COLUMBIA — The founder of the South Carolina Secessionist Party says the fact that he is gay does not impact his ability to lead the group’s pursuit of honoring Confederate heritage.
James Bessenger said he had received threats from people in other Southern heritage groups about his sexuality for more than a year and decided to speak publicly about his private life Monday.
“This fact has not hindered me from founding, organizing and leading South Carolina’s most open and active Confederate heritage support organization,” Bessenger said in a statement Monday. “The idea that all homosexuals have gone wholesale over to the idiocy of the liberal and politically correct left is a myth. I hope that this will help to dispel this myth.”
Bessenger said people characterize Confederate flag supporters as being racist, xenophobic and homophobic, and his existence in the movement defies that stereotype.
He said there is a far-right sect of Confederate heritage supporters who feel that way, but it does not represent the majority.
“There are those within the heritage defense community who will not accept this and those who will have their own less-than-favorable opinions of it,” the statement said.
“To those people I say this: When you are losing a battle for the preservation of your history and the honor of your ancestors, can you afford to turn away those who would stand beside you?”
The Secessionist Party was established in April 2014. But when the state began the process to remove the Confederate flag from the Statehouse grounds in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church shooting last year, Bessenger said they shifted focus from party politics to Confederate heritage.
The organization has held several Statehouse rallies, including one in July on the one-year anniversary of the flag removal.
Bessenger said the statement should not be seen as him “coming out,” as that was a step he took nearly 10 years ago.
“I have no doubt that the term ‘rainbow Confederate’ will be thrown around in response,” he said. “To those individuals I say only this: You say that like it’s a bad thing.”