The evolution of same-sex marriage represents a societal acceptance and legal protection to love who you want to love. And yet a district attorney in Tennessee has decided it is his right as a “good Christian man” to essentially play a cruel cupid in the name of God. Craig Northcott was recorded delivering his view to a 2018 Bible conference in a video released by Nashville’s News Channel 5 this past week:

 “Y’all need to know who your DA is. You give us a lot of authority… We can choose to prosecute anything. We can choose not to prosecute anything. …The social engineers on the Supreme Court now decided we have homosexual marriage. I disagree with them.”

Northcott’s personal quarrel with the Supreme Court matters because under what he terms “prosecutorial discretion,” he determines the fate of important issues that reach his office in Coffee County – like domestic violence. When the Washington Post reached Northcott by phone, he told them, “There’s no marriage to protect with homosexual relationships, so I don’t prosecute them as domestic,” and refused to comment further.

The response to Northcott’s warped interpretation of the law was swift. More than 200 attorneys in Tennessee wrote a letter to the state’s Board of Professional Responsibility, describing the district attorney’s views as the “highest level of prosecutorial misconduct and abuse of discretion” and went on to call Northcott’s misunderstanding of the domestic violence laws in Tennessee “disturbing” and “unacceptable.” The letter was penned by Nashville attorney Sunny Eaton, who is openly gay. She told The Tennessean, “The position that Northcott’s in and the damage that he can do, really on a day-to-day level, is just too far.”

The controversy around LGBTQ+ issues in Tennessee has been roiling the state this year. In recent months, Republican lawmakers introduced six anti-LGBTQ+ bills in a rash of legislation branded the “slate of hate” by LGBTQ+ advocates. Here’s what some of the bills entailed: allowing private adoption agencies to reject an adoption based on religious views, giving businesses the green light to discriminate against people based on religion and limiting restrooms to a single sex, which puts transgender people as a target of legislation. Much of the slate of hate ended up tabled until the January 2020 session, but the bathroom bill survived and was signed by the governor.

States like Tennessee are a focus of VideoOut’s mission: to amplify LGBTQ+ voices and increase visibility by recording their stories, focusing on at-risk areas across the nation. While these stories live in our library as empathic tools to educate and advocate, they are also used by local community centers and LGBTQ+ organizations as programming and marketing materials. As we travel the country talking to LGBTQ+ people and working with local stakeholders, we’ve seen how empathy works to dispel myths and build bridges. It’s harder for local leaders such as Northcott to demonize and marginalize LGBTQ+ people once they know us as vital members of their communities. Empathy builds connections that bridge the divide.