In the January issue of GQ, Phil Robertson, a star on the reality show Duck Dynasty, answered a question about what he believes to be sinful. “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” he said. “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” The network that the show appears on, A&E, took a major hit from both LGBTQ activists, who were outraged by the comments, and right-wing activists, who were outraged by Robertson’s subsequent suspension.
Robertson lives in the town of West Monroe, LA, and though the Duck Dynasty controversy has largely faded, its effects continue to be felt by those who live in, and love, the South—a region often branded as racist, sexist, homophobic, poor, and backwards. In Small Town Cross Roads, Southerners On New Ground (SONG) explores the realities and dreams of queer people who live in small Southern towns like West Monroe. The report raises up their experiences: how they’re waiting tables, fixing cars, teaching children, being parents, singing in choirs, cutting hair, growing tomatoes, gathering around kitchen tables, building community, and transforming the places they call home.
The report identifies some of the challenges of being queer in the South: isolation, criminalization, violence, and diminished resources. Yet it also highlights strategies that are producing positive results, and it offers recommendations for strengthening grassroots efforts that incubate and fortify cultures of resilience and revival.
SONG’s report was released in January at the annual Creating Change Conference, alongside another report produced by FIERCE, an organization of LGBTQ youth of color based in New York City. FIERCE’s report, Moving Up, Fighting Back: Creating a Path to LGBTQ Youth Liberation, shares results from a national survey and mapping project designed to identify key issues of the LGBTQ youth landscape and, like SONG’s report, suggests positive strategies for future work.
Key issues mentioned by survey participants include criminalization/policing, housing, immigration, and safety and violence (bias violence, school-based violence, and intimate/sexual violence). Many respondents called attention to a lack of adequate social services, including shelter space for gender non-conforming, cisgendered male, and trans survivors of violence. Notably, though, the report calls for prioritizing community organizing and community-based responses over efforts focused only on the provision of social services. Moreover, it offers a critique of hate-crimes legislation and anti-bullying ordinances, which can exacerbate institutional violence experienced by queer youth of color.
Echoing SONG’s findings, FIERCE also lifts up challenges faced by LGBTQ youth in rural areas, whose needs are often unaddressed by mainstream LGBTQ groups. Such challenges include lack of access to financial aid for immigrants, sexual violence within the context of cruising/pickups, anti-LGBTQ school staff, and anti-trans violence.
Finally, the report highlights positive examples of organizing by queer youth in Denver, New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, and Seattle. These “case studies” are powerful examples of what Ana Conner describes as the mission of groups like FIERCE: “As LGBTQ youth of color, we have to create our own spaces where we are doing the talking and the leading, not just being the issue that’s talked about. Our allies must invest in supporting a youth-led movement that puts us at the center and recognizes our power.”