Media distorted 'Camp Sister Spirit' story

By Samuel Francis, Tribune Media Services, Inc

June 1994 – The saga of the lesbian camp in Ovett, Mississippi, continues apace, only nowadays with somewhat less moralizing by the national news media. Until a few weeks ago, when Attorney General Janet Reno dispatched federal investigators to find out what evil lurked in the hearts of the locals, the press presented the Ovett story as a typical moral melodrama of the Gothic South.

At first glance – why would you expect the national press to give it more? – the saga looked like just that. In the remote small town of Ovett, two Sapphic sisters set up shop to offer the therapeutic goop such misfits crave. “Camp Sister Spirit,” as the pair called their former pig farm, offered seminars on the wickedness of sexism, racism and homophobia and drew in “womyn,” as they liked to spell it, to be drilled in the evils of male dominance.

On the saga’s other side stood The Town, a dark hive of Bible-thumping bigots and incest-bred ignoramuses boiling up the tar pits for the hapless pair of “lovers.” Shots were fired at brave, isolated Camp Sister Spirit; a female dog was slain and its corpse draped over the camp’s mailbox; threats were received. When the lesbians’ allies in the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force persuaded their (spiritual) sister, Reno, to interfere, the A.G. wrote breathlessly, “I consider the threat of violence to be real.”

But now, as it turns out, the threat may not be quite as real as she imagined. Local law enforcement says the deceased canine was never draped over the mailbox but simply lay in a ditch near the lavender-painted front gate of the Camp, nor had the dog been shot or mutilated in any way.

The mailbox, it’s true, did have a sanitary napkin stuck to its side and a bullet hole in it, but anyone who drives through the rural South knows no road sign or mailbox is quite complete without at least one bullet hole. Sticking sanitary napkins to mailboxes is not, as far as I know, a Southern custom, but no big deal anyway.

As for the “shots” the “sisters” claimed they frequently heard in the area, the locals say they probably came from hunters. Meanwhile, the lesbians are reported to have stocked up on guns themselves. How much these “womyn” or whatever they are know about guns is not clear, and it wouldn’t be too surprising if one of them blew her own foot off.

The brute fact is that the two lesbians are awfully hard put to show they’re in any danger at all apart from pranks that suggest in just how much contempt the community holds them. Even the lesbians’ own sympathizers can’t find what they expected. An AIDS activist who helped them set up the camp told the New York Times last month he expected to find in Ovett’s First Baptist Church “an extremely rigid Klan-country mentality. Instead, I found what seemed like a genuinely caring congregation. They just seem to have a blind spot on this issue that’s really sad and disturbing.”

That “blind spot,” of course, is the community’s religiously based belief that homosexuality is wrong and that the “sisters’” aggressive display of their sexuality rips a deep rent in the community’s normative fabric. One local woman, also quoted by the Times, says, “I have lived here my whole life, and there are gay couples here, and everyone knows it. The difference is they don’t go around hugging and kissing and holding hands and going on TV to talk about it on Oprah like these people are doing. I don’t want my children exposed to that. I don’t think anybody does.”

First Baptist pastor Rev. John Allen says much the same. “They said from the first, they’re loud and they’re proud and they want to bring about changes. Well, we don’t see the kind of changes they want as positive.” No one, including the pastor, approves of using violence against the “sisters.” “We completely condemn these kind of acts as immoral,” he says. The local sheriff insists, “We’ve told them time and again, ‘You call and we’re coming.’ We have responded to their calls, but there’s no pleasing them.”

What we have in Ovett, in short, so far from the morality tale of embattled progressivists the national media at first created and Reno was quickly swilled into swallowing, is quite different.

What we have is a community whose moral culture is under assault from two social and sexual misfits and their allies, the federal leviathan and the cultural elite in the national media. The real victims in Ovett are not the uninvited and unwanted lesbian intruders, but the law-abiding community against which their own government is preparing to wage war.