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How ‘Real America’ Became Queer America

The Trump administration may be busy waging culture wars. But in the heartland, it’s never been a better time to be L.G.B.T.

By Samantha Allen

Ms. Allen is an author and reporter covering L.G.B.T. issues.

March 13, 2019

This may seem like a strange time to feel optimistic about the future of L.G.B.T. rights in America. But as a queer transgender woman who has spent most of her adult life in red states, hopeful is exactly how I feel.

In July 2017 — the same month that President Trump announced on Twitter that he would ban transgender troops — I left on a six-week-long road trip across the red states. I wanted to understand what motivated L.G.B.T. people to stay in the heartland at a time when some progressives were still pondering escaping to Canada.

What I learned on the way from Utah to Georgia only reaffirmed what I have come to believe over the past decade: Attitudes toward L.G.B.T. people are changing rapidly in conservative states, and no one inside the Beltway can stop it. This country’s bright queer future is already here, hiding where too few of us care to travel.

From a bird’s-eye perspective, it may not seem that life has changed for L.G.B.T. Americans in so-called flyover country. State laws prohibiting discrimination against them remain elusive in red states — although Utah notably passed one in 2015. But in their absence, midsize cities have become pockets of L.G.B.T. acceptance.

...

by Go heartland!reply 1003/14/2019

...

In the West, cities including Boise, Idaho; Salt Lake City; Bozeman, Mont.; and Laramie, Wyo., have passed L.G.B.T.-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances in the past decade. Below the Mason-Dixon line, the list of cities with such laws includes Atlanta and New Orleans; Birmingham, Ala.; and Jackson, Miss. L.G.B.T. Texans have had to fend off all manner of horrific state-level bills, but if they live in Austin, Dallas, Plano or Fort Worth, they have solid local laws on their side. And Midwestern hubs like St. Louis and Omaha likewise offer L.G.B.T. protections.

The Human Rights Campaign, a national L.G.B.T. advocacy organization, is downright cheerful about this trend at a time when queer optimism feels in short supply. In the its 2018 Municipal Equality Index, the group’s president, Chad Griffin, wrote that “while cynical politicians in Washington, D.C., attempt to roll back our hard-fought progress, many local leaders are championing equality in big cities and small towns from coast to coast.”

And this progress includes transgender people. According to the group’s data, over 180 cities and counties in states whose electoral votes went to Mr. Trump in 2016 now protect employees not just on the basis of sexual orientation but gender identity as well.

On my road trip through what is ostensibly Trump country, I met many L.G.B.T. people who saw no need to flee their conservative home states for the coastal safe havens of generations past, thanks to local progress.

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by Go heartland!reply 103/14/2019

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In Utah, I made arts and crafts with transgender and gender-nonconforming teenagers, most of whom belong to Mormon families. Over coffee in the Rio Grande Valley, a nonbinary friend told me that the region’s L.G.B.T. people remain as hardy as the prickly pear cactuses of South Texas. And in an Indiana town where everyone knows everyone, a transgender woman in her 50s told me how much things have changed in her area since she first came out over the course of the 2000s. “It’s so much better,” she said. “It’s so much freer. It needs to be reported.”

It is, of course, being reported — but news about positive L.G.B.T. developments in cities and states tends to garner a small fraction of the attention that stories about the Trump administration’s anti-L.G.B.T. plotting do. When the Department of Health and Human Services circulates an anti-transgender memo, social media is aflame for days; by comparison, when New Hampshire’s Republican governor signs a transgender nondiscrimination bill that passed with bipartisan support, we barely bat an eye.

When we focus too intently on the actions of the Trump-Pence administration, we miss the bigger — and better — picture: A majority of Americans — in all but six states — now support same-sex marriage. Most support transgender military service. Most oppose businesses’ turning away L.G.B.T. customers in the name of religion. Public opinion on L.G.B.T. people is finally turning a corner, not just on the coasts but between them as well.

That shift is thanks in large part to the increasing proportion of Americans who identify as L.G.B.T. themselves. According to Gallup polling data, 4.5 percent of American adults now identify as L.G.B.T., which is a full percentage point higher than in 2012. Millennials may not be more likely to be L.G.B.T., but their increased willingness to come out of the closet is driving the community’s numbers up.

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by Go heartland!reply 203/14/2019

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Queer people, simply put, are everywhere. (We are most definitely in Dollywood, a theme park owned by Dolly Parton in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and my favorite stop on my road trip, where I saw Bible Belters and lesbian couples peaceably ride roller coasters side-by-side.)

As more millennials move to the South and West — and as more Americans all over the country come out as L.G.B.T. — cities like Louisville, Ky.; Norfolk, Va.; New Orleans; and Salt Lake City are all seeing huge spikes in the percentage of their residents who identify as L.G.B.T., as data from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, shows. At the same time, between 1990 and 2014, that same statistic stayed relatively static for longstanding hubs of gay culture like San Francisco and Los Angeles — and it even fell in New York City.

America’s queer center of gravity is moving toward the middle. Before we know it, this country will have become L.G.B.T.-friendly not from the outside in but from the inside out.

There are plenty of reasons for L.G.B.T. Americans to feel despondent right now. But hope is just down the road.

Samantha Allen is the author, most recently, of “Real Queer America: LGBT Stories From Red States” and a senior reporter covering L.G.B.T. issues for The Daily Beast.

by Go heartland!reply 303/14/2019

Very nice news. Gives me hope.

by Go heartland!reply 403/14/2019

I'm fascinated with the middle of the county. Missouri in particular for some reason.

by Go heartland!reply 503/14/2019

Despite Muriel'c occasional protestations to the contrary, DL itself seems to bear this out--lots of Flyoverstanis

by Go heartland!reply 603/14/2019

People, even those in the red states, all have gays within their families. THey realize, despite the propaganda, that gays are not a threat and are not a horrible group of people who are bringing down civilization.

We all want family members to have equal rights.

by Go heartland!reply 703/14/2019

I've seen some horrible homophobes completely change when their kids come out to them

by Go heartland!reply 803/14/2019

[quote]According to Gallup polling data, 4.5 percent of American adults now identify as L.G.B.T., which is a full percentage point higher than in 2012.

It’s always sobering to hear that, while more people are coming out than ever, we’re a still a tiny percentage compared to the entire population. 95.5% of Americans identify as non-LGBT people, yet the repugs and Xtian fundies continue to get rail about how the “gay agenda” is destroying civilization. Riiiight.

by Go heartland!reply 903/14/2019

R7... Nailed it! Harvey was right. "You have to come out". The closet was our worst enemy. Sadly, AIDS forced many to come out to their families who otherwise might not have. ACT UP was instrumental.

by Go heartland!reply 1003/14/2019
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