Glenn Garner (right) the day a NOH8 representative visited the school campus
Growing up in the South, I craved snow the way most children crave summer. I remember the wonder that arrived with my first snowfall. I looked at the vast white acre behind my childhood home and was in awe. In Terry, Mississippi, it was a true anomaly.
I would not be doing Terry justice if I said it was a complete exception to the Southern stereotype of discrimination and irrational hate. Although I was not the subject of a childhood cliché of homophobic bullying and abuse, it was not dumb luck. In the back of my mind, I assumed what is so obvious to me now: The South would rather live in utter ignorance than confront something that makes them uncomfortable. My high school had an unwritten code of "don’t ask, don’t tell."
I took the first opportunity to relocate as far away as possible. I never would have imagined opportunity would take me to Flagstaff, Arizona. The little mountain town proved to be an accepting environment for a diverse population. It was a refreshing adjustment to find such an organized queer community. In the first month, I was elected to the executive board of PRISM, the student-run LGBTQA organization.
My goal was to discover myself and the culture I was not exposed to back in Mississippi. I wanted to gain the college experience. Before long, I had an eccentric group of friends. Like me, they just seemed like more kids trying to find themselves. What better place than college?
Admittedly, I had fun. In some ways, I was getting the quintessential high school experience that I'd been deprived of. The excessive partying was only a minor distraction from my studies but a bigger distraction from myself.
Instead, I discovered the true nature of others. There was the campus bully posing as an advocacy leader (which created a horrible dynamic for our community.) There was the college graduate sticking around town with a dead-end job in order to relive school like a teen movie clique queen. There was the professor from my department who liked to get drunk beyond his limit at parties and sexually harass students.
Although they referred to each other as family, they wasted no time turning on one other during the slightest bout. Referring to themselves as the "Glitter Mafia," their unconventional idea of camaraderie sort of made sense, with its deluded sense of power. Unfortunately, it encouraged them to make wild threats to "ruin" people of our own community. “Kill yourself,” was a common phrase hurled nonchalantly to take someone down.
So, as it turned out, it was as if I had never left high school. They even maintained a private Facebook group to serve as their own "burn book" in which they slandered anyone with whom they disagreed. On occasion, they discriminated against those with disabilities. For a group that knew Mean Girls verbatim, it seemed they would have learned the moral of the story.
I'm aware I belong to a generation notorious for "throwing shade," but it sometimes feels like it's all we have become. Past generations were taking this anger and channeling it into a movement. I was under the impression we were demanding acceptance from everyone. What is the point if some of us cannot even accept each other?
Now that I live in Flagstaff (elevation 7,000 feet), the snow is not so rare. Since it's become a common part of my life, a cold and wet inconvenience, I don't cherish it as much as I did as a kid back in Terry, Mississippi. I've moved on. But I'm still seeking that acceptance that a strong community can bring.
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