The national GLBT rights movement still doesn't know how to deal with the South. Those of us working in the statewide organizations, like the Tennessee Equality Project, of course, live the challenges of that work every day. But we have largely been left behind, to recall the title of a popular Evangelical novel.
Perhaps we're just not cutting edge enough. No Southern state is positioned for marriage equality in the next 10 years, as far as I can tell.
Some helpful conversations have begun that could suggest the way forward. For example, there's lots of talk about engaging religion, but it's mostly the safe kind of engagement with those who are already our allies, not the Southern Baptist Convention or the congregations of the Church of Christ. And now there is a renewed call to deal with racism in the GLBT rights movement. Consider the words of Rea Carey, the executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force:
Have we done enough as a community to deal with our own racism and to make sure that our movement is one that reflects the true diversity of LGBT people? We sure haven't. But the finger pointing and scapegoating was an affront to the many people of color and others who worked on and with the campaign and to our allied organizations. Furthermore, it avoids the complexity of the work we still have to do to win equality.
She's absolutely right. Some white gay activists blamed the African American community for the passage of Prop 8 in California. It was ridiculous. But a lot of the efforts to deal with race in the GLBT community look like what is described here. No doubt these workshops help, but there's a much more obvious issue and it involves a bracketing of region.
You can't deal with the issues of race, religion, and the GLBT rights movement without acknowledging that national organizations ignore the South. How can you address the issue when you ignore so many states with high African-American populations?
Consider these facts helpfully compiled from Census data:
*States with more than 1 million African Americans include New York, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. 7 of those states are solidly Southern, while Texas and Florida retain significant Southern heritage.
*African Americans make up at least a quarter of the population in these states: Mississippi, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Alabama.
*The states with the largest growth in the African American population are Georgia, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina.
Out of the states in the lists above, only Florida has received significant national attention recently and that's because of the marriage ballot measure.
I think the problem is that when progressives (including GLBT activists) think of the South, they think of a collection of red states, the recently blue states of Virginia and North Carolina nothwithstanding. They forget that the South is where a large number of Black GLBT people live and an increasing number of Latinos as well. They forget that the South is the home of the religious organizations most opposed to our rights.
It's a lesson that should have been obvious from the results of the November election. The South votes differently. Progress in the South means something different from what it means in California and New York. But guess who's talking about regionalism. Republicans. They are beginning to have conversations about the dangers of becoming a regional party. Will the GLBT movement have a conversation about the dangers of abandoning an entire region of the country?
I'm not holding my breath. Any time there is a hate incident in the South and it gets mentioned on national blogs, you inevitably see something in the comments section like, "We ought to boycott the state of _______." Fill in the blank with any of the thirteen. Never mind that horrible hate crimes occur in states on both coasts and well above the Mason-Dixon Line. The South has been written off.