LGBTQ Southerners Face Unique Landscape and Advocacy Opportunities, Report Says

Today the Movement Advancement Project and Campaign for Southern Equality released Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership, a new report examining the experiences and advocacy strategies of LGBTQ people in the U.S. South. The report was released in partnership with the Equality Federation.

One in three LGBTQ people in the U.S. call the South home – more than any other region of the country. Yet the South has the most hostile policy landscape in the country for LGBTQ issues. Despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming employment discrimination protections nationwide for LGBTQ people, 93% of LGBTQ Southerners live in a state with a low or negative LGBTQ equality score, reflecting laws which impact virtually every aspect of daily life. Additionally, key elements of Southern culture including religious conservatism, one-party control, and the legacy of slavery, make the South unlike any other region in the country.

This report explores the unique experiences of LGBTQ Southerners and, in response to this unique political landscape, the innovative ways that LGBTQ Southerners build community, provide direct support, and make cultural and political change.

“Contrary to media depictions of LGBTQ people primarily living in New York or California, the South is home to more LGBTQ people than any other region, as well as incredible racial diversity among LGBTQ people,” said Logan Casey, Policy Researcher at the Movement Advancement Project, and author of the report. “LGBTQ advocates in the South are both creative and effective in response to the political landscape and have often led the nation in working in broad coalitions and across a wide range of issues.”

Key findings from the report about the experiences of and landscape facing LGBTQ people in the South include the following:

  • Roughly 3.6 million LGBTQ adults live in the South, including over half a million transgender adults—more than in any other region.

  • More than four in 10 LGBTQ people in the South are people of color. More than one in five LGBTQ Southerners are Black, higher than any other region.

  • The legacy of slavery and systemic racism have significant, continuing impacts on the experiences of LGBTQ Southerners who are Black and other people of color.

  • LGBTQ Southerners are more likely than LGBTQ people outside the South to be religiously affiliated, with over half of LGBTQ Southerners being religiously affiliated.

LGBTQ Southerners experience multiple challenges in economic security, health access and outcomes, as well as in daily life—all of which are often amplified for LGBTQ people of color. For example:

  • According to a survey from the Campaign for Southern Equality, 71% of LGBTQ Southerners have experienced harassment related to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

  • 23% of LGBTQ Southerners have experienced physical violence, with higher rates for people who are transgender.

  • One in three Black LGBTQ Southerners reported experiencing physical violence because they are LGBTQ, the highest rate of any racial or ethnic group.

Despite a harsh state-level policy landscape, notable progress has been made across the South in the past ten years, most notably with recent wins in Virginia.

LGBTQ Southerners have responded to the South’s unique cultural and political landscape in innovative and resilient ways, often leading the nation in modeling effective and broad coalition work.

  • LGBTQ people in the South often focus on building community and providing direct support to address community needs without waiting for state legislatures.

  • Examples of direct support include mobile health clinics, food pantries, providing housing, distributing gender affirming clothing, summer camps, and skills-building clinics.

  • Many Southern LGBTQ organizations work on broad-ranging issues including voter suppression, racism, police violence against Black people and other communities of color, immigration reform, and climate change.

  • Advocates are adept at seizing opportunities to educate and change hearts and minds.

LGBTQ Southerners are also especially effective and successful in policy advocacy, though victories and progress may look different, focusing more on defensive work and long-term public education. Over the last five years, LGBTQ Southerners successfully defeated 93% of the anti-LGBTQ bills that were introduced in Southern state legislatures.

“It’s true that LGBTQ Southerners experience a lot of barriers to equality and full inclusion, from a difficult policy landscape to the cultural realities of the South. These forces often require that we organize in different ways, dreaming up new strategies, finding ways to work the seams and the fault lines – in other words, that we approach organizing in ways that are both queer and Southern,” said Rev. Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, Executive Director at the Campaign for Southern Equality. “There’s a deep sense of resolve and hopefulness, even as we also carry significant pain and grief. The impact of LGBTQ people staying in the South, being out, sharing our stories, being in public leadership – all of this is changing old notions of what’s possible in the South. This is our home, and to claim it as such is an act of both resistance and reclamation.”

“Despite the Supreme Court ruling affirming employment nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide, LGBTQ people are still not protected from discrimination in public accommodations, government services, healthcare and so much more. It’s critical that the work of LGBTQ Southerners be supported and amplified, and that elected officials take immediate steps to expand LGBTQ protections at the federal, state and local levels. LGBTQ Southerners shouldn’t have to choose between basic protections and the place they call home,” said Ian Palmquist, Senior Director of Programs with the Equality Federation.

Southern LGBTQ organizations spotlighted in the report include: Equality Florida, Gender Benders (South Carolina), Knights & Orchids Society (Alabama), Nationz Foundation (Virginia), Southerners on New Ground (North Carolina), STAY Project (Appalachia region), Transform Houston.

Read the full report online: Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership.

A recent companion report, LGBTQ Policy Spotlight: Mapping LGBTQ Equality in the U.S. South, details the laws and policies impacting LGBTQ people in 14 Southern states.

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