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Queer Talk: Living Out Wherever You Are, Including ‘the South,’ Red and Rural Areas

I’ve written about this before — the “when” and “how” to come out — but thought about again today as I read a post at Northwest Public Radio, Rural Gay Community Living Out in Open. And that reminded me of an October article in the NY Times, We’re Here, We’re Queer, Y’all.

Something that frustrates and irritates me are arguments that LGBTs living in “the South” or “red states” or “the country” should simply leave and go to a big or bigger city, where being out and open is easier; where advances are already well along the way.
And I always wonder: how the hell do you think advances where made anywhere, including the biggest cities (remember Stonewall)? It wasn’t by everyone moving to “better,” safer areas, where someone else had already done the work.

Coming out, as I have always thought and believed (there are both intellectual and emotional elements to this process), is an individual choice, or series of choices. No one can use her or his own experience as a template for anyone else. Coming out, and often doing so selectively, are decisions each of us makes, and those decisions should be respected.

Anyway, I liked the “Rural Gay Community Living Out in Open” piece, by Jessica Robinson. Some selections follow.

Joe Palisano is used to a certain kind of reaction when he tells people where he lives.

‘ ‘You live where?! Idaho?! Way up there? How do you do that!?’ ’
Joe and his partner Tom Bry live just south of Sandpoint, Idaho to be precise -— population 7,000. He says people expect them to live in a city. They are equally surprised to hear that he is a farmer. …

Tom and Joe aren’t alone. Other gay and lesbian couples in Idaho say there’s been a shift -— even in staunchly conservative parts of this red state.
Peggy Roberts lives with her partner in Coeur d’Alene, not far from the mining town where she grew up.

Roberts: ‘Twenty years ago, I wouldn’t never thought about holding hands in public, wouldn’t have even crossed my mind. Today, we can walk through Coeur d’Alene city park if we want to.’

At one time, conventional wisdom said that people like Roberts —- kids who grow up gay or lesbian in a red state —- will high-tail it for the coasts. But now, they’re just as likely as anyone else to live in the same state they lived in at age 16.

And from Karen L. Cox, in the NY Times article:

Many people assume that because the South is the nation’s most evangelical and politically conservative region, it is probably also a hotbed for hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. But while such crimes do occur, they are less common than in large urban centers, where the absence of a tight community and the abundance of strangers make it easier to target people for their differences.

I should know: as a lesbian who has lived in the South my entire life, and in a small town in the Deep South for part of it, I’ve met many people … whose sexual identity has not prevented them from living a life of acceptance, admiration and even respect by their families and communities. …

In the mid-1990s, while in graduate school, I lived in the small city of Hattiesburg, Miss. There I met gays and lesbians who came to Hattiesburg from nearby rural communities like Petal, Wiggins, Runnelstown and even more far-flung places to enjoy the one gay bar that was within reasonable driving distance, or simply hang out with friends. Though they came for the comforts of a larger L.G.B.T. community, their sexual orientation was often known to their communities back home.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges and struggles, of course, and Cox explicitly acknowledges that. It’s something that’s true everywhere. I have no doubts that for the foreseeable future, wherever we of Queerdom are, there will be needs for ongoing work toward equality. At the same time, and to a growing extent (“growing” because people stay and do the needed work), there will be progress made.

(Rainbow Flag I’m Human via Wipe Out Homphobia on FB)

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