Once in a while a story comes along that reminds me to be careful about making sweeping generalizations about people. Take Appalachia, the rural and mountainous region that spans many states in the southeastern United States. While a place of great natural beauty, it has long been poor and rural. But ever since the hit 1972 film Deliverance came out, the people of that region have also suffered under the impression that they are uneducated, narrow-minded, inbred, hillbillies. Who can forget the famous dueling banjos scene from the film that cemented this impression?
The southeast part of Ohio is Appalachian country and is the location of the story about how changes in social attitudes are penetrating everywhere. It turns out that the small town of Pomeroy (population 2000) hired a new policeman who was gay. The 78-year old mayor Mary McAngus was not happy about this and shared with the police chief Mark Proffitt her concerns.
“I don’t like a queer working for the Village,” she said, according to a six-page statement Proffitt sent to village council this month. “I might be old-fashioned but I don’t like it.”
Some years ago, nothing may have come of this or the gay police officer may even have been pressured to quit. But in this case the police chief backed the officer because he supports gay rights and has openly an openly gay niece and nephew. As a result it was the mayor who had to quit and the new acting mayor has vowed to heal the community saying, “It just seems so absurd, even in our town in Appalachia, that this could still happen.”
So changes have happened right under our noses, to the extent that the new mayor is surprised that anti-gay attitudes are still present in her community.