They Tried That In a Small Town

Linda Blackford, the longtime columnist for what my best friend used to call the Lexington Herald-Liberal hasn’t written about Jason Aldean’s hit “Try That In a Small Town,” but she is aghast that someone tried something stupid in a small town and it didn’t work out well:

‘Deeply traumatized.’ Arts retreat at Pine Mountain ends after confrontation. What’s next?

by Linda Blackford | Wednesday, August 23, 2023 | 10:58 AM EDT | Updated: 2:47 PM EDT

For 110 years, a small swathe of mighty Pine Mountain has been a shelter, a school, and a gathering place in Harlan County. But this past weekend, Pine Mountain Settlement School instead became the latest flashpoint in our culture wars.

The Waymakers Collective, a group of Appalachian artists, was holding its annual meeting at Pine Mountain Settlement School. It included performances, artist workshops, film screenings and art activities. Participants stayed in the cottages and dorms around the compound.

They also had permission to use the chapel, and set it up as a “healing space” with pillows, mats, a table of aromatic oils and an “om” symbol, which symbolizes the universe in the Hindu religion. They were not allowed to move the pews, but Pine Mountain staff set up tables.

On Saturday, someone took a picture of the chapel and posted it on social media, which was soon shared around the Harlan County community of Bledsoe, where Pine Mountain is located. According to a statement from the Pine Mountain board, community members called the interim director and board chair about the chapel. Pine Mountain officials asked the Waymakers to move the “healing space” to another location, and the Waymakers agreed, according to the statement.

But before they could do so, a group of men and women in trucks and on ATVs, entered the Pine Mountain campus, blocked the exit, and then made their way to the chapel. According to the Waymakers’ statement, “the people who entered the chapel demanded that we leave. Our group was told they did not belong there, were desecrating a Christian space, and needed to leave right away. We were shocked by this as we had rented out the entire campus of PMSS for our event and were treating the entire property with respect and in the manner we had communicated to PMSS prior to our event.”

But the Waymakers, who are dedicated to the art of the marginalized, including indigenous people, people of color and LGBTQ folks, were terrified. They decided to end the retreat early, and according to their statement, left in a large convoy, so no one would be driving through Harlan County alone.

There’s more at the original.

The Waymakers Collective legitimately rented the grounds on which they were holding their gathering, and should have been allowed to use it as they chose. And the Pine Mountain Settlement School should have been fully aware as to whom and for what the Waymakers were renting their facilities.

But there’s more to it than that: the Pine Mountain Settlement School should also have been aware of the culture in Harlan County, and that the people there might not have been quite as receptive to those “dedicated to the art of the marginalized, including indigenous people, people of color and LGBTQ folks.” Surely the Settlement School folks had heard of Senate Bill 150, to protect normal kids from the homosexual and transgender lobbies, and been aware that both of the county’s state Representatives, Adam Bowling (R-District 87) and Jacob Justice (R-District 94), and state Senator Johnnie Turner (R-District 29), all voted for the bill. They should have known that the voters of Harlan County vote strongly conservative Republican, giving 85.38% of their votes to Donald Trump in 2020, as well as huge margins to Senators Mitch McConnell in 2020 and Rand Paul in 2022.

Translation: renting space to Waymakers would not have gone over well in Harlan County, if the populace in general knew about it.

Mrs Blackford was, of course, highly upset about the whole thing, about how Harlan Countians might be less than eagerly receptive to a group touting, among other things, homosexual and transgender acceptance. Of course, Mrs Blackford’s newspaper has a solid record of endorsing politicians who really don’t line up with the voters in the Bluegrass State:

And yes, every one of them lost. In 2022, when no serious Democrat chose to run in the Sixth District, and a perennial kook candidate won the primary, a guy so bad that even the state Democratic Party wouldn’t support him, the Herald-Leader couldn’t bring itself to endorse the incumbent Republican, Representative Andy Barr, but chose to make no endorsement at all. That’s how much they hate conservatives and Republicans.

This is where Mr Aldean’s song arises: as much as the urban left hate it, it reflects an obvious truth, that the culture of the rural areas, and most certainly in the rural areas of the Bluegrass State, is simply not the culture of the larger cities, and attempting to force urban culture on rural counties simply hasn’t worked out very well.

Back to Mrs Blackford:

Harlan Judge Executive Dan Mosley, who was married at the chapel, said he understood the feelings of people like (Tate) Napier.

“One way to coexist is respect,” he said. “Respect for different people’s culture and ideology. Someone may not agree with my religious beliefs but they could respect them by not disrespecting where I worship, and I could respect their religious beliefs, too.”

Mrs Blackford, and the majority of commenters on her column, apparently do not see hosting homosexual and transgender-positive meetings in a Christian church as “disrespecting where (Harlan Countians) worship,” but it’s pretty obvious that some in the county did.

Read the room‘ is defined as “to be or become aware of the opinions and attitudes of a group of people that you are talking to”. In choosing Harlan County for their gathering, the Waymakers just didn’t read the room very well.

More, it seems that the only real objection came when the Waymakers started using the chapel for part of their meeting; that put them in direct conflict with a conservative, Protestant Christian community. At a time in which there’s a great deal of conservative pushback against the forcing of homosexual and transgender ideologies on people who want no part of it, there’s really no surprise that the Waymakers encountered resistance.

If the homosexual and transgender activists had simply kept to the apparently-very-outdated maxim, “What we do in our bedrooms is nobody else’s business,” rather than today’s, “We’re here, we’re queer, and you damned well better approve of, use our pronouns, and fête us,” there’d have been no legislation such as Senate bill 150, and it’s highly unlikely that the mostly leave-us-alone people of eastern Kentucky would have bothered the Waymakers. Then again, the Waymakers would have probably been actually displaying their art, rather than going on to point out that particular artists were in some fashion different from normal people.
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