I wrote earlier this month about the LGBTQ movement’s new focus on the South, led by funders like Tim Gill and organizations like the Human Rights Campaign. While it remains to be seen what style of activism will work best in a region that has a knack for avoiding difficult conversations and a tendency to resist change, it’s clear that the current paradigm of “two Americas” that HRC president Chad Griffin describes—one in which certain kinds of gay equality are on the rise and another in which discrimination and helplessness before the law is commonplace—must come to an end.
No doubt in an effort to drive that point home, HRC’s Project One America released a video yesterday featuring the voices of LGBTQ people from states like Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas. They speak of fear for their jobs, the inability to show even the most innocent signs of affection in public, and a pervasive feeling of “despair” brought on by the sense in the community that there is something wrong with them. In a particularly poignant moment, a lesbian couple realizes that they sit four feet apart on the couch even in the privacy of their own home: “You start becoming what you pretend to be,” Joce, one of the pair, observes.
Hearing all these stories of struggle, it’s easy to wonder why LGBTQ people don’t all just leave the South. But the interviewees make a point of expressing their love for the region, whether for reasons of culture, family, or other meaningful connections. And in the end, why should they leave? As Joce put it, “Either we have to change or Mississippi has to change, and we’ve decided it’s going to be them.”
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