Tuesday, January 3, 2023

La Shonda Mims's "Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists"

La Shonda Mims is an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Middle Tennessee State University.

She applied the "Page 99 Test" to her new book, Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists: Queer Women in the Urban South, and reported the following:
The following two paragraphs are taken directly from page 99 of Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists. This chapter addresses the political climate for queer Pride celebrations in 1980s Charlotte, North Carolina. Although my book focuses on lesbian life in the urban queer South, these paragraphs introduce religious leaders who worked to limit the space available for all queer people to gather and celebrate during Charlotte’s “conservative renaissance.” The first paragraph profiles pastors who targeted Mayor Harvey Gantt, pleading with him to adopt their position on the sale of pornographic materials, which they equated to queer sexuality.
Religious leaders in Charlotte, some of whom held political aspirations, pressured Gantt to act against the sale of sexually explicit material, which they linked to lesbians and gay men. Adopting the moniker Concerned Charlotteans, the group focused on materials sold in the Charlotte Douglas Airport. Pastor Ed Adams of Charlotte’s Word of Faith Church was one of many religious leaders who wrote to Gantt and rebuked him for his supposed lack of action on the issue. Gantt faced a city that was not ready for vocal mayoral support of lesbian and gay concerns. Buoyed by their powerful status, religious leaders equated homosexuality with what they deemed to be pornographic material—and saw both as similarly harmful to Charlotte. In response to Gantt’s answers when questioned by Concerned Charlotteans, Adams wrote, “I hate to think that the Mayor of our city thinks that Playboy and Penthouse aren’t pornographic. Also your answer to, ‘do you believe homosexual acts should be legalized’ concerns me. Surely you know what homosexual acts are.” Adams pleaded with Gantt to “use the position that God has entrusted to you” so that “the city of Charlotte will know that its major is a man of integrity indeed.” The founding member of Concerned Charlotteans, Reverend Joseph Chambers, was profiled by the Charlotte Observer in a 1986 examination of his organization’s expansion of its focus to include homosexuality, abortion, and prayer in schools. The piece opened with Chambers examining a Rolling Stone magazine that featured an article on his activism: “The Rev. Joseph Chambers flips through a September issue of Rolling Stone magazine until a picture catches his eye. ‘Do you think this promotes lesbian sex?’ he asks, pointing to a Bloomingdale’s department store ad. Two pages later, there’s a color photograph of Chambers, standing with a Bible in front of a glowing cross and a U.S. flag. The article, about North Carolina’s one-year-old obscenity law, mentions Chambers and his anti-pornography group, Concerned Charlotteans.”

Charlotte’s anti-gay activism made national news that year, but because of archconservative senator Jesse Helms, the state as a whole would also gain notoriety in this arena. Just three years after the national investigative television news show 20/20 joined Rolling Stone magazine in highlighting Charlotte’s energetic, conservative religious movement, Vice President Dan Quayle attended the fifth annual Concerned Charlotteans conference at Helms’s behest. Reverend Chambers touted the visit as an indicator of North Carolina’s “‘conservative renaissance’ in the battle against pornography and other problems.”
While page 99 does not represent the whole of Drastic Dykes and Accidental Activists, the quoted materials demonstrate the ways in which religious leaders wielded power within the political landscape of the urban U.S. South. What these paragraphs do not reveal is the tenacity of queer southern women. As other chapters of my book demonstrate, lesbians created influential public and private spaces for community in Atlanta, Georgia, and Charlotte, North Carolina. The Drastic Dykes were a group of separatist lesbian feminists in Charlotte who collected women’s writing and art, publishing the work in a magazine they supported financially and distributed widely. The Atlanta Lesbian Feminist Alliance sustained a physical space for lesbian gatherings and organized a library of feminist and queer women’s words from around the world. The potency of these efforts is their survival in the face of a national discourse, like that printed on page 99, which suggested that religious power surpassed queer action in the urban U.S. South.
Follow La Shonda Mims on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue