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Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership

Despite being home to the most hostile policy landscape in the country for LGBTQ issues, the South is also home to some of the most innovative, resilient, and effective LGBTQ organizing and activism in the country. The Movement Advancement Project released a new report, Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership, which explores the unique experiences of LGBTQ Southerners and the innovative ways they build community, provide direct support, and make cultural and political change in the region.

Released in partnership with the Campaign for Southern Equality and Equality Federation, this report examines the experiences and advocacy strategies of LGBTQ people in the U.S. South. Despite the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling affirming employment discrimination protections nationwide, 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 cornerstones of Southern culture—including religious conservatism, one-party control, and the legacy of slavery—make the South unlike any other region in the country.

The report outlines challenges that LGBTQ people in the South face, including economic insecurity, criminalization, violence and harassment, and disparities in health access and outcomes. However, the work of LGBTQ advocates in the region demonstrates innovation and creativity in responding to these challenges. LGBTQ Southerners often work outside the state legislative context, focus on community building, and directly address the immediate needs of LGBTQ Southerners by providing housing, food, and healthcare access. Advocates are adept at seizing opportunities to educate and change hearts and minds.

Southern LGBTQ organizations spotlighted in 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), and Transform Houston.

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

Recommended citation: 
Movement Advancement Project. July 2020. Telling a New Southern Story: LGBTQ Resilience, Resistance, and Leadership. www.lgbtmap.org/regional-south. [Date of access].

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Sexual Orientation Policy Tally

The term “sexual orientation” is loosely defined as a person’s pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to people of the opposite sex or gender, the same sex or gender, or more than one sex or gender. Laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation primarily protect or harm lesbian, gay, and bisexual people. That said, transgender people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual can be affected by laws that explicitly mention sexual orientation.

Gender Identity Policy Tally

“Gender identity” is a person’s deeply-felt inner sense of being male, female, or something else or in-between. “Gender expression” refers to a person’s characteristics and behaviors such as appearance, dress, mannerisms and speech patterns that can be described as masculine, feminine, or something else. Gender identity and expression are independent of sexual orientation, and transgender people may identify as heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual. Laws that explicitly mention “gender identity” or “gender identity and expression” primarily protect or harm transgender people. These laws also can apply to people who are not transgender, but whose sense of gender or manner of dress does not adhere to gender stereotypes.

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