I, for one, have just about had it up to here with all the stereotypes about the South, y’all. And, it’s high time us southern queer folk start tellin’ it just like it is: Our wonderful accents don’t knock dozens of points off our IQs. Our traditional slower pace of life doesn’t make us lazy. The antics of our right-wing legislatures don’t make progress on LGBT equality impossible.
It’s that last bit riiight thar that ‘nnoys me most. And, I ain’t the only one.
“For far too long,” Equality North Carolina’s Executive Director Stuart Campbell told me earlier this month, “the South has been somewhat ignored by our community, but I think the fact of the matter is that the last region in our country that will receive full equality will probably be the South and unless we start working on it now, it will never happen.”
Campbell believes, as do I, that some organizations and funders are beginning to see the writing on the wall. To make progress in the South, investment must be made. The strategy must be a little bit more strategic. The risks a little higher.
Yet, all that work is made more difficult when stereotypes and ignorance about the South still abound in many LGBT and progressive leaders, thinkers, pundits and others elsewhere in the nation.
I see and hear them first-hand, not only when I travel across the country, but also from northern transplants who move here or in online conversations with friends, acquaintances and colleagues.
“Why would you live there,” they ask. “Why don’t you just move someplace else? The South will never change; it’s impossible! There’s nothing but bigots down there! Rednecks with fat beer bellies singing Country songs about dogs, trucks, tractors and guns.”
And, you can see it in body language and hear it in other ways too. Have a strong southern accent? People will gawk at you like some rare animal on display for their personal entertainment and amusement. Or, people might immediately begin to use simpler words when they speak to you. Sometimes, their condescension can hardly be contained or they make seemingly complimentary comments that are anything but: “You sound like someone from ‘Gone With The Wind,’” is among the most memorable I’ve heard. (Just so we’re being clear: I’m not a slave owner, Confederate officer or the member of some bygone landed gentry family.)
Lazy. Fat. Conservative. Stupid. Backward. Yeah, the South has some folks who fit those descriptions, but so does every other part of the country. The South isn’t the only place where conservative, rural ways get in the way of progress, but the South is painted with the strongest of these stereotypes. Taken altogether, they do real damage and create significant perception problems that pre-judge individuals and whole communities, many of whom are working tirelessly every day to ensure progress in a variety of ways — be it on the local level, small policy changes in schools or working to elect openly LGBT people to more and more offices across the South.
The South isn’t hopeless and we are making progress here — just a little bit slower than others, perhaps. I think we do the best we can considering how many odds are stacked against us and how little support we receive. To wit, a recent study by Funders for LGBTQ Issues showed that in 2011 just $4 million of a total $123 million spent nationally by LGBT grant-awarding charitable groups went to the South. That’s just three percent of national funding despite the fact that over one-third of the nation’s population lives here. Funders for LGBTQ Issues will be discussing this funding gap at an upcoming summit, July 29-30, in Charlotte.
“We’re starting to see momentum,” Campbell added in my conversation with him. “We’re seeing demographic changes in the South. And, all that adds to really an opportune time for folks to invest in the South and to redouble our efforts.”
For the sake of the South, and all my LGBT siblings who live here, I pray Campbell is right. : :