by Max Brantley
We had our customary debates on social issues, enlivened this year by instant cell phone polling on three questions I submitted in advance:
* SAME SEX MARRIAGE: 62-38 against.
* RIGHT TO CHOOSE ABORTION BEFORE FETAL VIABILITY (which happens to be the law of the land) 62-38 against.
* MEDICAL MARIJUANA: 50-50.
I wish we could get similar results from Girls State for a full generational blend on these questions from the future leaders of tomorrow. Despite the outcome, there's a definite moderation in outlook. When I said I thought the younger generation was far more tolerant on sexual identity, to the point that I thought in 20 years the debate would be over, I got an encouraging cheer.
I'll say this, too: the friendly remarks afterward were numerous and open, as opposed to the sometimes furtive and isolated thankyous from people who took me aside in years past while no one was looking. And I didn't get booed this year, in contrast to some of the early tumultuous years. Not even when I said I didn't hunt, but did kill fish occasionally.
The Twitter from (see link for ensuing, interesting discussion) Lt. Gov. Mark Darr is an accurate representation of a strong undercurrent of disagreement in the audience. There was real confusion on the part of some in the crowd about the meaning of "choice." To some of the conservatives, choice means they should get to choose which things others may or may not engage in. I said my view of choice was that if you don't want to have an abortion or marry a man you don't have to, but I'd prefer they not proscribe it by others.
Sen. Missy Irvin would have been proud. The audience included one of her sons. He chastised me sharply for talking about tolerance though I had "made fun" of his 12-year-old brother. He also mentioned a cartoon I don't recall — Orval, I presume — that rudely depicted his mother. He received a robust round of applause. I couldn't catch him after for further discussions. He didn't seem to accept my explanation that I was aiming more at his mother than his brother for using his letter to President Obama as a political tool. UPDATE: I suspect this is the cartoon in question. Pretty clearly it's Tommy Durham satire, not a literal declaration of Sen. Irvin's lack of virtue as her son suggested.
Some things are as eternal as, well, the Old Testament. Leviticus was quoted on the immorality of homosexuality. That allowed me to quote the Bible on the evil of wearing woolen/synthetic blends. I was again able to instruct several, that much as their faith might inform them differently, murder is a criminal charge and it does not apply to women who terminate pregnancies before viability. Yet anyway.
I was also able to read this remarkable letter I received recently on Facebook:
Way back in 1997 or so, you spoke at UCA for the Boy's State conference.
Among all of the Legion guys and college-aged counselors during that period on campus as a student in high school, I clearly remember your short talk you gave to us students.
Being a political/civic government type of "camp" full of boisterous and confident teenaged young men, I received a near-constant barrage of anti-gay sentiment. It was par for the course.
But then the editor of that weekly liberal newspaper called the Arkansas Times spoke. We had never heard of your paper back in Russellville.
As a young gay kid in the sea of animosity, your talk affirmed your support for gay people. It's been so long that the specifics have been lost to me but I'll always remember that you were the lone supportive voice during Boy's State.
Later on during the camp, I would go on to meet my first boyfriend at Boy's State. Today I'm happily married to my husband and now live in San Francisco and I'm active in the local PFLAG chapter.
You were the adult in the room who contradicted my idea that -everyone- must feel like these anti-gay, very conservative young men and Legion guys feel. It was so refreshing and it confirmed that I simply lived in a part of the world where I was definitely in the minority.
In the years since, I've seen Arkansas move step by step towards more understanding (the Arkansas legislature not withstanding) and who knows how many other young men of 16 have similarly been affected by your talks at similar events and your columns.
UPDATE: Brandon Brock of San Francisco says he's happy for me to include his name.
A footnote, the young gay married man who met his first date at Boys State is mentioned in one of the amicus briefs at the U.S. Supreme Court in the landmark California gay marriage case. He was mentioned by his brother, writing in behalf of PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays.
I can't say that I changed any hearts or minds today. But a counselor this year told me that he'd quoted Leviticus to me his year in the Q&A at Boys State. Now a college student, he's active in the Gay Straight Alliance and holds a much different worldview. So there's that. Crap though it might be, Mr. Darr.