its side.
What this means in the short term is conflict, physical separation and growing political division.
That means we’re all going to have to figure out where our personal Oz is and what road leads there.
The United States of America is less united than it has been for a long time, and a lack of commitment to freedom and human rights explains a lot. Where do we go from here?
Can the Democratic Party take decisive control of Congress in November? Can the radically conservative Supreme Court be reformed and brought back into line with the majority of Americans? Can freedom and human rights enter the public arena as important values?
Yes, if we all work hard to get there! Yes, if we go to the polls in November!
I’ll work for it, you can bet your ruby slippers. But in the meantime, I keep my eyes on Oz. What do you think? Where’s your Oz?
James Finn is a columnist for LA Blade, a former Air Force intelligence analyst, alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, and an unpublished “agent” novelist. Send questions, comments and story ideas to [email protected]
The previous article was previously published by Prism & Pen – Amplifying LGBTQ voices through the art of storytelling and is republished with permission.