This briefing paper builds upon the research presented in Applied Research Center's 2010 "Better Together" report by looking specifically at the challenges and opportunities that arise when we connect movements, organizations, constituencies, and issues for racial justice with those for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) liberation in the U.S. South. As mainstream media has dedicated relatively little attention to covering the barriers encountered, and the progress made, by LGBT organizations and activists in southern "Bible Belt" states, this paper highlights trends and organizing initiatives affecting the lives of Southern LGBT people of color.
Changes in racial composition and migration patterns contribute to both cultural and political change in the South, with significant implications for national policy change. Through a series of interviews, surveys, and convenings with Southern leaders, and through research on recent developments in the region, this paper identifies demographics changes, noteworthy trends, and successes and setbacks affecting the lives of LGBT people and people of color across twelve Southern states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Relative to most other regions in the nation, there is a clear dearth of progressive legislation in the South. Indeed, when it comes to LGBT and racial equity, the South looks like a progressive policy desert. But that's only one side of the story; a closer examination of on-the-ground community efforts reveals that, even amidst this policy desert, there are many flourishing oases of deep experience, courageous and creative organizing, and promising practices focused on activating and uniting marginalized communities into formidable forces for social change. Many of the insights and models developed in the South -- though often given little attention by the national media, mainstream LGBT, and traditional civil rights organizations and philanthropic institutions -- could substantively contribute to broader movement-building strategies for our nation.
A surprising array of grassroots organizations are engaged in innovative and intersectional work across the South, fueling LGBT acceptance and cultural change. They incorporate strategies such as inclusionary and multi-issue framing; explicitly addressing race to build multi-racial cohesion and power; and creatively using cultural expressions such as storytelling, personal testimonies, and the arts to elevate the voices of LGBT people of color. Many of these efforts and strategies that centralize, rather than marginalize, communities of color in LGBT issues in the South have nationwide resonance and relevance and, given adequate resourcing as well as appropriate tools and channels for sharing best practices, they could continue to take transformative projects to a greater scale to expand their reach and impact