Facebook and Twitter were all aflutter this week about Vicco, Kentucky, thanks to a wonderful segment on The Colbert Report about “People Who Are Destroying America.” The segment zeroed in on Mayor Johnny Cummings, the openly gay major of Vicco, which also happens to be the smallest town in the country to pass an LGBT fairness ordinance. In typical Colbert fashion, the segment exposes the hypocrisy of the idea that if the LGBT community is offered any kind of equality then we are all going to hell in a handbasket.
One would assume that Vicco, a coal-mining town in eastern Kentucky, would be repressive on such issues. It’s in a conservative southern state and we all know that gays and lesbians cannot possibly live openly in the South–at least that’s what mainstream media usually tells us. But as I argued in an op-ed in the New York Times last October, the South is far more nuanced about LGBT issues than its often given credit for. A few months later, the Times concurred with its own piece on Vicco from which the Colbert Report probably got the idea.
This is not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Here, in North Carolina, citizens voted to amend the state constitution to make doubly sure that there would be no such thing as gay marriage in the Tarheel State. It was already illegal, but conservatives felt the need to batten down the hatches in order to protect traditional marriage.
And yet, today marks the beginning of Charlotte Pride Week celebrating all things LGBT. It will culminate with a two-day festival in Uptown, which last year attracted more than 20,000 people and is increasing its number of corporate sponsors. This South exists, too.
We could all learn something from Johnny Cummings, his friends, and the town of Vicco–namely, that the South is not a monolith and while religious, right-wing zealots within the region may push their own agendas, they don’t always win.