As the first days of June usher in Pride Month, a celebration of gay people of all stripes, it can feel like certain enclaves of America where LGBTQ people are welcomed and accepted are the norm — or, at the very least, that it’s increasingly socially unacceptable to be openly homophobic.
But the country is still dappled with countless pockets where the attitude is so stridently different that elected lawmakers feel comfortable publicly making violent jokes or threatening some of their constituents.
Carbon Hill, Alabama
One such pocket is Carbon Hill, Alabama, population 2,000. The small city is headed by Republican Mayor Mark Chambers who said on his official government page that he ran for local politics because his hometown “was not going in a positive direction.”
Chambers took to his Facebook page on Friday, writing in all caps: “We live in a society where homosexuals lecture us on morals, transvestites lecture us on human biology, baby killers lecture us on human rights and socialists lecture us on economics.” (The post has since been removed).
One of his friends responded: “By giving the minority more rights than the majority. I hate to think of the country my grandkids will live in unless somehow we change and I think that will take a revolution.”
Chambers didn’t miss a beat: “The only way to change it would be to kill the problem out. I know it’s bad to say but without killing them out there’s no way to fix it.”
Chambers initially denied the comments to local station WBRC.
“I don’t think I posted that. I think that’s somebody else’s post,” he said.
His memory must have returned to him quickly, as he called the station back within minutes.
“I never said anything about killing out gays or anything like that,” Chambers said. “That’s in a revolution. That’s right! If it comes to a revolution in this country both sides of these people will be killed out.”
Though he told the local outlet that he wasn’t worried about criticisms and that there was only one (unnamed) person in the whole town who didn’t like him, he ultimately posted an apology on his now-private page.
On Wednesday, Chambers told local outlet The Daily Mountain Eagle that he does not intend to resign.
Northern Escambia County, Florida
One state to the south, another embattled lawmaker is trying to hang on to his career.
State Rep. Mike Hill (R-FL) was speaking at a meeting of the Women for Responsible Legislation two weeks ago when an audience member asked why a different lawmaker had sponsored a bill about workplace protections for LGBTQ people. Hill said that he didn’t know, but launched into his theory that homosexuality is a choice.
“Someone’s sexual orientation, their proclivity to want to do something, that is your business,” Hill said. “It’s a behavior, and it’s a choice. You can say I was born that way. Okay, well fine, but nobody is forcing you to engage in that relationship, even if you were born that way. It doesn’t meet the qualifications of being a protected status.”
An audience member piped up. “In 1 Corinthians, it says that a man who has an affair with another man will be put to death.”
“It says that in the Old Testament, too,” Hill responded. Someone else in the audience asked if Hill would enshrine the biblical text in legislation — e.g., threatening gay people with the death penalty.
“I wonder how that would go over,” Hill quipped.
The incident sparked widespread outrage, with even the Republican House Speaker and the Rules Committee chairman calling for him to apologize.
Hill was indignant.
https://t.co/aaEtmBCffj. Absurd to ask me to apologize for a statement that I did not make and that no one took seriously. This is a social media lynching!
— Mike Hill (@MikeHillfl) June 1, 2019
He later released a statement apologizing for…not correcting the man’s mis-cited Bible verse.
“Specifically, one man I had never met said the Bible in 1 Corinthians calls for a man having an affair with another man to be put to death,” he said in the statement. “If the man was referring to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, that text says nothing about anyone being put to death. It simply states people who practice various sins will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
“I apologize for not directly responding to the fact that the premise for this question was inaccurate,” he continued. “I deeply regret how the tone of my response to a constituent was received at this event. I believe that no matter one’s race, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, economic status or otherwise, that all lives are created equal in the image of God.”
He has so far ignored calls for his resignation.
Coffee County, Tennessee
Over in Tennessee, a district attorney is also falling prey to his own words.
A video surfaced from a 2018 speech Coffee County District Attorney Craig Northcott gave to a group of pastors, during which he said that he would not prosecute domestic abuse cases for gay couples because he, personally, does not recognize the marriages as valid.
“D.A.’s have what’s called prosecutorial discretion,” he said. “Y’all need to know who your D.A. is — y’all give us a LOT of authority whether you know it or not… we can choose to prosecute anything, and we can choose not to prosecute anything, up to and including murder. It’s our choice, unfettered, so to deal with that you elect a good Christian man as D.A. and they’ll make sure that they at least don’t get prosecuted criminally.”
“So the social engineers on the Supreme Court decided that we now have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them,” he continued. “What do I do with domestic assaults?… The reason that there’s extra punishment on domestic assaults is to recognize and protect the sanctity of marriage. And I said there’s no marriage to protect. So I don’t prosecute them as domestics.”
A growing number of attorneys have signed a letter asking for an ethics investigation to be launched into Northcott.
The attorney has not spoken out since the incident.
There are countless advocates and movements throughout the country to counter attitudes like these and to affirm the basic humanity of gay people. But this Pride month, in 2019, four years since legal gay marriage became the law of the land, these three men remind us how much further there is to go.
“It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote then for the majority in Obergefell v. Hodges. “Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions.”
“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”