Henagar Drive-In Keeps the Ball Rolling on Sand Mountain, Alabama’s Bigotry

By Jennifer Lynn – Princess Garden, Festival of Fantasy Parade

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/12/2017.

I am not excited about going to see Disney’s latest rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” Seriously, how many times does Disney need to tell this story? I didn’t care for the animated version, and I’m sure I won’t like this one either. It offends my feminist and anti-bestiality sensibilities to watch a story about a man, turned to a beast, that holds a woman hostage until she falls in love with him.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there’s a ridiculous boycott of Disney because some Christians detect a hint of gayness in one of the characters. Friends called me recently and said the wife and I have to go to support Disney. I’m always up for a protest, especially a gay one but they’re really starting to push my limits. I’d considered bailing until I heard about the Alabama drive-in that banned the film claiming it violated their Christian beliefs. I won’t feign surprise, but I did take it personally.

You see, I’m from Alabama, and I dearly love much about it. I grew up in Huntsville which is in the most northern part of the state. It is the home of Redstone Arsenal where my father’s father was a colonel, and to the Space and Rocket Center where my mother’s parents worked with Boeing on the Apollo series.  Huntsville is a hub for engineers and as such, people come from all over the world to work there.

Alabamians joke that you can tell a Huntsvillian because we don’t have that heavy, mumble drawl you hear when listening to Jeff Sessions. My accent might occasionally slip out and it’s getting worse the older I get, but for the most part people here in California have no idea that I was raised in the Bible Belt. Huntsvillians also tend to be more educated and welcoming of different cultures. By no means am I saying there is no racism or bigotry there. There is just like anywhere else. It’s just not as Deliverence-ish as many parts of Alabama.

So when I read that the Alabama drive-in was the Henagar Drive-In, an area that I know well, this Alabama girl lost it. The owner of the drive-in, Carol Laney stated,

“This by no means is sending a message of hatred or bigotry. However, we are Christians first and foremost and must adhere to our Bible and to our Christianity.”

That’s a lovely quote by Carol, but she’s full of shit. First of all, Jesus never said a word against homosexuality. She is taking words from the Bible that were never attributed to Jesus Christ. Secondly, announcing that your actions are not “hatred or bigotry” is basically signalling that they are indeed bigoted and full of hate. Let’s just be honest about this, Carol is using this as an means to draw attention and get business for her drive-in, and it’s working. Next thing you know, she’ll have a fundraiser set up because people are boycotting her.

What Carol and the media have failed to tell it’s readers is that Henagar is located in an area referred to as Sand Mountain. This area has a rich history of racist and bigoted crimes that anyone raised in north Alabama is well aware of. It’s not the type of history that you’ll find in any textbook though. Towns is this region are referred to as “sundown towns,” meaning blacks should not be out in public after sundown. There were even signs posted stating, “N***er don’t let the sun set on you in Sand Mountain.” This was not a joke. And even though those signs were long gone by the time I was a teenager in the 80’s, we all knew the KKK, the League of United Southerners (now known as The League of the South) and Confederate groups ruled that area.

All you need to know about Henagar was that my friends and I (black and white) referred to it as “Hang a n****er.” 

But even if you are not from that region, you should be aware of the Scottsboro Boys story. Scottsboro is twenty-five minutes west of Henagar and part of the Sand Mountain region. In 1931, nine young black men were traveling on a freight train through Scottsboro when they were accused of raping two white women. Sheriff Matt Wann stood in the doorway of the small jail and threatened to kill anyone of the KKK mob who attempted to take his prisoners. They’re intent was to lynch all nine of the men without a trial. The young men were convicted by all white juries and spent as much as nineteen years behind bars before their convictions were overturned.

Though one of the women eventually recanted her story, that didn’t stop the KKK from getting their revenge on Sheriff Wann. He was murdered in 1932. Records from that time are conveniently missing, but everyone in Alabama knows it was the Klan that pulled that trigger, or as we would say, “The Klan done it.”

Henagar itself is over 96% white according to the 2010 U.S. Census. I’m sure there are many residents that are not racist, and maybe Carol is one of them, but there’s been a rise in hate groups and crimes since the Trump administration has taken control. My wife and I recently cancelled our trip to Alabama because we fear these homophobic people who now feel emboldened by Trump. It angers me that I cannot introduce her to the many great things about Alabama. I don’t even feel comfortable visiting my alma mater, Auburn University. It is my home state whether these bigots like it or not.  I am an Auburn Tiger through and through. These people don’t have a right to take away my Alabama simply because they have “deeply held beliefs.” What about my deeply held beliefs?

Back in the day, it was acceptable to be a Klan member, to be a sundown town. Today it’s acceptable to claim your bigotry is justified because the Bible tells you so. A trade up from the region’s anti-black heritage to anti-gay I suppose. Someone should tell Carol that bigotry is still hatred whether you drape it in a Confederate flag or a Bible. They should also tell her that Jesus wasn’t about hate.

War Damn Eagle my friends!

 

 

Dear Christian Values Voters

Dear Christian Values Voters,

I was raised a Christian in Alabama. Though as an adult I identify more as an agnostic, I’m still a believer of Christ’s teachings. I would like to think that I still follow his core principles of love and kindness toward others. However, I have found I do not need a church or Bible to convince me that this is the path I should follow. I do not need to be threatened by an eternity in Hell to lead a moral life. If you do, that is your business and not mine.

I am also a gay American. Something that I have known my entire life. This was and is not embraced by my family. They have not been able to “judge not, lest they be judged.” Ashamed, I hid this part of myself from them for over 19 years. When I was outed not by choice, my mother beat me until I relented. I stayed in the closet another 5 years. It wasn’t until after college, after I became a federal agent and moved to San Diego that I came out. My family tried but never understood, never fully accepted. Amongst my family, I am often referred to as “The Faggot” when I am not around. I am never around. Today my family is of my choosing, not of my birth.

But you should know that my family was not the only reason I hid my true self. A great deal of my shame came from you, Christian values voters. I was taught to be ashamed  by you. I hated myself because of you and your rhetoric. And though I know not all Christians espouse this nonsense, those that do have had a great influence on our leaders and therefore on us as citizens. Specifically, I am referring to those in the Republican Party.

During my teenage years, I watched as the evangelicals and other homophobic Christian groups attached themselves to the Republican Party. It was during these years that homophobic phrases were used in everyday conversations: “That’s so queer,” or “Don’t be a fag,” or “That’s so gay.” President Reagan refused to recognize AIDS and fund research because he thought it was a gay man’s disease and that they were deserving of such horrible, painful deaths, and many of you agreed. So much so that many of you stopped pouring all of your spare change into your churches and communities, and instead funded candidates and PACS with an anti-gay agenda.

I watched as our government refused to let gays serve in the military. As if we were any less American or patriotic. As if we were somehow a threat to our country. I watched as DOMA was enacted and led to more vicious witch hunts of my people. I witnessed the brutal beatings and killings of young gay men. I saw trans men and women being killed. I read about lesbians being beaten by straight men. And for what? For being discovered as gay, for talking with a lisp, for being effeminate, for refusing a man’s advances. And then I witnessed our courts consider the homophobic excuses of these people; that somehow their prejudicial, misguided ignorant opinions were valid legal defenses. That the thought of a gay man hitting on a straight man was a valid defense for homicide. That simply being trans was enough to beat or kill a person. That having a religious objection to homosexuality was a valid defense.

I watched as your religious bigotry escaped your pulpits and bled into our democracy, influencing my legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. I remember when the president of the United States held a press conference to announce a constitutional amendment against gay marriage. I vividly recall watching Senators stand before my Congress to discuss how I was akin to a pedophile, a sexual predator. I watched as members of a government that I pay taxes for claimed that should gay marriage be allowed, we would have to allow pedophilia, bestiality, necrophilia and polygamy. My own government, my own elected officials.

Today, even as gay marriage is legal, I watch you all continue to try and influence my life. From your petty bathroom bills to continuing to deny housing, jobs and healthcare to the LGBTQ, you just won’t quit. You refuse to “judge not lest thee be judged.” You cannot “love thy neighbor.” You refuse to “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” Your latest and greatest is that your religious beliefs are “deeply held.” As if your beliefs are any more deeply held than any others. As if your religion is the only religion, that your religious freedom is the only freedom that counts.

And now your bigotry and hatred of gays and others you don’t agree with has completely taken over your so called deeply held religious beliefs. You are willing to vote for a man who has never once in his life espoused or acted in a Christian way. You are wiling to vote for a man who’s only guiding principle in life has been to do for himself no matter the cost to others. A man who lied to get out of serving his country. A man who has committed adultery too many times to count. A man who has assaulted women. Who has cheated the system in any way he could to benefit himself. Who will lie to anyone and everyone to get what he wants. A man who does not care about your Christian values unless it will win him this election. A man who cannot quote a single Bible verse correctly.

I don’t want to ever hear about your “deeply held religious beliefs” again. You cannot vote for this disgusting, sinful man and claim that the only thing that matters to you are the teachings of Jesus Christ or the Bible. If you vote for Trump, do not ever stand before a judge or legislature claiming that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian teachings and must therefore remain so. Do not ever bring your Ten Commandments into any of my government branches again. Do not ever hold your perverted religious views over me again.