Why should gays stay in the South? This is a topic that I have extensively thought about, read articles about, and yes, even blogged here about. The issue once again came to the forefront yesterday when a friend shared a link to the Mother Jones story regarding the Tea Party House candidate in AL-1 who said that all the gays should just “go back” to States like California or Vermont. In introducing the article, he expressed his frustration with “Northern gays” (a phrase I will use to describe members of the LGBT community who live in States that provide full rights) and their attacks on LGBT people who choose to live in the South. To his credit, the individual who shared the article affirmed the Northern gays’ right to live in welcoming States or move to welcoming States. Thus, the blog post is not necessary directed at him; instead, I will be addressing a deeper underlying issue that seems to run through the LGBT community in the South – that is, a deep sense of betrayal against those Northern gays who leave the South.
For a bit of background, I would encourage my readers to read the article (linked above) that I posted a few years ago about this issue. I still hold to that position, yet with some very important caveats and with some words of warning to my Southern gay colleagues. And, for full disclosure, my husband Nathan and I made the deliberate choice – after much soul searching – to move to Minnesota as opposed to going back to Tennessee, because of the legal recognition that we are afforded there.
First, it is 100% inappropriate for Northern gays to assert that there must be something wrong with Southern gays for staying in the South. That argument, which yes, I often hear from people in NYC, California, New England, etc. is offensive and brings nothing to the table. As my friend said, there are reasons why LGBT individuals stay in the South. Each couple, individual, etc. has different things they value – many Northern gays, for example, value *right now* having the protections afforded to them through marriage, workplace protections, adoption rights, etc. Not saying that Southern gays do not value those things – they truly do – but many will not move from the South because they are willing to forego such legal protections for the time being, and feel that it is their duty to fight the good fight.
Yet, this attitude by the Southern gays can morph into a problem – and it is a problem that both my husband and I have been subjected too with our involvement in the LGBT community in Tennessee. As many Southern gays are immersed in the idea that they are “fighting the good fight”, they view individuals and couples that leave the South for greener pastures as traitors to the cause of equality. I know this, because I used to have a similar feeling. That was, until I was on the receiving end. I remember sitting in a room with a number of LGBT activists, listening to Harvey Milk’s speech about the necessity for equality everywhere and receiving glares because I had left Memphis to pursue a law degree at the University of Michigan. Some LGBT activists that I know in the South will no longer talk to me (or other people who have made similar decisions) because we are viewed as cowards. This, in my opinion, is as bad as the Northern gay position of “who would live in the South”. It is not the desire of every individual to be a fighter; instead some just want the opportunity to raise a family in a community which supports them and in which they have legal protection. That is not something that should be criticized, instead, as my friend who posted the article said, that decision should be something which is affirmed.
In the end, no matter where individuals decide to relocate, whether they go to the North or stay in the South, their decisions should be affirmed by our community. They should not be judged by the Northern gays for staying the South, nor should they be ostracized and made to feel like cowards by the gays of the South. Instead, let us band together around our compatriots, no matter where they are, and remember that or individual decisions on where to live should be respected.