One of the most important moments in my book, The Pink Marine, involves Mississippi. Marines’ primary mission is to defend our country. The U.S. government didn’t care about my sexuality. It wasn’t part of their job or my job. They equipped me with the necessary training and tools to be an effective Marine. As I was issued an M-16, I recalled the time when I was fifteen and visiting a farm near Jackson, Mississippi. I hunted for the first time. I held my first rifle, shot and killed a squirrel. And then our host cooked it and served it for our dinner. * Mississippi, you’re always full of surprises.
When I received that rifle in boot camp, the gravity of the situation hit me hard. My drill instructor’s job was to prepare me for battle, possibly even kill to protect my fellow Americans. I learned what service to my country means for me. So with that, I can't go to Mississippi because their leaders hate me.
The Governor of Mississippi is waging a culture war he won’t win.
I’m a former U.S. Marine. We are trained to run toward chaos, not away from it. But Mississippi’s Governor, Phil Bryant, threw a grenade in the path of my civil rights in the form of an anti-LGBT bill he recently signed into law.
I never thought I’d face an enemy of the American Constitution on American soil.
I’m also a writer. Last month I was invited by a partnership of Visit Mississippi, Visit Ridgeland, the Southeastern Dairy Association and a network of that region’s farmers and chefs for their "Eat Y'all" FAM Tour May 16-19. They asked me to come, enjoy, learn and use my voice and platforms to bring attention to Southern grown and prepared food. The tour would feature artisans and products made in the South, prominent chefs' local flavors, a dairy farm tour, craft brews, and farm to table dinners.
I was born in Texas, so I’m Southern-grown and also farm-raised. This tour is right up my alley. Their invite excited me from the roots up.
Of course I immediately accepted – the tour fits my brand and me perfectly. And then Gov. Bryant stepped in as the one cook too many. He ruined the broth.
The Marine in me wants to go if only to have some baker in Mississippi refuse me a cake just because I’m gay. But I’m not going to participate in that food fight. I won’t travel to a state with laws in place that clearly say they don’t want my money and me. The Governor of Mississippi doesn’t honor the Supreme Court and our President.
With a heavy and troubled heart I had to tell these hard-working American farmers, “I love you, but no thank you.” Tears streamed down my face as I wrote the Mississippi host committee of my decision, thinking of my grandmother.
When she was 5 years old, she pushed a handcart across the Oklahoma dustbowl to West Texas. Later, she and my grandfather grew cotton, okra and beans. One of my earliest childhood memories is staring down at the jagged cracks of their farm’s dry earth, wondering how any food could grow from that cruel dirt – yet they always made crops appear. Their life was one of the hardest I’ve witnessed.
My parents raised ostrich, emus, goats and cattle on a ranch in Texas. They and the five generations of Texans before them have taught me, physically showed me, about hard work and dedication. Their love and acceptance made me the man I am today and instilled in me gratitude for life's bounty.
My connection to our country and society manifests in the food I cook and the stories I write about the faces and souls I encounter. I'm in the Sons of the Revolution; I have 300 years of strong Americans guiding my spoon. One of those is my Mississippi Choctaw ancestor, Ishopnarta. She is surely crying now, too.
With the current anti-LGBT legislation in place in Mississippi, I won’t promote Mississippi. That I won't get to see the state’s beauty, its people or celebrate their farm-to-table contributions is a shame.
Freedom stirs America’s melting pot and I’m the resulting dish –living in joy and authenticity.
If I step foot in Mississippi my precious grandmother would spin up and spank me out of that hateful place. My Marine commander would scream at me that I wasted all of his training – that I was in fact, a traitor.
I look forward to visiting once the Mississippi people get their say and vote this legislation out. Shame on you Governor Bryant.
As my Marine training taught me, I’m running toward the chaos Gov. Bryant caused. And instead of visiting now, I’ll use my tireless voice to shine light on the harm he’s doing to Mississippi. He’s costing his people billions of dollars in lost revenue with this legislation. He is violating civil rights. He is being anti-American.
Let freedom ring. And let it ring loudly.
To the farmers and food craftsmen of Mississippi: Please know that you are my heroes.
God bless you, and God bless our beloved country.