Despite the additional difficulties of life in conservative East Tennessee, community members use their past experiences to strengthen their resolve to make the area a place where GLBT people can work, live, and thrive.

In response to a request for reader’s experiences, several replies tell stories of obstacles overcome and hurdles cleared. The first one comes from David Shuler, Knoxville resident, who looks back over some of the challenges that came from being a gay Tennessean.

“I grew up in a FundamentalistBaptistChurch... where outside [of] eating once a day and breathing, everything else [was] wrong, and you shouldn't do it,” quips Shuler. “Let’s just say I was scared to even breath too much, or do or say or touch anything,” he adds.

The burdens placed on the young people who come out in highly conservative and fundamentalist contexts often leave scars that last a lifetime. Despite the best efforts of many organizations, the GLBT people who are exposed to hate speech in childhood have much more difficulty coming out and pursuing a happy life.

Adding her voice is Ruth Holloway whose childhood and teen years were spent in Monterrey, a little burg about half way between Nashville and Knoxville. She explains that because her parents were both employees of the local school, her growing-up years were spent as a high visibility kid – not a very comfortable place from which to come out. She speaks of feeling set apart from her peers in several ways, including the fact that her parents were much older than the parents of her friends and with regard to income despite the efforts of her hard-working parents.

“Our church was Woodcliff Missionary Baptist, [located] a couple of miles outside the city limits. In fact, my Holloway ancestors gave the land for the church to the community, and the land next to it was given for a cemetery by my Swafford ancestors. Rumor [said the] woman was a witch,” notes Holloway. “I guess I always wondered what the big damn difference was in all the different types of churches. I mean there were First Baptists, Freewill Baptists, Missionary Baptists - and that was only a part of the Baptists. Then there were the Methodists, Church of Christ, Pilgrim Holiness, Nazarene, etc.... and on and on. Maybe I figured it was just people who wanted bigger, nicer buildings. I don't know,” she continues.

Holloway recalls the things she had in common with her peers as well including her pets and her tomboy style with accompanying boyish mischief.

“Of course, I was what most would call a tomboy. I was tough, yet scared to death. I threatened to fight pretty much most of my evil male cousins and a couple of mean girls that were bully-types. I played with ‘boy’ toys – cars, guns, football, baseball, etc. I played with boys when I had someone with which to play.  I climbed trees, threw like a boy, and rode my small horses,” reflects Holloway.

Fast forward to current time and Holloway paints a picture that is familiar to many of us.

“The fundamentalists are driving this country back to the Victorian age. I am extremely angry with this. I am a very strict proponent of separation of church and state. No matter what, government should not be run from the pulpit. I don't believe God cares about government. [God cares about] people. I don't believe…that the state should allow the things that are presently going on to dismantle the Constitution [and our] basic civil rights and liberties and replace it with a virtual police state or religious document. I am a strong advocate of the First Amendment, of the Bill of Rights, and of the expanded Amendments, which promote the liberties of individuals. And, on the other hand, I want to believe that John 3:16 is true,” asserts Holloway. She also acknowledges that life in a more liberal environment may have meant less guilt and fewer obstacles to self-actualization.

This realization is often a part of life for GLBTs who leave the area to live in a more progressive climate. However, the urge to return home and “give back to the community” is strong for many.

As we go forward as a community and movement in East Tennessee, the future will certainly be clouded with struggle. It is also bright with hope for positive change.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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