BY Sarah Neddo ON November 10, 2014
In early September, Washington Post’s Sandhya Somashekhar penned an article highlighting the Human Right’s Campaign’s (HRC) recent $8.5 million grant to endow the LGBTQ equality campaign in the rural south. The New York Times followed suit underscoring how gay rights advocates are now focusing on this new frontier. The South however, is not a new frontier for civil rights or LGBT equality. The notion of a new frontier, coupled with HRC’s assimilationist title, “Project One America,” echoes the erasure of both historical and current efforts towards building an affirming LGBTQ community for everyone in the South.
This erasure has not been met with silence.
In the weeks following Somashekhar’s article, a wave of critical responses among Southern LGBTQ activists have appeared across the web in the Huffington Post and Advocate. The outrage is a testament to Southern activists and their long history of advocating for LGBTQ communities.“ Take some time to get to know the local communities who have been building bridges, winning and losing campaigns, and making a difference for generations,” wrote activist Kip Williams. “Enter these communities with humility and a beginner’s mind. And please, please don’t erase the rich history and culture of the queer South just because you finally started paying attention.”
What sets apart the HRC’s new campaign historically? A number of things, but one is money. The South lags far behind in LGBT funding compared to the rest of the country, and $8.5 million dollars towards LGBTQ work is unprecedented for this region of the country.
Yes money is important, but this should not overshadow the extraordinary ways Southern LGBTQ communities have and are living, organizing, agitating for change. One great example is Southerners on New Ground (SONG). Since 1993 SONG has been organizing LGBTQ Southerners across rural and urban communities and hosting sub-regional retreats for southern queer people of color.
For further reading on Southern LGBTQ History check out:
- E. Patrick Johnson, Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South (2011)
- Karen Graves, And They Were Wonderful Teachers: Florida’s Purge of Lesbian and Gay Teachers (2009)
- Brock Thompson, The Un-Natural State: Arkansas and the Queer South (2010)
- John Howard, Men Like That: A Southern Queer History (2001)
- James T. Sears, Rebels, Rubyfruit, and Rhinestones: Queering Space in the Stonewall South (2001)