The Strange Story of What Happened When Sullivan County, IN Ended Up in the National Headlines. As seen by Walter Beck.
It took roughly 24 hours for the story to explode. At around 6:00 on Sunday evening, local Terre Haute news station WTWO reported that parents, students and even some teachers wanted to organize a “traditional” prom, barring LGBT students down in Sullivan County, Indiana.
The story also included a quote from special education teacher Diana Medley, who was asked if she thought gay people had a purpose in life. “No I honestly don’t. Sorry, but I don’t. I don’t understand it. A gay person isn’t going to come up and make some change unless it’s to realize that it was a choice and they’re choosing God.”
By the time Monday evening had rolled around, this story had been plastered all over the place, with The Huffington Post, Think Progress, The New Civil Rights Movement, LGBTQ Nation, GLAAD, The Human Rights Campaign and Dan Savage all getting into the action. There are even currently petitions circulating calling for Diana Medley’s termination or resignation.
It’s been interesting watching this little storm happen. I know that part of the state. I went to school at Indiana State in Terre Haute. My ex-girlfriend was from Sullivan and my grandfather’s family is from that area. I sat watching the monitor starting to burn as the story picked up steam and many of my friends started posting the various articles.
Personally, I was anticipating some street action with this. People’s emotions were cranked up about as high as they could go; the letters they were sending to the teachers were going up online and going out to her; the petitions started reaching thousands of signatures and the Facebook groups were being flooded with new supporters.
I was waiting for that phone call from one of my old buddies down there, telling me, “The demonstration’s tomorrow, Walt, call in the cavalry.” It was roughly a forty-five minute drive; I could speed down Highway 40, signs and flags in tow, and be there with very short notice.
But it wasn’t meant to be.
Once the school got drift of what was going on, they tried to put the clamp on it, doing an interview with another news station, clearing up that everyone was indeed welcome to prom and this whole mess was nothing but a private event attempted by a few local yahoos.
I tried to get a hold of some people down there, see what their take was and they seemed either pissed at the media for blowing this up or wanting the whole thing to die down before it got crazier.
“Looks like the folks heading up the meeting did so without anyone really knowing and media found out and had a great time filling in the blanks and coming up with their own information before knowing the whole story,” Andrew Bowman, a long time camp buddy of mine said.
Neil ‘Schnitz’ Stringfellow was even more blunt. “My opinion, just drop the whole damn thing before this bullshit goes national and attracts the Westboro psychos! They’re allowed to go to prom, that’s long been decided. If they aren’t that’s discrimination and that’s a felony. Anytime something new is introduced into a society it’s always going to be met with hostility first.”
He had a point, it was crazy enough having the reporters nail this story up on every digital wall, bleeding from the extremities; it would be an entirely different thing if those bastards from Topeka, KS got drift of it and decided to pay a visit. Then we would find ourselves in an even worse position, forced to either ignore the Westboro crowd and not feed into their martyr complex or go the opposite way and tango with them toe-to-toe on general principles.
For all the outcry, it was over pretty quickly. No new stories have popped up since and it looks like everybody got what they wanted without breaking too much of a sweat. Students are indeed allowed to go to prom and whatever glory those wanting a “segregated” prom were hoping to gather was crushed under the vicious machine of digital public outcry.
I’ll give Schnitz the last word here – he put it in a tongue-in-cheek way that can only come from those of us speeding down the weird lane in this part of the country. In regards to the church not even being aware of the meetings to organize a “segregated” prom, he said;
“Sullivan gonna Sullivan; breaking into buildings to have an impromptu Klan rally.”