A Tennessee woman's speech defending the LGBTQ community went viral over the weekend, marking the latest flashpoint in America's simmering culture war.
Jessee Graham, a mom of four from Columbia, gave an impassioned three-minute speech in front of the Maury County Board of Trustees after the county's public library director, Zachary Fox, was allegedly pressured to resign. Fox's resignation last week came after months of community pushback over the library's display of LGBTQ books for Pride Month in June. Community members were also dismayed when Fox's bar, Bad Idea Brewery, hosted a drag brunch last month.
"Although we understood the pressure that Mr. Fox and his family were under due to the onslaught of baseless allegations from a few politically motivated individuals, we regretted that he felt he had to leave a role that he served very well," Joel Friddell, the board's chairman, said in a statement to NBC News, adding that the board "was unanimously in support of Zac staying on as director."
Graham's speech, which was delivered last week and was viewed over 1 million times on both TikTok and Twitter as of Monday morning, also touched upon the broader culture war conservatives and right-wing activists have waged over LGBTQ issues and children. This year, conservatives have launched an unparalleled campaign to ban LGBTQ books across the country, passed laws prohibiting the instruction of sexual orientation or gender identity at school and demonized drag performers as threats to children.
"I've never been sexually assaulted at a drag show, but I have been in church, twice," Graham, 33, said. "The men at the church told me it was my fault."
"They haven't done anything to anyone," she went on, nodding to LGBTQ onlookers. "I am so sick of listening to this weird, fake pious crap about Christianity being the reason behind, 'We have to protect the kids.' Jesus didn't go anywhere and condemn people! He did not ever walk into any place and spew hatred and lies and completely annihilate a group of human beings who just want to exist."
In an interview with NBC News on Monday, Graham said it was hypocritical for Fox's critics to draw on their Christian values while condemning drag performers.
"It is hugely offensive to wipe away so many assaults that are currently being investigated at church while you're pointing a finger at people who are just being authentic and happy," she said, referring to the revelations about widespread child sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church over the last several decades. "There's not even a comparison of the two."
For months, conservatives have also characterized gender-affirming medical care as "child abuse" and the education of topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity as the "indoctrination" of children. But in her speech last week, Graham flipped the script; she said that what's abusive is denying children knowledge and health care.
"You don't need a moral compass to recognize that something is wrong when it immediately hurts other people," she said in her viral speech. "So, why are we even here? Why are we even doing this? Why does hate even have a platform? I am so sick of these straight, white Christian males who are already at the top of the food chain acting like someone is out to get 'em! Leave them alone!"
Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who went viral earlier this year for her own speech defending LGBTQ issues as "straight, white, Christian suburban mom," applauded Graham's speech on Sunday.
"Hate will only win when people stand by and let it happen," McMorrow, a Democrat, wrote on Twitter. "Jessee Graham will not let hate win."
Similar to McMorrow, Graham said she felt compelled to use her privilege as a straight, white woman to lift up others.
"I felt a responsibility to my own children to show them what a good human being is supposed to do when there are people who are under attack and they don't have a voice to stop it," she said.
Graham said she never expected her speech to go viral but hopes it will encourage others to speak out against hate. She added that she is willing to endure any consequences she may face as a result of the speech, including career ruin.
"If worst comes to worst, I'll move back in with my parents, and I'll talk a bunch of mess," Graham, who currently works in real estate, said. "Because at the end of the day, my kids are going to inherit this world, and it is my job as a mother to make sure that they are safe. And how can they be safe if hatred continues to get a platform?"