Op-Ed by James Robinson of GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Inc. (Alabama)
If you are LGBTQ in the South you will probably find it very easy to understand the religious oppression and abuse that is pervasive in our Southern culture. If you are not from the South, living in the South, or if you are not LGBTQ it is very likely you will not understand the severity this problem. I am writing to those of you who may not understand in order to raise awareness of the struggles and needs of the LGBTQ people living in places like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and the other Southern states because I receive many requests for help from people living with religious oppression and trauma.
In order to understand the problem you must understand that Fundamentalist Christians have tremendous influence in the South. They are extremely skillful at using misinformation and fear to intimidate LGBTQ people and control politics in places like Alabama where I live and work as an activist for the LGBTQ South.
If we want to create real and lasting social change we must be aware of the life-long trauma many of us endure. This trauma is the result of multi-generational religious oppression and abuse. Simply getting new progressive laws passed will not create acceptance and bring about the cultural changes that are essential if we hope to have healthy and safe communities in which to live, raise our families, and work.
When ministers use their pulpits as a platform to preach hate and to intimidate LGBTQ people, they are responsible for the damage done to and by the people who hear them. They are responsible for a lot of the oppression and abuse of LGBTQ people in the South. Every time a person commits suicide after their family or church community rejects them because of these messages… every time a young person becomes homeless because their families reject them after being influenced by these messages, the ministers who used their influence to hurt instead of help and the congregations that allowed this to continue are responsible and should be held accountable.
Even after many Southern LGBTQ Christians find accepting and affirming churches we still live with the negative influence that is ever-present in our lives because of the deeply rooted multi-generational religious oppression and abuse that is prevalent throughout the South. An example of this is the idea that a minister or church is being supportive of LGBTQ people simply because they do NOT say we are NOT welcome or simply because they do NOT say things that are unacceptable to LGBTQ people. I challenge these ministers and churches to consider that until they use their voices and influence to publicly support the acceptance and complete inclusion of LGBTQ people that their silence is contributing to the oppression and abuse that is a pervasive part of our Southern culture.
If you have not lived with pervasive religious oppression and abuse you probably do not understand that we are subjected to these conditions on a daily basis in the South. We live with this oppression and abuse in the form of legalized discrimination because of the absence of basic employee protections, because of legal definitions of marriage being only between a man and a woman, because our elected officials and community leaders often refuse to publicly support the LGBTQ citizens of their communities. Our professional service providers often share these beliefs and because of this there is a tremendous lack of legal, medical, and other services where people know they can receive support while being open and honest about being LGBTQ.
I applaud the congregations of the USA Presbyterians, The Episcopal Church, United Churches of Christ, Unity, Unitarian Universalist, some Disciples of Christ churches, some United Methodist churches, the independent Christian churches, a few Baptist churches, and others in the South that courageously and publicly contribute to the acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ people as equal members of our society by saying so publicly.
As I read The South Is Not a New Frontier: An Open Letter to the Human Rights Campaign, I was very glad the author wrote the article. A large community of LGBTQ people make the South our home. We have always been here and many of us work daily for our communities with very little financial support for our agencies. Our efforts are NOT just beginning. We serve our people proudly and diligently by advocating for them and by providing social services that would not exist without our agencies.
I would like to ask you, as LGBTQ people and our allies, to recognize the struggles we face in the South and other parts of our nation. There are a few organizations like the one I founded and continue to lead that have been on the front lines of the struggle for social justice and equality in the South for several years. We need both your financial support and your encouragement.
James Robinson is the founder and Executive Director of GLBT Advocacy & Youth Services, Inc. (Free2Be) in Huntsville, Alabama. He is a leader in the movement to secure Social Justice and Equality for the LGBTQ South.