By John D. Sutter, CNN
Editor's note: John D. Sutter is a human rights and social change columnist for CNN Opinion. E-mail him at CTL@CNN.com or follow him on Twitter (@jdsutter), Facebook or Google+. This column contains language that may offend some readers.
Franklin County, Mississippi (CNN) - Statistically speaking, Franklin County should be straighter than John Wayne eating Chick-fil-A. The middle-of-nowhere rectangle in southwest Mississippi - known for its pine forests, hog hunting and an infamous hate crime - is home to exactly zero same-sex couples, according to an analysis of census data.
In other words: It's a place where gays don't exist.
At least not on paper.
Before I visited Franklin County, I figured there must be gay people living in Straight County USA. But I didn't expect anyone to be open about it - and with good reason. As part of this op-ed project, I recently ranked the Hospitality State as one of the least hospitable for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, based on its lack of legal protections. In addition to allowing gays and lesbians to be fired because of who they are, Mississippi is also gracious enough to let landlords evict gay residents.
Those are great incentives for a gay person to become invisible. And being invisible, of course, could mean avoiding census workers.
I drove to this place of rolling hills and misty valleys with a few questions on my mind: Can there really be such a thing as an all-straight county? If so, what is it like to be someone who never has met a gay person? Do you just watch "Glee" and figure it out?
If there are gay people in Franklin County, what keeps them hidden?
I spent a few days searching for answers before I realized I was making the wrong assumptions: It's not that gay people here (or anywhere really) want to be in the closet, necessarily. It's the rest of the world that pushes them in and shuts the door.
Cincinnati, Ohio (CNN) - In the back of an African grocery store in northern Cincinnati, Bakary uses a jigsaw to slice the heads off frozen fish.
This life is a dream come true - something he never imagined growing up as a slave in Mauritania, a West African country in the Sahara Desert.
“Life is a lot better” in the United States, he said. “You are free.”
This Rust Belt city on the border with Kentucky, from an American perspective, has its glory days well behind it. But for Mauritanian refugees like Bakary, whose full name is not used because, despite the distance, he fears the government still could retaliate, the city has become a symbol of hope.About 4,000 Mauritanians live in the area, according to locals. Most came because they are outcasts of one sort or another in Mauritania. A few, like Bakary, are from Mauritania’s slave class of Black Moors. If they had stayed in Mauritania, they say, they could have been killed by their masters or brought back into slavery.
What defines you? Maybe it’s the shade of your skin, the place you grew up, the accent in your words, the make up of your family, the gender you were born with, the intimate relationships you chose to have or your generation? As the American identity changes we will be there to report it. In America is a venue for creative and timely sharing of news that explores who we are. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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