For 30 years I've been proud of my deep magnolia roots. The many wonderful people of the state have been supportive of my professional and personal endeavors. Whenever someone asks me, "Where are you from?" I proudly say Mississippi. However, a dark and dismal cloud hovers over my favorite state.
The country and the world are enraged by recent actions of our Governor and Legislators.
Growing up in Mississippi, I knew this place as a diverse land, full of exceptional culture and amazing people; and as a young boy, I knew there was something unique about me. That "feeling" was a major turning point in my life; but a part of my story I buried deeply for so many years.
It wasn't until I met and fell in love with my soulmate, Adrian, that I accepted my position in this life. I, Duvalier Malone, am a proud gay man who will always be a product of Mississippi. I offer this statement simply to show my support for Mississippi's LGBT community and its incredible allies.
I must admit my failed leadership on LGBT issues.
For so many years, I worked on an assortment of causes, but never did my due diligence to speak up for a community that is an essential aspect of myself. Like many gay men I know, I sat in the shadow whenever gay issues were discussed. I didn't help the movement get a seat at the political and social tables.
As I enter my 30th year on this earth, I must come to terms with my negligence to the LBGT family I love so dearly. I am leaving that shadow to voice my opposition to the actions of Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant and State Legislators.
The so-called "Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" is an abomination and will roll back many civil rights gains. Moreover, it is shameful that the loving God I keep close to my heart has been "thrown under the bus" as it were, to shield the hatred and bigotry of a small minority.
America has made too many great strides in the protection of our civil rights to stop now. This law is an attack on basic human decency, and stands in stark contrast to the southern hospitality that my state represents. No child should grow up in an America in which he or she can be denied basic human respect, based solely on a disagreement about personal love. We are better than this.
The social ramifications are great. However, the economic setbacks for the state will be detrimental to the development of a secured future for Mississippians. Major corporations with operations based in Mississippi have already criticized the state for this law. Any possible future expansions or investments will be greatly scaled back or cancelled. No company will provide economic stimulus to a place that proudly supports intolerance.
Our state leaders need to understand what they have signed up for. This is not a law that will bridge the divisions that already exist. This law will further fragment citizens and violate individual rights. The "Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act" is a great slippery slope. If this bill prevails, legislators will continue to use religion to violate civil rights and liberties because of race, religion, gender, political views, gender identity and sexual orientation. This is a civil rights nightmare that must quickly come to an end.
Every family in Mississippi is related to a member of the LGBT community. They are your fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. Even though you might disagree with their decisions and who they chose to love, you love these individuals. I urge all family members to stand with their relatives and friends against this egregious display of prejudice. Your LGBT family member has never needed your support more than he or she does at this very moment.
I also plead with religious leaders of all faiths to exercise the love and tolerance that our beliefs teach. Religion has never been under attack by civil rights victories. Faith has often been a major part of positive movement in equality. Today, religion is being used as a justification for hatred and division. Let's all stand together so our core values aren't hijacked by ignorant zealots. We must all represent the love that is preached weekly.
For the LGBT folks, who like myself, have sat on the sidelines and in the shadows their whole life, it's time to join the fight. This is not solely about you. This is a journey of self-acceptance and tolerance so that the young members of the LGBT community can live a life that we were denied. This is our civil rights fight, and we must stop at nothing to find a solution to this law. I admit my lack of participation in this movement, but I promise a more robust involvement starting today. I urge everyone to join me.
Lastly, I make a plea to the supporters of the "Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act." I ask you to imagine being denied services. Have you taken the time to think about what it's like for the other side? Have you thought about treating your neighbors as you want to be treated? Is this how you want Mississippi to be seen in the world? We are a country of freedom. Mississippi cannot be seen as a leader in hatred.
I ask you not to use the fears of a few to take our state backwards—to a time of civil unrest and prejudice. Mississippi is a place full of hope and creativity. We embody southern hospitality. I ask that you reconsider your support so that we can all move forward and focus on more pressing issues. We must make great leaps to improve education and health standards. We need to rebuild infrastructure. We can create a more inclusive environment. Please think and pray hard about your support of this law.
As a very proud gay man who has been blessed to be in love with another man for over seven years, I am a Mississippi success story. I am growing every day in my true self, and look forward to helping others do the same. I hope that the future is as bright in Mississippi as I once believed it could be. I will always stand with my Mississippi Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender family. You have loved me, and I will work forever to spread that love and support.