Several states have recently introduced a variety of anti-LGBT bills, ranging from “bathroom laws” to religious freedom bills. Mississippi and North Carolina have thus far been the only states to successfully pass these bills through their state senates, although others are likely to follow. As a Mississippi native, I am distraught for my LGBT siblings who are still in my home state. I know their suffering, at least to an extent. When I was young and in the midst of discovering my bisexuality, I was faced with hatred, confusion, and a complete lack of institutional and community support. And so I left as soon as I was able. However, many are not able to leave the state – and many don’t want to leave in the first place.
Now that I live in Washington, DC, I’m privy to the perspectives of others whenever Southern states behave poorly. Oftentimes, those from other states are dismissive of Mississippi. There is a mindset that the Deep South cannot and will not change, and that there isn’t any point in trying. I’ve heard others inquire as to why LGBT individuals just don’t leave the region. But it’s not that easy. Moving is costly and terrifying; without financial and emotional support it’s next to impossible. Besides, the individuals in states like Mississippi aren’t the problem—the state governments are.
LGBT individuals deserve to remain in their hometowns with the same quality of life awarded heterosexual, cisgender individuals. The South is a beautiful culture, and it is all many have ever known. They have a right to Cypress trees and sweet tea. To the comfort of their family friends and to their childhood homes. To the financial stability of maintaining their current lifestyles and careers. But state governments have no right, legal or natural, to take that away. And dismissing these states and their intolerance is dismissing the lives and strife of the LGBT individuals who stay.
When framing the conversation, we need to acknowledge that the people who are affected aren’t the problem and thus shouldn’t be expected to leave. The lawmakers who are codifying their bigotry are the problem, and they are the ones we should be calling to step down.