I wanted to send this to the News Sentinal as a letter to the editor, but it’s nearly three times the word limit. I seem to have a habit of breaking those. Whatever.
I am a student at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and I am saddened and ashamed that the Tennessee General Assembly is continuing its assault against the office of diversity. I must say that as a white male student, I have never once been harmed by the inclusion of black or female students in the classroom. The problem here is not the office of diversity. It is the General Assembly.
As referenced in your article on 4 march, an earlier tussle with the state government was over “sex week,” where students organized a week that would help educate people about sex and sexuality, which apparently some Christians find immoral and disturbing. On that basis, policy was enacted that decimated the funding available for student-organized events. Conservative Christians were “protected” from sex week, which was designed to plug some of the holes in sexual education in this state. Somehow, they got it into their head that sex week was meant to “promote” sexual immorality or something, so it became a violation of their first amendment rights to allow other people to talk about sex. Funnily enough, they were equally upset when the office of diversity suggested that students who were not Christian should not be forced to pay for Christmas parties. Isn’t it funny how only one type of person seems to have first amendment rights in Tennessee?
Also before the legislature is a bill that would force transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds to the sex marked on their birth certificate. Never mind that enforcing such a law is an absolute joke. There is absolutely nothing sinister about transgender folks using the bathroom. But the legislature has to protect us somehow from the existence of the LGBT community, and if these people are going to the bathroom, well, shucks, who knows what else they’re up to? And then there’s the nonbinding resolution passed by the state house that says the supreme court shouldn’t have legalized gay marriage. Can’t you people just get over it already? You don’t have the right to interfere in these matters. Butt out.
Yet another wonderful bill before our legislature is meant to make it harder to remove statues honoring such towering American heroes as the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Nathan Bedford Forrest founded a racist terrorist organization that has spent more than a hundred years murdering innocent Americans just because they were black, but apparently he accidentally hired some African Americans one time so that makes it all better. This is absolutely phenomenal. A state legislator has completely seriously said that taking down statues honoring Nathan Bedford Forrest would be nothing more than “political correctness.” When referring to Forrest himself, all he could say was that “History will judge him.” Really? That’s the best you can do? Couldn’t you have possibly said that the values of NBF and the KKK do not reflect your values or the values of Tennesseeans? I should hope that history would judge Forrest very harshly. Part of his legacy is the brutal murder of Emmett Till. Forrest himself was long dead when Till was murdered, but Till was murdered by spiritual descendants of Forrest and the organization Forrest started. Of course we should know who Nathan Bedford Forrest is. The problem with having a statue of him is that it portrays him as someone to be admired and respected. How much respect does he deserve from the people of Tennessee? Nothing from the Black people of Tennessee. Nothing from the Catholic people of Tennessee. And nothing from any of the rest of us. This man was not a hero.
But this is all symptomatic of Tennessee’s larger problem. We have these people in office who vote in favor of bills designed specifically to make life harder for anyone who isn’t a white, straight, cisgender, male Christian, and then when other parts of the country perceive us as bigoted we get angry. We get “offended.” It seems we want the world to see us as open and welcoming to minorities so long as no actual minorities show up. It’s time to face facts: actions speak louder than words. It’s a tired expression but it’s also a fact. It’s not enough to tell your white friends that you aren’t racist. It’s not enough to tell you straight cisgender friends that you don’t hate the LGBT community. You’ve got to stop electing these people. They aren’t Americans. They’re just bigots.
I will be watching how each legislator votes on all of these bills. The rest of the country will only see whether the bills pass or fail. Many people in this state will only have to be embarrassed by the actions of our state government. Some of us, however, are being directly harmed. It’s up to all of us to decide what sort of a state we live in.