Hear Me Out
|by Mubarak Dahir|
|Lesbian Robin Hood
Andie Gibbs is a modern-day Robin Hood, and her intrepid tale is sure to go down in the history of personal heroism of those who did whatever they couldwhatever they had tonot just to survive against the odds in the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, but to help others, as well.
Gibbs' story is unusual not just for the wonderfully outrageous act she did, that has landed her that proverbial 15 minutes of fame since it was reported this week by Newsweek magazine.
It's also remarkable not so much for the fact that she is a lesbian, but for the fact that her sexual orientation was immaterial in her actions and to the people around her who she helped.
Following the wrath of Hurricane Katrina, Gibbs was anxious for several weeks to get food and aid into the rural community where she lives in Ovett, Mississippi, where she helps run a lesbian campground known as Camp Sister Spirit.
But like so many other small, rural, and poor communities hit hard by the hurricane, Ovett wasn't much of a priority for aid and relief.
It didn't have the big populations or the television cameras or the drama of places like New
Orleans that captured the eyes of the nation and the attention of relief workers.
Ovett was poor, isolated and, it seemed to Gibbs, forgotten.
Every day, Gibbs called up the local Red Cross chapter, inquiring if any shipments, particularly of food, had come in.
Every day, they told her the same thing: Not yet.
In the meantime, Gibbs used her connections in the larger gay and lesbian community to get some aid sent in through the various national relief efforts set up by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered organizations around the country.
But that food didn't last long.
And so Gibbs was back to calling the Red Cross again and again.
But still nothing.
So she went around to the local food banks, too.
Nothing there, either.
Gibbs, like her neighbors, was feeling more and more desperate.
Then, last week, Gibbs thought the cavalry had finally come when she spotted a Red Cross truck driving through town.
But soon it became clearto her amazement and chagrin that the Red Cross truck was doing just that: passing through town.
The vehicle apparently had no intention of stopping.
Gibbs decided she just couldn't let that happen.
She jumped in her car and floored the gas petal.
Gibbs quickly caught up to the Red Cross vehicle, where she began waving and screaming at the
driver to stop and unload some food.
"I literally hijacked the Red Cross truck," Gibbs told Newsweek. "People are poor, they didn't have anything before the storm. I was so desperate for my community."
In town, Gibbs became somewhat of a local hero, on the spot. In fact, as she commandeered the Red Cross truck and got it to pull over, witnesses in town gathered around it and began applauding Gibbs' audaciousness.
Perhaps more important than simply getting a temporary load of food in her town, however, Gibbs' bravado did something bigger: Since she flagged down the Red Cross truck and her story hit that national headlines, Gibbs' tale has focused attention on the still-desperate need of smaller, obscure and neglected towns and rural areas in getting relief from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
Whenever there is a horrible disaster of any kind, we all know beforehand that in the aftermath of the rubble and despair, there will be those stories of ordinary people who do something extraordinary in the face of adversity.
The residents of Ovett, Mississippi, surely put Andie Gibbs squarely in that category.
Perhaps one of the striking things about Gibbs' story is just how nonchalant she was about her sexual orientation.
Rural Mississippi is not known for being the most gay-supportive environment in the country.
Indeed, in the past, the owners and residents of Camp Sister Spirit have had their share of run-ins with inhospitable local residents who disapprove.
But in the face of need, Andie Gibbs didn't define her "community" as narrowly as other lesbians and gays, or just the people at the campground.
She knew all of Ovett was her community.
And surely they now know just what an important part of it Andie Gibbs is, too.
Mubarak Dahir, can be reached at MubarakDahir@aol.com.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 15, No. 14 October 14, 2005