“Why Do You Live in a Backwoods Place like Oklahoma?”
December 9, 2013 by Guest contributor
Mark Beutler, a freelance journalist living in Oklahoma City. He currently writes for the Oklahoma Gazette and Slice magazine. He has served as chairman of Red Tie Night, the state's single-largest fundraiser providing help for those living with HIV/AIDS. He is an award-winning disc jockey, television reporter and Oklahoma's biggest Cher fan.
Friends living out-of-state routinely ask me that question. Quite often they will hear about Oklahoma on the late-night talk shows. The comedians love us.
Who can forget a member of our state legislature saying gays are worse than terrorists? And then Ellen's hilarious phone call to that woman’s office: “Hi, this is Ellen DeGeneres. You know, the gay one?”
But we aren’t just fodder for the comedians. Rachel Maddow loves us. And Jon Stewart. And Bill Maher. Well, love is a strong word. They like to point out and ridicule Oklahoma for some of its policies and intolerant behavior. The thing is, there are many of us in Oklahoma who are watching TV, cheering on Rachel, Jon and Bill.
By now many have undoubtedly heard the brouhaha over our National Guard and same-sex benefits. But the latest series of setbacks have yet to make national news. First, Stillwater, Oklahoma (home to the OSU Cowboys and Garth Brooks) hosted the Red Dirt Film Festival. Playwright Del Shores' new film “Southern Baptist Sissies” was being screened, when half-way through during a same-sex kiss, the venue owner abruptly pulled the plug on the projector. Ironically, the film went on to receive “Best Film” and “Best Actor,” in spite of only half of it being shown. The venue owner later said it was all a misunderstanding.
Now, less than a month later, the OKC Theater Company is staging “The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told.” It is a satirical look at “Adam and Steve” in the Garden of Eden. Remember the state leader who said gays are worse than terrorists? Her husband is the pastor at a local Baptist church. He and nearly 100 of his fellow anti-gay co-horts are demanding the play be closed and the producers and actors held accountable to law enforcement for violating Oklahoma's obscenity laws. Their demands were sent to the Governor’s office, to all members of the state legislature, as well as the Oklahoma County District Attorney's office and Sheriff’s office.
The play’s courageous producer and actors have not backed down or cowered to pressure. Hundreds of emails have been pouring into the producer's mailbox, including bomb threats. But we have had enough senseless bombings in Oklahoma.
The pastor and his followers staged a prayer vigil on opening night “to pray for our society.” Couldn’t their time have been better spent this holiday season by helping the poor or the elderly, feeding families or doing something that would actually benefit people?
So why live in a backwoods state like Oklahoma? Because it wasn’t always this way. My great-grandparents helped settle this state. They worked a farm and raised a family; they were staunch Democrats and believed in helping others.
I stay because this is my home. I stay because I want to make Oklahoma a kinder, gentler state for the next generation. If the Stonewall Generation had thrown in the towel in 1969, where would we all be today?
In Oklahoma we like to think we are progressive with our new NBA team, the Thunder, our thriving downtown and our relatively good economy. While outnumbered, we are a state with a few welcoming congregations preaching the Gospel message to love all our neighbors as ourselves. But we have a long way to go in achieving a fair and just Oklahoma for everyone.
So when Rachel Maddow or Jon Stewart or Bill Maher pokes fun at Oklahoma, remember there are many of us here who don’t think like the narrow-minded people making headlines. We are laughing right along with you.
We are Americans who love baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. But many of us also love Obama, gun control and Cher. We remain here struggling for equality and tolerance. And we could use your help, if it's only a kind word.
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