Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar ramped up their anti-LGBT activism in the weeks since my piece about their
daughters' virginities reality show on TLC (19 Kids & Counting) ran in The Stranger. Jim Bob and Michelle donated $10,000 to fight a proposed LGBT civil rights ordinance in Fayetteville, Arkansas; Michelle recorded a brutally hateful and appallingly transphobic robocall to fight that ordinance; and the couple's eldest son, Josh Duggar, who is employed by the Family Research Council (an SPLC-certified antigay hate group), attempted to revive the "no special rights" talking point popular with antigay haters before they began demanding special rights for themselves.
The Duggars' recent actions prompted the creation of a Change.org petition calling on TLC to cancel 19 Kids & Counting. (The petition now has 170,515 signatures.) The American Family Association (another SPLC-certified antigay hate group) created a pro-Duggar petition in response (200,000 signatures) and a pro-Duggar hashtag on Twitter: #DefendtheDuggars. The haters won the petition pissing match, but pro-LGBT forces won the Twitter pissing match: The #DefendtheDuggars hashtag was successfully hijacked by pro-LGBT forces who packed the feed with critiques of the Duggars.
Scott Wooledge is a gay activist and a social media consultant who lives in New York City. He tweets as Memeographs—"progressive, fun, sassy mememaker"—and he knows something about hijacking Twitter hashtags.
"I hadn’t really even heard about the Duggars until someone started that Change.org petition to get TLC to take them off the air," Wooledge told me by phone today. Wooledge led successful efforts to hijack #CheersToSochi and #Humanum, among others, and he participated in the #DefendtheDuggars hijacking. He signed the Change.org petition asking TLC to cancel 19 Kids & Counting but he didn't think it would change anything.
"A petition isn’t going to get their show canceled," said Wooledge. "So I looked around online trying to find something tangible that we could do with this anger."
Wooledge found Lucie's Place, a small charity founded two years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas, to assist homeless LGBT youth. Queer kids are at much greater risk of becoming homeless, particularly in Bible Belt states like Arkansas. (Rolling Stone: "Highly religious parents are significantly more likely than their less-religious counterparts to reject their children for being gay—a finding that social-service workers believe goes a long way toward explaining why LGBT people make up roughly five percent of the youth population overall, but an estimated 40 percent of the homeless-youth population. The Center for American Progress has reported that there are between 320,000 and 400,000 homeless LGBT youths in the United States.")
"Lucie's Place's entire operating budget last year was $7,500," said Wooledge. "They’re in Little Rock, which is the most urban setting in the state, so that's the city queer kids kicked out in Fayetteville most likely wind up fleeing to."
Turn the ugliness of #DefendtheDuggars into good! Help @LuciesPlaceAR help #LGBT homeless kids http://t.co/U1n8tEdFfZ pic.twitter.com/hcrwZvu8BQ
— Scott Wooledge (@Clarknt67) November 23, 2014
Wooledge challenged his followers on Twitter to raise $10,000 for Lucie's Place.
"If the Duggars are going to do 10K worth of damage to LGBT people in Arkansas, let's do 10K worth of repair," Wooledge said. "I'm only asking people to contribute $5 or $20 each. It isn’t much. That’s something you can do. Lucie's Place helps LGBT homeless kids with counseling, they help them with prepaid cell phones, they give them bus passes, job training. So you can sign an online petition or you can donate $10 and literally put a bus pass in the hands of a homeless gay kid."
The drag performer Vivian Sapphire jumped in early, asking each of her followers to donate $5 each.
- Penelope Poppers, founder of Lucie's Place
“I didn't know Scott or even much about Twitter," said Penelope Popper, the founder of Lucie's Place, when I reached her today. "He sent me an e-mail saying, ‘Hey, I did this,’ and he sent me the first image he made, and I I didn’t think much about it besides, 'That's nice.' Then donations started coming in from places outside of Arkansas, which has never happened. I got an intense crash course on how Twitter works. Scott has done more for us than anyone. We’ve never gotten this much support from outside Arkansas ever."
The Twitter campaign has raised $4,500 so far, almost halfway to matching the 10K the Duggars donated to block the LGBT civil rights bill in Fayetteville. (The Duggars wasted their money: The bill passed.)
Poppers is a theatrical lighting designer by trade, but she's also been an LGBT activist for 12 years. She founded the organization two years ago, and today Lucie's Place is a registered 501(c)3 with a working board of directors. Most of the group's operating budget comes from state and local granting agencies.
"Everybody pays attention to Chicago, New York, California," Poppers said. "People never think about places in Arkansas or other places in the South. We get forgotten down here. But LGBT homelessness isn’t just a big-city problem. It’s a problem in every city across the country. It’s a big problem here in the South."
Poppers believes LGBT youth homelessness may be an even bigger problem in places like Little Rock than it is New York City or Chicago or Seattle.
"The data that says up to 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT was gathered in big cities," Poppers points out, "but I would say it’s higher here. Fifty percent wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why I started Lucie’s Place. I was working with general homeless population for several years, and more than half had come out to me as LGBT or as part of the MSM community, and I thought, 'We need to do something.'"
Right now, Lucie's Place provides counseling, support, toiletries, bus passes, and phone minutes to homeless LGBT youth. In the future they hope to provide transitional housing.
"Nearly every single person who got kicked out by parents or guardian, they’ve been told by their parents that they don’t want a sinner living under their roof," Poppers said. "They’ll use wording like that. And most of the homeless shelters here in Arkansas are run by private religious institutions, mostly Baptist, and there they're told the same thing: They’re sinners. They get kicked out of the shelters, too. A lot of times the conversations we have with homeless LGBT kids is this: 'If you're going to stay at this shelter, you have to lie about your gender identification or sexual orientation.' Many of them wind up on the streets—and for some, the streets are safer than the shelters."
I asked Poppers what she thought of the Duggars.
"I honestly hadn't spent much time thinking about them before this," she said. "I didn’t used to have an opinion of them, but I now have a negative opinion of them. The only thing I know about them is that they hate LGBT people."
And who is Lucie?
"Lucie was a good friend of mine who passed away several years ago," said Popper. "She was 20. She was trans, and for many [she was] the first trans person they had ever met. So she had to deal with a lot of garbage growing up as herself. She had an amazing spirit and never let anything get her down and was always incredibly open and giving. Homelessness was not something she had encountered—her mother is actually on the board of Lucie's Place—but the name is a memorial for her."
Terry and I are making a donation to Lucie's Place. If you would like to make a donation—small or large—click here.