What I Learned at Wendy's: An Accidental Meeting with Small-Town Gay America

Let’s talk about Garfield County, Washington, population 2,060. To my knowledge, I’ve never been there. In fact, until yesterday, I had no idea Garfield County existed. Currently it holds the record for the greatest percentage of voters to reject Referendum 71, the everything-but-marriage referendum. More than 77% voted to reject R-71.*

But nearly 22%, 192 people, voted to uphold the law. Doesn’t sound like much, it’s true. How about this number? 219,897–that’s the number of people who voted to approve R-71 in the yellow counties, the ones like Garfield County, in which a majority of voters rejected R-71.

Let’s talk about Garfield County, Washington, population 2,060. To my knowledge, I’ve never been there. In fact, until yesterday, I had no idea Garfield County existed. Currently it holds the record for the greatest percentage of voters to reject Referendum 71, the everything-but-marriage referendum. More than 77% voted to reject R-71.*

But nearly 22%, 192 people, voted to uphold the law. Doesn’t sound like much, it’s true. How about this number? 219,897–that’s the number of people who voted to approve R-71 in the yellow counties, the ones like Garfield County, in which a majority of voters rejected R-71.

In Washington, as is the case in many other states in which one area’s population is massive and the rest of the state’s just isn’t, the Puget Sound area of Western Washington and its left-leaning voters usually win statewide elections. This creates a lot of bitterness in the eastern part of the state, and I guess I can understand why. It would suck to feel like your vote didn’t count.

And in case I didn’t remind you yet today, we are winning in Washington. Approve R-71 holds its lead. Sorry, Eastern WA (not really).

219,897. That’s 37% of the current count of votes in favor of R-71. That’s 219,897 people in the more conservative areas of Washington who didn’t succumb to the pressure of their neighbors to reject the rights of same-sex couples. As much as it mattered that King County and other Puget Sound residents sent in their ballots this year to put R-71 over the top, it mattered that these people did, too. I want to thank each one of those 219,897 people, but I especially want to thank the 192 Approve voters in Garfield County. You are my heroes of the day.

A few days ago we were in Clayton, Georgia, population 2019. We drove up from our campsite at Talullah Gorge State Park about 10 miles south to visit Wendy’s. No, it wasn’t because we wanted a Frosty. Wendy’s is one of the few places in Clayton, Georgia that has free WiFi for its guests, an amenity usually missing from state park campgrounds.

We were there for about a half hour when another WiFi user, a guy, came in and sat across from us, next to the only visible outlet in the place. We exchanged pleasantries, and almost immediately my gaydar went off. No, Ruby. This is small-town Georgia.

We started talking with him about Frances, and several times he dropped hints about his sexual orientation. Still I argued with myself. What were the odds? We were nearly the only people in the place. But when he said, “Well, I’m not going to have children unless they figure out a way for men to give birth,” I had to admit it: this guy was gay.

We spent hours in that Wendy’s, talking to Brandon and eventually his friend Kristen, a straight ally. We talked about the difficulty of being out and gay in a small town, worrying about your safety. We agreed that the recently-passed federal hate crimes law was a good thing.

Then Brandon and Kristen told us about other gay people in the area. There was a gay couple who owned a restaurant that we could see through the window from where we sat. Down the road was a bar owned by a lesbian couple, an LGBT hangout. And nearby, Brandon told us proudly, was an all-LGBT church. Just over the border in North Carolina, he said, was a small town that had one of the highest per capita gay populations in the country.

We were kind of floored by this. I think I used to believe that part of the coming out process for everyone who wasn’t born in a big liberal city was to move to one. And maybe that’s usually true. But some people stay, or come back. And they have friends.

In Garfield County, Washington, they have 192 friends. Brave, wonderful friends who vote with their hearts to protect our rights throughout the state of Washington.

*Note: the numbers change frequently as remaining votes are counted. All numbers quoted are as of 6:39 a.m. PST on 11/5.

0 thoughts on “What I Learned at Wendy's: An Accidental Meeting with Small-Town Gay America”

  1. When I traveled around a bunch of this country I went through a lot of the same emotions (being from a populous urban area myself, and all). In many areas I was surprised by how diverse even some tiny towns can be and how many people stay in them whether they “fit in” or not. Thank goodness, because the best way to stop bigotry is to make sure that people are exposed to real people who have the qualities that are discriminated against. It may take time, but the more people who come out in areas like that and become contributing members to local society, the harder it is for people to blindly hate, especially when children grow up with diversity as the norm instead of the exception.

    Not that long ago it would have been far more dangerous to be in Clayton. You two marrying (even without the legal aspect) and having a child would have been impossible. The changes may come painfully slowly from a short-term point of view and take some backwards steps but, if you look at history, we’re on a fairly whirlwind cultural shift.

    This is why I think this journey of yours is so important, it can only be good for both individuals and our culture, whether people meet you along the way or just follow your story on here.

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