Democrat and former civil rights attorney Doug Jones made history when he won a Senate seat two years ago in Alabama, knocking out Roy Moore, the nation's most notorious homophobe. But if Alabama took one step forward with Jones's election, it's recently taken several steps backward.
Not only did politicians recently pass the nation's most restrictive abortion ban — outlawing it even in cases of rape or incest — but the state passed a bill in May that accommodates judges who don’t want to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Soon after, an Alabama woman who lost her child after being shot was charged with manslaughter for allegedly instigating the confrontation; prosecutors only dropped the preposterous charges after a national outcry. On top of all that, Carbon Hill, Ala., mayor Mark Chambers announced last month (Pride month!) that LGBTQ people should be put to death; he still has his job and is running for reelection. Oh, and Moore is back, gunning for a rematch with Jones.
Carson Jones, the gay son of Sen. Jones, is living proof that not all of Alabama is fine with backsliding into the 20th century. Not only did he famously stare down Vice President Pence when his father was sworn into office, he's been vocal about the inequality in the country, and especially in the South. We spoke to the "dapper zookeeper" recently about the scary news out of home state and how it feels to live in such a complicated place.
The Advocate: There has been a lot of bad news out of Alabama, with women and LGBTQ targeted by local politicians. Are the numerous headlines a coincidence or an organized backlash to progress?
Carson Jones: This has been the road the legislature has been going down awhile and [politicians] have been emboldened by national headlines and comments being made on the national stage; they feel they have a voice and an opportunity to do a lot of things they’ve wanted to do for a long time.
It’s a larger issue because then other states start jumping on that bandwagon as well. So there definitely is a feeling in the state from people on the other side — ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage in 2015 — this underlying crumbling (of their way of life) and it’s bubbling up to the surface all at once.
When you say national "comments," are you referring to the president?
The president speaks his mind and in a lot of ways emboldened people in ways not necessarily positive and productive. So [Trump supporters] feel there’s a place in society for this thought process; that there’s this other group of people who don’t deserve the same rights that white straight men do.
How does it feel for minorities in Alabama when politicians target them? Do most LGBTQ people, POC, and women there take it personally?
I think everyone is very frustrated because they don’t feel like the legislature in Alabama is representing all of Alabama but rather a very, very small portion of views and people in this state.
So my friends and family and the people around me are unhappy with the direction. We're frustrated that this all happening, but it's also emboldened us to recognize that elections matter and have consequences. Therefore, a lot of people are spurred on for 2020 and future races to really become more involved and active. They recognize that it's only through elections that we can change some of these conversations in the state.
Other than elections, how can LGBTQ Alabamians and other Americans take actions?
Two things. One is donating; donating to amazing candidates in hard races who are going to make sure equality is on the forefront of their mind every day walking into their office, no matter what their job is — senator or county commissioner.
It's also having hard conversations and the get-out-the-vote efforts. Not just you going to vote; it's talking to friends and neighbors about why these issues matter. It's a lot of listening too, which can sometimes be frustrating. But it's just as important because you have to understand other people's perspectives so you can have a good conversation with them and really talk to them why their votes impact you personally.
A lot of time there's a non-personal element to it. There was a great study that came out about people supportive of same-sex marriage. They were significantly more supportive if they knew a queer person. So really putting a face to an issue for people in your community can really impact them to support an issue in a way we need them to.
Who in Alabama is worthy of support?
Equality Alabama is doing a great job of pushing the [LGBTQ] conversation and they're working with the city of Birmingham, which just created an LGBTQ community liaison position; someone to specifically make sure everyone in the community has a voice in what's happening in the city. HRC Alabama is also doing amazing work.
What's your take on the reemergence of Roy Moore and him running against your father again?
Knowing all the things he's said in the past and the way he conducts himself in public life it's not a surprise that he reemerged in the race. We're just as ready to take him on as we are ready to take on any candidate on the Republican side. They have their opportunity to duke it out in the primary and we'll be ready to take them on in the general.