And what I hear is grim. She tells me that most of the city is now strongly Republican. No surprise there, though when I was a child, most Alabamians were still Democrats. What's alarming is hearing that a significant percentage are either openly Tea Party or Teabagger sympathizers. So, if you're familiar with the tenants of the TP crowd and Far-Right Republicans, you know what this means. Among other things, it means I can rejoice in the geography and the climate, the beautiful mountains and forests, and even in those aspects of Southern culture that are dear to me. But I cannot hope ever to live here again in the atmosphere of tolerance and progressive mindsets that I have grown accustomed to in Rhode Island. The hate and willful ignorance that have swept across America since 2008 have sunk deep roots in Leeds. This is not a place where gays and transgender people can live without the risk of violence, in a worst-case scenario, or a low-level persecution and harassment, in best-case scenario. The conservative attitudes that have always characterized this town have become inflamed into hostility towards most of those things I hold dear and vital to a healthy nation, or, indeed, to any healthy civilization.
And see, all I really want is to be left alone.
Out on I-20, which parallels Leeds, there's an enormous billboard that reads, "ANTI-RACIST IS A CODE WORD FOR ANTI-WHITE." On the one hand, the mayor of Leeds has denounced the billboard. On the other hand, it's still right there, screaming at thousands of motorists every damn day. It should be noted that, as of the 2010 Census, 14.3% of Leeds residents were black and 6.6% identified as Hispanic or Latino. And they have to see this billboard.
Now, to be fair, I've been walking around Leeds since Monday morning, and, so far, neither Kathryn – with her blue hair – nor I – a 6'3" transgender woman – have gotten any shit from anyone. Not even in Wal-Mart. And obviously there are good people in this town who have not given themselves over the bigotry of the Far Right, who do not believe there should be an automatic weapon in every home, who do not condemn government programs to aid the poor, who are not creationists, who are not racists, and who do not hate GLBT people. I want to be clear that I know this. But I suspect those people are few and far between. And I keep being told of this or that cousin, uncle, or aunt who have actually become Tea Party supporters. People I once considered sane and kindly.
And it makes me ill. I want to be here, surrounded by the landscape of my childhood, but, at the same time, hearing such news makes me want to head back to New England.
I just had to put this into words.