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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2023-02-22



Small- Town Pride
Reflections from the heart
by Mubarak Dahir

This article shared 988 times since Wed Jun 14, 2000
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If you would have been at Jeffrey Kitchen and Gregory Jenkins' commitment ceremony May 27, you would have seen the bright colors of the rainbow flag flapping right next to the red, white and blue of the traditional bars and stripes.

You would have stood with them on a wood deck in front of their house, a deck built especially for the occasion from the sweat and love of their straight neighbors. And the guests you would have mingled with would have included more than the other gay couples there. In fact, the gay people would have been outnumbered by the two men's parents, siblings, and brothers-in-law. Greg's two kids would have been there, too, only jokingly saying Jeff was now "officially" their "evil step-monster."

You would have enjoyed food catered by friends, also a gesture from straight neighbors who wanted to show their support. And you would have shaken hands with the editor of the local paper, the fire chief and a police officer. You might even have downed a couple of drinks with the guy Jeff and Greg describe as "the red-neck husband" of a friend, the kind of guy who was excited by the prospect of a keg of beer after the ceremony.

Jeffrey Kitchen and Gregory Jenkins have a message of hope for gay and lesbian America.

They are not evangelists, or, in the strictest sense, gay activists. They don't even live in San Francisco or New York or Chicago or Dallas or Atlanta or any other big city. In fact, they live in a small town in the deep South called Russellville, a town of about 20,000 in Arkansas.

At first, it might seem that they have little connection to the gay pride celebrations taking place all across the country this month, festivals full of glitter and drags queens and ornate floats and scantily clad muscle boys. But as I was searching for a gay pride story to tell this year, it was Jeff's and Greg's story that stuck out to me as a symbol of how far gay and lesbian people have advanced. Maybe more importantly, theirs is a story of just how far we can bring the rest of America along with us.

This story contains no scenes of our heroes rallying hordes of gay men and lesbians to defeat an anti-gay politician or law, or rousing speeches about gay rights, or demonstrations in the streets. There's no gay pride parade in Russellville.

But neither is there the despair or sadness of a Matthew Shepard tied to fence by thugs, or a Billy Gaither butchered in the woods—the kinds of stories we have all come to associate with gays and lesbians outside the specially created gay ghettos of the big cities. There are no judges crusading to take away their kids, or bigots firing them from their jobs. For these two openly gay men in the middle of an old-fashioned, small Southern town, there is no fear or shame or hiding.

Their story is remarkable for its lack of drama, for its ordinariness and calm.

This modern love story begins with Jeff and Greg meeting on the Internet several years ago. Jeff was living in a rustic cabin, 15 miles from the nearest town of Shirley, population 340. Greg was an hour away in Russellville.

The two romanced, with Greg spending a lot of time at Jeff's cabin on the 3-acre plot of wooded land overlooking Greer's Ferry Lake. As their two lives became more and more intertwined, they got a place together in Russellville, spending the weekends at the cabin, where they would eventually hold their commitment ceremony.

It was a bit of a risk for them to be so open about their lives. Greg teaches at a small high school where the total student population is no more than 250 kids. And Jeff started a landscaping business that depends in no small degree on his personal relationship with his customers. Theirs is a world where townspeople and neighbors know each other on a first-name basis, and there are precious few secrets, even about private lives.

But Jeff and Greg never really tried to keep their private lives secret. They opened a joint account at the local bank, "And there wasn't even as much as a pause when the teller completed the paperwork for us," says Jeff. Jeff took out an insurance policy listing Greg as his partner. "It didn't get kicked back to us like we thought it would," he says. And their agent also got them joint coverage and services on car insurance. Just like any other couple she sells insurance to.

Jeff and Greg do not see that there has been anything extraordinary about their acceptance in the community because "we took the time and made the effort to get to know people on an individual basis," says Greg. "They know us as good neighbors and good parents and dependable people. To most people, we are Greg and Jeff, and that says a lot more about who we are than the fact that we are a couple of gay guys."

Of course, they admit there are some things they miss about a place with a bigger gay community. To get to the gay church, the two men have to drive an hour and a half to the MCC in Little Rock. It's that far to the nearest gay bar, too, or to their favorite Japanese restaurant.

But they don't have to go far at all for something far more precious, something that even many of us who center our lives in the most concentrated gay ghettos in America still miss—the freedom that comes with the kind of matter-of-fact acceptance they have carved out for themselves in the place they choose to call home.

Mubarak Dahir receives e—mail at

This article shared 988 times since Wed Jun 14, 2000
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