Sometimes I completely misjudge whether a local story is going to become nationally relevant. A couple of things have happened in my backyard this week, one of which you may have read about yesterday, as it bounced around the corners of the gay-o-sphere and the netroots.
In the first, a softball team with a lesbian coach was banned from joining the softball league at Bellevue Baptist Church:
A local women’s softball coach said her team was banned from a Bellevue Baptist Church league after she acknowledged she is gay.
Jana J. Jacobson said church officials told her the “deviant” lifestyle would prevent the team from competing in Bellevue’s adult women’s softball league.
In May, Jacobson’s team, composed of straight and gay players, many of whom play one night a week in Bartlett, was looking for more games. They discovered Bellevue was allowing teams not associated with the Cordova church to join.
She registered, paid the entry fee and attended the preseason organizational meeting. This included outlines of league rules: no alcohol, smoking or cursing and no offensive terms on uniforms. She does not recall there being any morality clause.
According to Jacobson, Scotty Shows, the church’s recreation minister who also attended the second meeting, told her that because she was gay the team could not play. She was told that the team’s participation would send a message to Bellevue members that the church condoned her lifestyle.
Okay, let me offer a little local perspective for those of you who aren’t familiar with Bellevue. Bellevue Baptist Church is a mega-church of the first order in the Memphis suburbs. They have a congregation somewhere in the neighborhood of 25-27,000 members, a campus which covers many acres in suburban Memphis, and three giant crosses erected on Interstate 40, which are visible for miles. Bellevue was recently the host of a rally called “Stand for the Family,” at which Tony Perkins and Harry Jackson had a contest to see how many times they could invoke the gay menace in two hours. Bellevue also, by virtue of its insane coffers of cash and location, has a great sports complex, which ties them into the greater community. The softball team in question was playing in Bartlett originally, which is just to the north of Bellevue. So when Bellevue put out a call to let outside teams join their softball league, it wasn’t unreasonable for this team, from Bartlett, to say “Hey, that’s an idea,” and give Bellevue a call.
I point all this out so that people understand that this was not a Horde of Angry Lesbians nailing 99 copies of Indigo Girls’ self-titled album to the (truly enormous) doors of the innocent megachurch in the suburbs, which was, incidentally, minding its own business trying to find new and more dramatic ways to hurt gay families. (Grin. That would be a funny protest tactic.) This was simply Bellevue trying to have it both ways: putting out a call to “the community” for more softball teams, and then clenching up and losing it when they found out that members of “the community” were Evil Gays And Lesbians Trying To Ruin Everything.
Just so you all know, Bellevue isn’t faring well in the local PR department over this issue. If you read the comments section from The Commercial Appeal article (linked above), you’ll see that, though there are those who support Bellevue, most of the 865 (and growing) comments are supportive of the softball team.
Bellevue’s actions are not surprising, though. It’s not like the softball team wants to attend church at Bellevue. (As if.) But for a cloistered church like that, which has built a giant wall of separation meant to keep all messages of reality away from its parishioners, the mere presence of happy, healthy, well-adjusted lesbians on the softball field is, indeed, a huge threat. They say they’re worried that it sends a message that they “condone” the “lifestyle,” but when you read between the lines, it’s easy to see what they’re scared of. Bellevue and similar churches have a fierce need to keep as many of their people from knowing the reality of gay people as they possibly can. They know, on some level, that those who know gay people tend to support us, because they can easily see that the Religious Right garbage about LGBT people and families is simply untrue. Those lies only resonate among people who are “protected” from reality, just as the lie of creationism only resonates among those who have never been taught real science.
So hopefully that adds some context to a story you read about yesterday. I promise I’ll try to be better about throwing local stories into the national gay-o-sphere to see if they stick, because I totally heard about this last Saturday at an art opening.
This next story, though, may not get as much press, because it was resolved so quickly and painlessly. A lesbian couple went to the recreation center at the University of Memphis and tried to purchase a family membership, at which point they were rebuffed, because they didn’t meet the criteria of “family” according to the school’s policies. News quickly spread, via Facebook, and many calls were made to the University President’s office. One of those calls was made by yours truly, and I had a lovely conversation with the woman who answered the phone in the President’s office. Those of us who were sounding the alarm on this were trying with all our might to encourage people to be respectful and friendly when they called, though there were a couple of calls made which didn’t fit into that category. Part of the reason that was important was that the University of Memphis has a fairly good track record when it comes to being inclusive and nondiscriminatory, and I had a suspicion that this was more of an oversight than anything else, perhaps an issue that just hadn’t come up. Turns out my suspicion was correct. Wendi Thomas, the best columnist in Memphis, wrote an update to this story yesterday: