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Behind antigay Facebook rant, echoes of civil rights movement

Clint McCance, a school board member in Arkansas, resigns after posting 'hateful' comments about gays on Facebook. But the episode speaks to a deeper clash over gay rights in the rural South.

By Suzi ParkerCorrespondent / October 29, 2010

A candlelight procession in Columbia, Mo., on Oct. 20 commemorated the recent deaths of gay teens.

Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbia Daily Tribune/AP

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Little Rock, Ark.

This week, Arkansas became ground zero in the cultural clash between fundamentalist Christian beliefs and gay rights.

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It began with the publication of angry, anti-gay Facebook posts by Clint McCance, the vice president of Midland School Board, a school district in Arkansas. Infuriated by "spirit day" – a day when people nationwide wear purple as a show of support for victims of antigay bullying – Mr. McCance wrote he would only wear purple if all gays committed suicide, adding that he was gratified that homosexuals "often give each other AIDS and die."

Thursday night, McCance resigned on CNN, acknowledging that his comments were "hateful."

Yet the issue underlying them remains deeply divisive throughout much of the rural South as the push for gay rights takes on some of the aspects of a modern civil rights movement – with small groups attempting to make change on a local level. This week, protesters from Little Rock descended on McCance’s small town, Pleasant Plains, 80 miles away.

“Such movements tend to be grass roots that pop up more or less spontaneously in one community or another and are moved by individual people or groups of people who are deeply burdened by discrimination,” says Harry Watson, director of the Center for the Study of the American South at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Conservative pushback

The pushback from conservative Christians, however, remains strong. The protesters were met by local residents who carried American and Christian flags and played Christian music. As one preacher told a local television station, gays and lesbians think “they're all right, and [God is] going to let them think that and go to hell for believing what they're doing is right.”

Some local conservative leaders condemned McCance’s statements and say that the public viewpoint of gays has changed over the years. They stress, however, that the Bible still says homosexuality is a sin.

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