Topher Payne: Something for everyone

On the walk back to the car, I listened to two men discussing why controversial figures like Dr. King and John F. Kennedy had been immortalized in laser form. I was agog at the idea that these men were still considered controversial, seeing as they’ve both been dead more than 40 years. But I guess some folks have trouble letting go.

“They had to put them in there so there’s something for those people,” said one of them, gesturing to nobody in particular. “The same ones who throw a fit about there being a church and a cross in the show.”

Oddly enough, when the Christian iconography appeared on the side of the mountain, I don’t remember any crazed liberals booing or throwing a fit. And as far as I know, Martin Luther King was rather fond of churches and crosses.

If there were any non-Christians in the audience, and by sheer force of numbers I’m sure there were, they were respectful of the beliefs being celebrated in that moment, and looked forward to the fireworks.

I do not consider someone with beliefs different from my own a threat. Feel free to follow whatever code you please, as long as you’re not preventing someone else from doing the same. That’s where we run into a problem.

Somehow, the argument between those fighting for respect and equality and those who oppose it has been characterized as a “debate.” I was on the debate team in high school. I know what an effing debate is, and it ain’t this. This is an assault.

Every time I see one of these anti-equality talking heads on the news, I wonder why we’re giving them a public forum, because what they’re saying is so vitriolic and bonkers. When Representative Sally Kern of Oklahoma (who is married to a Baptist minister) says gay people are a greater threat to America than terrorism because AIDS has killed more people than terrorist attacks, this is not someone who is interested in having a rational conversation.

By Rep. Kern’s logic, fat people are a greater threat to America than terrorists, given the deaths from heart disease each year. So where are the “God Hates Fats” t-shirts? If someone tried to outlaw fat people because they believe God hates them, we’d rightfully call them insane. But outlaw gay marriage for the same reason? Inexplicably, that’s a legitimate point, worthy of conversation.

Anti-equality advocates have accused us of trying to accomplish what they’re already doing: Taking rights away from people unlike them. It’s a clever move, demonizing your opponent so no one questions the legitimacy of your point.

It’s like when people kept accusing Obama  of being a Muslim. People spent so much time debating whether he was one that we forgot the accusation was irrelevant. You do not have to be a Christian to hold elected office in this country. I know it’s shocking, but it’s true.

In a way, the Stone Mountain Lasershow Spectacular actually showed how things are intended to work, right there in Mountainvision. We witnessed Confederate soldiers, Judeo-Christian icons, Laser MLK, the Indigo Girls and REM, all wrapped up in a big American flag.

If something didn’t appeal to you personally, you could offer up a weak jeer, but it’s not going to go away just because you don’t like it. Because there’s supposed to be something for everyone. That’s what makes us great.


Topher Payne is an Atlanta-based playwright, and the author of the book “Necessary Luxuries: Notes on a Semi-Fabulous Life.” Find out more at