Being Gay in the Bible Belt (South)
Map of Bible Belt
The Bible Belt States
The Bible Belt is a term that was coined to describe the somewhat nebulous region from the lower Midwest to the Southeast of the United States. States within the Bible Belt tend to be "red states"' and have very traditional Western Christian values and beliefs. To qualify as a Bible Belt state, the primary denomination of the majority of state residents must be Evangelical Protestants.
A List of Bible Belt States
- West Virginia
- West Virginia
- South Carolina
Partial Bible Belt States
Gay Rights in the Bible Belt
It should be noted that no Bible Belt state allows gay marriage. In fact, all of these states have a constitution that bans same sex marriage and the vast majority also constitutionally ban all forms of civil unions and domestic partnerships for same sex couples, leaving partnered gays and lesbians with little to no rights.
29 states have absolutely no laws preventing employment discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Not a single southern state offers laws to protect LGBT employees from discrimination. This means that employers in these states can discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring practices, job evaluations, and even fire LGBT employees due solely to their sexual orientation without any legal consequence or investigation. Colleges are even allowed to expel LGBT students because of their sexual orientation.
According to Wikipedia, Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah all still have sodomy laws that make sexual interaction between consenting, adult same sex partners a crime punishable by law. A Supreme Court ruling renders these archaic sodomy laws unusable but they still cause unnecessarily prolonged legal trouble and discrimination against gay couples and individuals where they are recognized at the state level.
LGBT Adoption Laws
All states in the Bible Belt have laws that either prohibit joint adoption or remain ambiguous in a way that nonetheless prohibits LGBT couples from adopting. This means that only one parent in an LGBT couple is allowed to officially adopt a child. This has numerous negative consequences; not only for the LGBT parents, but for the children as well. The children of an LGBT couple in the South are treated as second-class citizens and are not afforded the same basic rights as their peers born to straight parents.
The children of gay parents in these states have no legal protection in the event of a divorce because more than one gay parent is not recognized by the courts. Thus, one parent can decide they want a divorce and simply disappear with the child, leaving the other parent with absolutely no visitation rights.
Medical Rights for Gay Couples
In states that do not recognize gay marriage or civil unions, LGBT couples have no rights as a couple. This means that if I were to visit my home state of Kentucky and fall ill, my fiancée would not be able to receive information or make decisions about my medical care. Even when we marry, because the marriage is not recognized by most states, we would be treated as strangers in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
This is of particular importance to gay parents because, due to many states that have policies that only allow one same sex parent to be the legal guardian of a child, one parent is treated like a stranger in the case of medical emergency. This means that if one of the parents is out of town on business and the child falls sick while in the care of the parent who raised them, but is not allowed on the adoption or birth certificate, that parent has absolutely no parental rights. They are viewed by the state as a stranger to the child they have raised and cared for just as any other devoted and loving parent.
Anti-Gay Hate Crime Statistics
For all the claims of religious persecution that many Southern fundamentalists make, hate crimes with sexual orientation as a motivation made up 20.8% of all hate crimes in the United States as of 2011. It should be noted that the statistic represents only those hate crimes which were voluntarily reported to the police. Experts believe the actual number of anti-gay hate crimes to be much greater. In fact, a 2005 study conducted by the Department of Justice discovered that the vast majority of all hate crimes are never reported for one reason or another.
In fact, gays, lesbians and bisexuals are more likely than any other minority group to be the victim in a violent hate crime.
Comparison of Likelihood of Attack Compared to Other Minorities
- 240% more likely than Jews
- 260% more likely than African Americans
- 440% more likely than Muslims
Of the 19.8% of hate crimes that were a result of religious bias in the 2011 report, 3.4% were the result of bias against Protestant individuals. That makes up 0.71% of all hate crimes reported in the United States, compared to hate crimes as the result of sexual orientation bias, which made up 20.8%.
Again, experts believe that only a fraction of hate crime victims will ever speak out. For a victim of a hate crime in the South, that reason is likely to be fear of discrimination from loved ones, friends, colleagues and even employers. Only around 40% of hate crime victims report being attacked as a result of their orientation. This figure is a stark contrast to the limited number of incidences reported to the FBI.
Additionally, several states still have no laws declaring crimes against an individual because of their sexual orientation a hate crime.
Coming Out as Gay in the South
As with many aspects of the experience of being gay in the South, coming out in the South is not easy, but it can be rewarding if done strategically. Unfortunately, due to the vast influence of Evangelical fundamentalism, coming out in the South is often more difficult than in other parts of the country. In much of the Bible Belt homosexuality is still a very taboo subject.
Southern families, particularly those with a Protestant worldview, tend to be very conservative. Most of the coming out horror stories that happen today come from LGBT people who come out to their families in the south. If you are a Southern gay, lesbian or bisexual, you may feel that coming out to your family and friends is an insurmountable task.
It's important to understand that you're not alone in this experience. You may feel isolated even in the LGBT community, as many LGBT folks from more diverse and tolerant parts of the country don't understand the unique set of struggles that Southern gays and lesbians face.
Here are a few tips to make coming out in the South go as smoothly as possible:
- Choose who you come out to wisely. If you have an acquaintance or family member you know will react badly, try to avoid coming out to them first. The coming out process is stressful, so come out to those you know won't change the way they treat you first. You'll need their support. Also consider the ramifications of coming out at work if you think it could cost you your job or cause unfavorable treatment. Nearly all Southern states have no laws protecting the rights of LGBT employees, so your treatment may be entirely dependent upon your employer's politics and beliefs and your company's policy. Find out what your company's corporate policy is on discrimination. The process is different for everyone and you have to decide what's best for your life.
- Plan when to come out strategically. If you still live at home or receive support from your parents, you have other considerations that fully independent adults do not have. Many parents will disconnect for a time and, in some worst case scenarios, completely disown their gay children. This is a harsh but true reality, and I certainly hope that it isn't the case for you.
As they say, it's always best to plan for the worst. In a worst case scenario, would you be in physical, emotional or financial danger if you came out right now? If you think that's a possibility, the best option is to wait for a safe time. Coming out is stressful enough without having to worry about putting a roof over your head.
If you think you'll be cut off financially, emotionally or in any other way as a result of coming out to your family, consider coming out to those you know will be supportive first and focus on making yourself financially independent. This will ensure that your family can't use resources to manipulate you into unwanted "gay conversion therapies" or otherwise pressure you about your sexuality.
- Have at least one person you can confide in. You will need support during this time. Even the best coming out process comes with many life changes. You're taking a step into being fully open about an important aspect of your identity. Having a friend or loved one who understands and is willing to listen as well as provide sound advice is absolutely invaluable.
- Find others who have already come out. Everyone has their own coming out story. Learning how others handled the ups and downs of the coming out process will give you ideas and helpful guidance as well as support in your own coming out journey.
- Don't make assumptions. Once you've planned and are sure that you will not suffer physically or financially for your loved ones' reactions when you come out, take a deep breath. It may not be as bad as you think. Give them a chance to react and understand that they have likely lived their lives with very strong cultural expectations. Being gay is never a part of those expectations in the South, so adjusting to the news will take some time.
Just because someone is Southern, Christian or Republican doesn't make them anti-gay any more than being Northern, Atheist or a Democrat makes them pro-gay. Yes, there are statistical likelihoods and regional trends that negatively affect the LGBT experience in the south, but individuals should not be judged before they're given a chance to show their true colors. We should give others the same respect and opportunity that we hope to receive from them.
- Violence is never okay. If someone threatens you or harms you physically in any way because you came out, report it to the police. Many Southern states may not have hate crime laws that protect LGBT citizens, but assault is illegal no matter who the target is. You do not deserve to be threatened, battered or coerced in any way due to your sexual orientation.
- Don't feel pressured to come out before you're ready. Unfortunately, there are those even within our own community who will pressure other LGBT folks to come out before they feel comfortable. This is a terrible idea. You will come out in your own time when you are ready. Don't let anyone pressure you to do it sooner or later.
- Accept what you cannot change. Remember, you can control who you come out to and when, but you can't control how they will react. Sometimes those we think will be the least supportive turn out to be surprisingly open-minded. Other times, the coming out journey is littered with disappointments along the way. Others can believe what they want, but you've taken an important step in your personal life journey and that's something to be proud of.
Gay Affirming Church Directories
- The Gay Christian Network
Support and community for LGBT Christians and their friends and family members, plus conferences, podcasts, chats, videos, Bible study, and more!
- Institute for Welcoming Resources - Find a Welcoming Congregation
The Institute for Welcoming Resources is a consortium of denominational representatives of the Welcoming Church Movement. This ecumenical group provides resources to facilitate a paradigm shift in multiple denominations whereby churches become welcom
- Directory of Gay Affirming Churches
This is the primary directory for gay affirming churches in the US. Unfortunately, the site is down right now. Be sure to check back later.
- Gay Affirming Christian Churches
Links to gay churches with in-depth descriptions and provides great resources for gay Christians and the secular gay community.
How to Find Other Gay Christians in the South
If you are a gay Christian living in the Bible Belt, chances are you may feel misunderstood and isolated. Take heart -- there are many others like you in your region. Gay Christians in the Bible Belt just need to do a little more searching than usual to find others like them. There are many online resources that can help you in this endeavor. Being gay in the South is certainly not easy, but a sense of community can help whether you're deep in the closet, transitioning or out and proud.
Resources for Gay Christians in the Bible Belt
- GayChristian.net is an online forum and overall resource for Christian gays and lesbians. Whether you are a practicing gay Christian, or on the fence about your sexuality, religion or both, there is a strong and active community of members who would be more than happy to welcome you into the fold.
- GayChurch.org is the go-to resource for finding a gay affirming church online. The site features an easy to use directory of gay affirming churches in all 50 states, includes church denomination, and provides other resources for the gay and lesbian community. Unfortunately, the site is down for now. Be sure to check back regularly as it really is an invaluable resource for gay Christians.
- WelcomingResources.org is another site that provides valuable resources for gay and lesbian Christians worldwide. They have a directory of gay affirming churches and other religious organizations that covers not only all 50 American states but other continents as well. There is even a search for campus ministries that cater to gay and lesbian Christians.
- ChristianGays.com, yet another great site that links to gay affirming churches and other helpful resources to improve the gay Christian experience.
Additional Resources for Southern Gays and Lesbians
- Lambda Legal
A non-profit organization that provides legal services to the LGBT community.
- It Gets Better Project - YouTube
The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach -- if they can jus...
- Coming Out | A Guide To Coming Out Of The Closet
A guide to coming out of the closet and telling your family and friends that you're gay.
- Help At The End Of The Line | Boys Town
There’s help at the end of the line when you call the Boys Town National Hotline. Whether you’re a child, teen or parent, they can help. 1-800-448-3000.
- Preventing Suicide Among LGBTQ Youth | The Trevor Project
The Trevor Project is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.