The Divided States of Gaymerica: They Love You in Maine, Loathe You in Mississippi

Some researchers have been putting a lot of time/energy into determining where, exactly, you’re most likely to be oppressed and the results are at once totally predictable and completely shocking. It’s predictable because us homos have a chronic habit of losing when our civil rights are up for a popular vote, discrimination remains written into our constitution, and The Real L Word exists. It’s shocking because despite how far we’ve come as a country, there are many states out there where popular opinion has barely budged and seems unlikely to transform any time soon.

See, lately the National stats have kinda been floating gradually toward our favor. A recent Gallup survey showed 64% of respondents believing gay and lesbian relations should be legal, up from 50% in 2000 and 32% in 1987. Earlier this year, The Public Religion Research Institute found 47% of Americans supporting gay marriage and 47% against. Other recent studies by Gallup, ABC News and CNN placed support of gay marriage at between 51% and 53%.

But, as two other recent studies show, progress may seem far off if you live in Alabama. Yesterday’s National Coming Out Day probably felt a little different depending on where you’re at in the Nation.

gay rights activists in montgomery, alabama

First up we have an employment discrimination survey from American Journal of Sociology which focused on gay men. Researchers sent 1,700 copies of two resumes out to entry-level white collar job openings — managers, business and financial analysts, sales representatives, customer service representatives, and administrative assistants.

One resume indicated that the applicant had been part of a gay organization in college. In order to eliminate the possibility of job discrimination against gay people based on an overall aversion to liberal left-leaning politics, the other resume indicated its applicant’s involvement with the “Progressive and Socialist Alliance.”

They found that employers were 40% less likely to offer interviews to applicants with resumes that indicated they were openly gay than they were to offer interviews to their heterosexual counterparts.

However! Researchers said most of the overall gap was driven by the extreme disparities in Texas, Florida and Ohio. In California, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New York, the gaps were statistically insignificant.

It’s hard to tease out the chicken/egg situation here, but as you can see by that giant white hole down the middle of this chart from The Gay & Lesbian Task Force, there isn’t any legislation in place to stop employers in these states from discriminating against potential employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity:

But what’s the bigger picture? Well, this week The University of Chicago Press has published its evaluation of where it’s “okay to be gay.” They’ve declared that New Englanders (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont) are the most accepting of gay people with only 27% of study respondents saying homosexuality is always wrong.

The remaining regions, in order of tolerance for gay people:

2. Pacific Region (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington) – 37.5% think homosexuality is “always wrong”

3. Mid-Atlantic (New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania) – 39.3%

4. West North Central Region (Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota) – 43.8%

5. East North Central Region (Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin) – 46.4%

6. Mountain states (Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Montana, Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming) – 47.2%

7. South Atlantic (Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia) – 54.8%

8. West South Central (Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Texas) – 61.8%

9. East South Central (Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee) – 73.7%

Similarly, these regional attitudes are quickly apparent when you check out the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s map of partner-rights legislations across the US:

State-by-state data tells the same story of dramatic disparity over and over — whereas in Massachusetts, 60% favor gay marriage and only 30% oppose it, in West Virginia only 19% of the state’s voters want same-sex marriage legalized. When the Census’s 2005-2009 American Community Survey ranked cities by gay population, the top ten included five New England states and five in the Pacific Region.

I took perhaps an obsessive amount of time looking at these numbers along with all of the statistics in the whole wide world (including numbers from The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, Gallup and Public Policy Polling) and considering my own personal, completely subjective feelings about life in these here United States (based on extensive travel, conversations with other humans, reading magazines/books, watching a lot of documentaries and taking multiple trips to Oklahoma wherein I posed as my gay best friend’s girlfriend) to break down the country as I see it.

I’ve concluded that we’ve got approximately four “types” of states right now when it comes to Gay-Friendliness (which correspond with the above regional rankings of gay tolerance): Winners, Up-and-Comers, Wild Cards, and Longshots.

Type One – Winners: States like Massachusetts, New York and Vermont, where gay people already have a healthy portion of civil rights as well as general social acceptance.

new yorkers celebrate same-sex marriage

Type Two – Up-and-Comers: States like California, Illinois and Oregon, where one expects equality will come sooner rather than later and, although pockets of religious extremism pose some threat, people over 70 are generally the ones blamed for present inequity. Due to the finite lifespan of a human being, these states have high (although morbid) hopes for the future.

protests in calfornia over prop 8

The next two categories require a bit more unpacking and a good long look at the forces driving anti-gay sentiments in these states. What do they have in common besides latitude and longitude? Well, obviously the worst states for gay people are usually the best states for the GOP.

But more importantly, it comes as no surprise that a great deal of this discrimination, unfortunately for G-d who is probably super-annoyed that everybody has forgotten to love thy neighbor, is rooted in religion — more specifically, Evangelical Churches. Believe it or not, most churches are okay with your homogayness. But not the Evangelical Protestants!

Evangelical churches are thriving in America. It’s a boom industry, actually — and for more about the growth of evangelical megachurches, I highly recommend reading The Atlantic‘s Did Christianity Cause the Crash?.

"less than 1% are in canada"

Nationally, 26% of Americans identify as Evangelical Protestants. But over 40% of citizens in Alabama, North & South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississipi are affiliated with the notoriously anti-gay movement as well as over 50% of the population in Oklahoma, Arkansas and Tennessee.

And according to the Pew Forum’s U.S. Religion Landscape Survey, whereas nationally 50% of Americans think homosexuality should be accepted by society, only 26% of Evangelical Churches’ congregants feel that way.

This is significantly less than most other American religions, surpassed in intolerance only by Jehovah’s Witnesses (17%) and Mormons (24%). (The most accepting religious faiths include Judaism, Buddhism, Catholics and “other Christians.”)

Furthermore, 79% of Evangelicals say “religion is very important in their lives,” a dedication matched only by Historically Black Churches, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons (faiths which only compose 7%, 1% and 2% of the US Population, respectively). And — surprise! — residents of more gay-intolerant states with the highest Evangelical populations are more likely to say “religion is very important in their lives”:

In 2009, Gallup surveyed gay/lesbian people about whether or not their city/area was a bad place to live and found only 25% of respondents in the less religious areas said their home was bad for gays, as opposed to 84% of residents in the most religious areas:

g-d does not endorse this message, loves you for who you are

Which brings me to Type Three, The Wild Cards. These are states in which extreme social conservatism and relative social liberalism exist in close quarters, states where gays are openly attacked in one town and have three bars to choose from in another. These states aren’t 47% Evangelical, like Mississippi, but many are still host to a significant Evangelical population (or that one state with all the Mormons).

In Texas (34% Evangelical), a lesbian won the mayorship in Houston, but in 2010 the Texas Republican platform pushed to make conducting a same-sex marriage a felony. Texas is home to some of the country’s most mega-megachurches, but it’s also home to booming gay villages in Houston, Dallas and the uber-liberal AustinIn March 2010, the Texas Board voted to put a conservative stamp on their history and economics textbooks (that means no gays or evolution), but recent polling shows that 59% of Texans believe that same-sex couples should at least be allowed to form civil unions with the same rights as marriage.

Texas's Governor Rick Perry and Houston's Mayor Annise Parker

The Advocate‘s totally weird and non-scientific ranking of the gayest cities in 2010 listed  several cities from states I’d consider Wild Cards, including Albuquerque, New Mexico (#15) Asheville, North Carolina (#12), and Gainesville (#11) and Fort Lauderdale (#7) in Florida. Atlanta, Georgia scored #1.

There are pockets of hope in states broadly believed to be anti-gay — last week, the Public Policy Polling Center found opposition to same-sex marriage in Florida has fallen from 53% wanting same-sex marriage to be illegal in June to 48% opposing it right now. But Florida also expressly prohibits “homosexual” couples from adopting children. [ETA: Apparently this ban has been overturned since the GLTF’s last update in April 2011. So hurrah!] Nevada has employment protection and domestic partnerships for gay people and a booming gay population, but is one of many states with a same-sex marriage ban on the books.

In a Wild Card state, a gay human can usually find a tolerant place to live, even if the state in general isn’t exactly waiting with open arms. Some of these states may trend our way soon (Michigan) and some probably won’t for a long time (Texas). (I grew up in Ann Arbor, a liberal mecca in Michigan, and my gay mom still lives in a gay-friendly area of Suburban Detroit.)

Then we’ve got the Longshots– like Mississippi (47% Evangelical), Alabama (49%), Tennessee (51%), Arkansas (53%), Oklahoma (53%) and Kentucky (49%). Tennessee’s Senate recently passed the infamous “don’t say gay” bill. A 2011 Public Policy survey found 46% of Mississippi Republicans oppose interracial marriage. So what do we do with these numbers?

Constance McMillen goes to court in Jackson, Mississippi

For starters, this is why we need action on the federal level. Obama keeps saying it’s a matter best left to the states, but tell that to a 19-year-old in Alabama who can’t afford to move out of state but wants equal rights. The aforementioned states are also some of the poorest states in the country with respect to household income — Mississipi ranks 50th as the poorest US state, followed up by Arkansas at 48th, Kentucky at 47th, Alabama at 46th, Oklahoma at 45th and Tennessee at 44th. In other words, these are the people for whom Dan Savage’s It Gets Better video about his life in San Francisco is more a slap in the face than a comforting tome.

But do these numbers really tell the whole story? Cities like Birmingham, Alabama, are allegedly super-gay. When a university in Nashville fired a lesbian soccer coach, basically the entire city freaked out about it, and in Arkansas a school administrator was recently forced to resign over anti-gay rants on facebook. Mary Gray, author of Out in the Country: Youth, Media and Queer Visibility in Rural America, told us that while doing research for her book, said she found that “the idea that everyone is going to be a hater” was inaccurate. Furthermore: “More often than not I found folks were either neutral or positive, and just didn’t have the forum to say they were absolutely fine with LGBT identifying people.”

We talk a lot about how despite the degree to which it often sucks to be gay in America, it sucks even more to be gay in lots of other countries (for example, Uganda!). But it’s important to remember that things still suck really really really super bad for gay people right here in America, too, possibly sucking worse than you could ever imagine if you are right now sitting in Bed-Stuy eating macaroni con queso on your fire escape wishing you could get a job and/or girlfriend or if you’re sitting in Northampton feeding your baby applesauce.

San Francisco, CA

(Furthermore, one could easily write another 2,000 words on the intersectionality of oppression for LGBTQs in these states who are also of color and/or poor and/or trans.)

For those of you who do live in the more intolerant states, are the numbers misleading or spot on? For all of us — what does this mean for the future of the gay rights movement in America? There’s a long tradition in America of people who feel like “outsiders” — artists, geeks, atheists — leaving homogeneous towns for more embracing futures (a possibility that’s been significantly dimmed during economic recessions.) But is it fair to expect immutably gay people to follow the same paths? (I’ve never known as many Texans as I did while attending my boarding school for the arts in Michigan.) Do we focus on helping the tireless activists fighting for their civil rights in The Bible Belt — who have made significant, triumphant progress over the years — or do we focus on helping people relocate altogether? Or is there another angle altogether we should be looking at?

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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3200 articles for us.


  1. I like seeing this kind of reporting because it reminds me both how incredibly lucky I am and also how hard other parts of the country have it. I live in vermont, we’re very queer friendly and we’ve got a lot of protections and rights that many could only wish for. I’ve been blessed with an awesome family, community and state where my being openly trans isn’t even a concern to the people in my life. No one even blinked when I came out to them, for them I was just doing what I needed to to be happy. I wish that I could spread this kind of support and community to the entire country and we could finally be the “United” states of america.

  2. I grew up just outside Birmingham. I don’t know if I’d describe it as “super-gay.” Maybe more like “super-gay for Alabama.”

    Also, not only does Florida prohibit homosexuals from adopting kids, but the ONLY other group expressly prohibited from adopting is FELONS. So that’s special.

  3. I live in northern Alabama. I am obviously gay. I find the 50/50 statistic to fit well. I am very used to the curious glances and glares that come my way in public places. I’m noticed. It feels oppressive here. And there is almost no out and proud community here. The weirdest thing though, people will smile to your face but you can tell they are thinking about how you are going to hell. It’s so fake.

    When I graduate in May I am moving to LA even if I starve for a year.

    • Hey, where are you at in Northern Alabama. I’m from Huntsville, but I know groups in Florence, Huntsville, I believe Decatur has groups as well. I mean young adults/teen groups. Shoot me a message and maybe I can get you some help. It is getting better in Alabama. Of course there are still some people who are extremely resistance, but there is a community in Northern Alabama that can help you out.

  4. I’m from Kentucky, but I would like to think of my area as more of a “Wild Card”. Statewide legislation in KY is a longshot, I’ll readily agree, but I’ll also point out the importance of urban vs. rural communities, as well as presence of colleges and universities, as influential on general public acceptance of the homogays.
    The mayor of Lexington (a relatively small city, but by Kentucky standards might as well be a bustling metropolis) is openly gay, and our town is home to Monday Night Gay Bingo, for gods’ sake.

    On the other hand, if I travel 5 miles outside of the city I’ll be damned if I show any affection to my girlfriend, lest we literally put our lives in danger.

    There is some beauty there: I’ve seen how even a mid-size town in a rural state can truly become a Mecca for the homos of the less populous, more conservative parts. (Even though there are no mountains in my city, 9 out of 10 of our fabulous gay men have beautifully thick Appalachian accents.)

    Sorry to write a book , but this is my first post! Thanks for a great article.

    • I’m from Louisville but I go to school in Lexington. I feel like once you get outside of these two cities, it’s really a hard time. I haven’t encountered many problems, just the occasional stare while holding my girlfriend’s hand.

      I think I’ve been blessed to only live in Louisville or Lexington. I completely agree with you on noting the differences between the cities and rural areas. It’s hard to generalize a state like this and I think Kentucky is kind of a mix. On UK’s campus, I’d like to think we’ve moved away from the Longshot category (despite being one of the top 20 least LGBT friendly campuses) but so much hatred still remains in a majority of the state. Quite the conundrum.

      Also. Monday Night Gay Bingo?! Why have I not heard about this!

      • Because they shut down the club, Pulse, for a little while! But it’s supposed to be back up again soon, it’s called Big Hair Bingo and I can’t wait.

        I had no idea that UK was one of the top 20 LEAST gay friendly campuses! Eh, that never stopped me from pecking my girlfriend on the lips in front of the classroom bldg every morning. Probably warranted us a lot of unwanted attention, but at least not to my knowledge.

        • Yeah, I did a semester at UK. But UK being one of the 20 least gay friendly campuses surprises me.

          My dad is from Louisville. Have to say that Kentucky is one of those places where I can count the number of Filipino people I know on one hand, but I only ever go for Christmas so. What I’m trying to say is ROCK ON those of you in Kentucky. Um… yeah. :)

  5. I’m torn between living in super liberal Austin and running around the rest of the south with my friends shouting “this is what gay looks like motherfuckers!”.

  6. All of that? A big part of the reason I moved from SC to CO. Denver is super gay, like a giant rainbow hug. Love it. And I know I’m incredibly lucky!

    • I know! I love that Denver is this mountain gay mecca. But the whole Focus on the Family being based in Colorado Springs thing kinda freaks me out.

      • yeeeeeeeeeea. i just don’t go there. :)

        but i’m from the same town that bob jones university lives in (greenville, sc)–so, really, focus on the family’s got nothing on them.

        • i was going to ask you where in sc you’re from. i’m from conway, outside of myrtle beach, but moved to charleston for school. charleston is definitely the gay, and just generally progressive, mecca of sc. it’s a cool city with a very active queer population.

    • Denver and Boulder are both lovely and very liberal.

      I lived in Longmont for the first 20 years of my life, but I spent most of my time floating around those two cities.

      Focus on the Family always freaked me out a lot too…

  7. Yeah, Michigan definitely belongs in the wild card category. Democrats mostly win on labor issues there, not on social issues – and the state’s laws with both gay rights and abortion are fairly conservative. That being said, the Detroit and Ann Arbor areas in general are pretty accepting. The western part of the state is a totally different world, though; I used to go to a music camp near Muskegon and I remember that for a big chunk of the drive every station was either country, contemporary Christian or conservative talk radio that thought it was funny to call John Edwards “Socialist John.”

    • Addendum – Ann Arbor is very very VERY accepting. Everyone who isn’t in some way affiliated with the University of Michigan (the “Berkeley of the Midwest”) is a hippie. Detroit itself is very Democratic, but the suburbs vary a lot.

    • I agree that the southern Ann Arbor/Detroit area has a pretty active gay scene but the rest of the state is not on the same page.

      I lived in northern rural MI for most of my life and it is overwhelmingly conservative. I don’t see that large portion of the population changing their attitudes any time soon.

      I really love Michigan but I had to get away from all the redneck republicans!

      • I went to school upstate outside of traverse city and i can’t remember what it was like w/r/t gay people since in our school everyone was so gay that it just seemed like they were forced to be nice to us at the mall or else the buckle would lose all its business. but i spent a lot of time in grayling where my closest friend who was really apparently gay was getting beat up all the time and just wanted to escape to new york. like in 1997, I guess?

        anyhow yeah ann arbor is liberal and where my mom lives in royal oak is liberal too, but like ann arbor is so different from like, west branch and even a lot of the places we’d go to play basketball.

  8. I go to school in Portland, OR (which is gaymazing!), but I’m from a small town in Wisconsin. I would definitely have to agree that it’s a wildcard, not in that “gays are openly attacked in one town and have three bars to choose from in another,” but more so in terms of LGBTQ acceptance with regards to age. For example, before I even realized I wasn’t straight, I asked my stepmother and beloved stepbrother hypothetically if it would matter if I were gay. My stepmother bombarded me with this speech about how unfortunate it would be for me to suffer eternal punishment in hell and my stepbrother told me that he would ‘pray for me’ (which broke my fucking heart). I hate to think what my stepmother would do if she ever found out it’s no longer hypothetical… But on the other hand, I know many elderly members of that community who were equally ecstatic about the recent Gay Marriage Bill. I’m hoping Wisconsin will learn a thing or two from Illinois, at least.

  9. I’d definitely list Utah as a wild card. yes gay marriage is specifically banned, but numerous cities have now enacted non-discrimination legislation and our Pride festival is one of the largest in the nation. We have a very tight-knit LGBT community and like California, it is mostly the old and dying people that oppose equal rights. I’d say we’ll have legal marriage here within 15 years

  10. Riese, I’d like to point out the link you provided from the Gay & Lesbian Task Force regarding adoption in Florida is out of date. The 1977 ban was recently overturned.
    “Homosexuals” can now adopt kids and be foster parents. You’re right in saying that couples can’t adopt kids (only one parent would have legal rights as of right now), but Florida doesn’t really recognize domestic partnerships, let alone marriage, so that’s sort of expected.

    You’re the best. Keep up with the great work!

    • thank you! i really should’ve already known that, so thank you for being nice about correcting me… :-)

      • I mean, there was no need for me to be a jerk, you know? But you’re welcome!

        Actually, I was a little confused because the linked graphic said it was made in early 2011, but I was pretty sure that the ban had been overturned in 2010, so I was thinking to myself, “Did I dream that? Am I going crazy?” One frantic google search later I decided that maybe the task force got it wrong? The HRC seems to have the correct information online.

        Anyway, I agree the Florida is wild card state. I’d like to say that if you’re in a college town you should be fine, but that’s not even the case. I probably don’t even know the half of it, considering most people assume that I’m straight, even when I’m out with my girlfriend.

  11. Is anyone informed enough to comment on Iowa? I knew that IA had gay marriage–but it has always seemed really strange to me. All of the farmers in the town where my dad lives definitely did not vote yes for that.

      • Actually Iowa’s gay marriage law was achieved via the Iowa supreme court, not by legislature or public vote.

        But in terms of kindness towards the gays, most of my personal experiences have been positive here in Iowa, even in small towns. There are some places that are more conservative and, yes, some gay-related hate crimes have occurred… but it’s not impossible to find little gay-friendly pockets across the state.

    • I can only go by Iowa City but it seems to be overly accepting. Yet there only seems to be a limited number of queer people (well let’s be real I only notice the girls). Unless I’m oblivious to them. Are they out there?

  12. i blog for my college in kentucky and was asked to be available for questions on coming out day. i got a lot of positive response from classmates and faculty but my parents and some random pastor all maintain that they won’t support my school anymore or me. so yeah, mixed signals, but most of the negative is coming from older generations who are also disconnected from the folks they’re condemning so strongly.

  13. I’m not at all surprised to see that Ohio’s split 50/50. We’re split 50/50 on pretty much everything, it seems like.

    I live in Columbus, OH and I think it might be the most queer-friendly place in the state. I grew up in a small, rural dirt-road type of town 3 hours away and it was most definitely not.

  14. This is a great article. I’m a born and raised Floridian and due to our location we typically get lumped in with the more conservative south. Though despite the large amount of snow birds and republicans most of the coastal regions and areas towards Orlando are rather liberal. Hell, we’re home to Disney World…ever been to one of their gay days? It’s rather gay. So that’s just my bit of input. (Fuck our adoption laws)

  15. Fuck yes, Canada! Although we do have our little pockets of suck here and there. I’ve driven around most of the country with my gay-ass little brother for his car racing career for a few summers, and I’ve seen some places that are great and some that suck a LOT. Capital cities (esp. Vancouver and Toronto) tend to be ok to great for homos, except Regina which is just frighteningly conservative. Saskatoon is surprisingly cool though. The martimes are a mixed bag. My hometown of bumfuck nowhere Manitoba (Winnipeg) is pretty liberal but rural towns are less so.

    • Yay for Canada.
      I just moved to B.C., and it’s quite lovely thus far.
      I haven’t spent enough time in Vancouver to give an educated opinion, but so far, so good.

  16. “For starters, this is why we need action on the federal level. Obama keeps saying it’s a matter best left to the states, but tell that to a 19-year-old in Alabama who can’t afford to move out of state but wants equal rights.”
    This so much. It’s not easy to just up and move to a more accepting state, especially if it means quitting a job in this economic situation.

    • As I read the description of the 19-year-old who is probably living in danger and hell right now (NOT magical sky fairy Hell), my heart went out to that kid who was me a few, few years ago.

      But my heart may have felt more pain thinking of the 69, 79, and 89-year-olds who will not receive their “spouse’s” or domestic partner’s social security benefits and pensions after the partner’s death, among MANY other rights afforded to sr8 couples.

      This is not a game: neither for the 19-year-old living in fear of bashing and rape (which still happens, even in the bastions of freedom NYC and SF, both of which I’ve called home), nor for the senior couple who is still afraid of being robbed, disrespected, lectured and generally mistreated by home care workers who may be needed to help with a frail or dying loved one.

      I know that lately there’s been some media attention paid to this Re-Closeted Generation. These are the people who fought the tiny and huge battles that we can only imagine in our NIGHTMARES. These people had it ROUGH and they fought hard every damn day of their lives.

      Now they’re being shoved back in the closet and treated like trash by the government workers, health care workers (a significant percentage of whom are homophobic), nursing home employees who ignore their needs and by the very asshole-ish elderly straight people who share the nursing home and make their lives hell, just as they did when they were all younger. Now they get a chance to do it all over again.

      And I fucking HATE that. My service dog and I have been working with seniors for about 4 years, particularly with stroke victims. A couple of my clients are obviously gay. They’ve started to display photos that describe their lives and loves. So far, I’ve only connected with one man. And goddamn, he’s got some stories. But it took more than 2 years for him to sense that I’m “safe” to talk to. And I’m a genderqueer boi. I do not pass. Ever.

      It’s shameful. Most of that generation, men and women, fought or worked at risk on battlefields and died during WWII and Korea. (Then many received dishonorable discharges after they’d put their lives at stake. Same damn thing they did to African-Am soldiers.) And now they ‘re being shunted back into the closet just as we as a gay nation are just beginning to gain some equal rights.

      That shit is so wrong I don’t have words for it. We younger folks (and especially y’all who are around 20) have some chance of seeing a better, more fair world. Fuck, as dangerous as it still is (fingering the bottle scar on my head thrown by a homohater in SF), we’ve got it golden compared to what that generation went through.

      The MFing government should act honorably for once (they’d have to send their interns off to look up the word) and recognize the contributions of these people, apologize to them like Australia did to the Stolen Generations for that heinous, inhumane crime, and give them full fucking rights. The same goddamn rights that almost every goddamn str8 person receives at birth just by being pushed out of a vagina and breathing!

  17. In California it honestly depends if you are coastal or inland in terms of acceptance. It’s like two different nations. The coast, from SF all the way down to LA/SD, ranges from Fairly Progressive to Super Unicornville.

    Once you go inland it’s more like the Bible Belt. Farm country. All of a sudden there are no resources, there’s a lot of Tea Party bumper stickers, you’re about 15 years behind in lesbian fashion and you can get into a lot of trouble if you’re not careful. There are allies, but they’re pretty sparse.

    Just find a Chris Colfer interview where he talks about his hometown if you want to learn more about how shitastic it is inland for gays. (we’re from the same general area)

    In closing-
    Coastal Cali- Rainbow A!
    Inland Cali- D+

    Stick to the coast ;)

  18. Arkansas has potential. Little Rock has a fairly active queer community, and earlier this past summer the governor addressed the LGBT community in Little Rock (via an appearance and speech to the Stonewall Democrats) for the first time in state history. Additionally, Arkansas allows gays and lesbians to adopt.

    Also, Maryland is working on marriage equality, and Governor O’Malley has said he supports it and aims to introduce a bill to state legislators so that it will get on the ballot for 2012.

  19. Riese, I have a not-related-to-the-topic-of-the-article question. I’ve noticed that you typically spell god, “G-d” and I was wondering why?

    As someone who grew up in Arkansas and just moved to Tennessee , I can’t wait to get out of the south.


      Although taking out the “o” in G-d is a modern Jewish practice and isn’t really mandated by the tradition of replacing the divine name for “adonai”, I think it is incredibly interesting from the perspective of philology/semiotics… like, by adapting the word, it conveys as much absence as presence, as much knowing as unknowing. It basically says “we’re actively discussing something that is unknowable and incomplete” (which fits in perfectly with Jewish theology.)

      /religion nerd

  20. This article was so in-depth and informative! Great job again, Riese =) I love all the pretty graphs…

    Question though: I was struck with the peculiar wording of “homosexuality is always wrong”. Why the use of “always”? Are there times when it is slightly less wrong/more excusable?

    • Yeah, it makes me wonder what the other options in the poll were, if there were other options (I clicked on the link but it only gave a regional breakdown, not the full wording of the poll.) It’s a strange phrasing– like, it’s phrasing that would make sense in a poll question about abortion (rape/incest/life of the mother being exceptional cases for some people), but I can’t imagine a scenario in an anti-gay framework in which homosexuality is suddenly not wrong.

  21. I know I’m an anomaly here, but I don’t put living somewhere liberal and gay-friendly above other considerations. I grew up in the country, and I hate living in the city — doesn’t really matter how friendly it is. I need mountains and stars at night. You might not know it from reading statistics, but being gay in Chattanooga, TN can be a lot of fun.

    • Well, and I think this is why the standard argument that GLBT folks should just move to accepting places and leave behind the not-accepting places is bullcrap. Because not everyone wants to move to one of the two northern corners of the country, and definitely not everyone wants to live in a metro region.

      You deserve your mountains, your stars at night, and the right to live your life out and proud. All at once. In the same place.

      • thank you for writing this.
        real life in the bible belt is %100 percent different than the queer bubbles that we can pretty much only find online or in a select few schools. it is tempting to pack my stuff and run away to unicornville, but i feel that in order to make things better for future generations born in less accepting areas, those that can and want to should try to work on making them more accepting.

    • Dude! You have my name! And are from my hometown as well! That was so weird! I read your name and was like, hey cool, another Nancy, and then I saw where you were talking about and was like wait, I did not write this comment. Did I write this comment. I’m sure I didn’t. So hey other Nancy from Chattanooga! And in general, I agree, it’s not too bad being gay in TN, mainly because Southern politeness prevents most people from saying anything too bad in my experience, but we do have a lot of work to do. If I felt like I could handle the cold weather, I would have moved a long time ago, but the country down here is just gorgeous, and really, for the most part, people are very nice and rarely have a problem with gay people. And if they do it’s easy to just politely ask them to keep their opinions to themselves and find someone else to talk to.

  22. I’m from Maine and love may be slightly over-stating it depending on where you live. Southern Maine is ultra-liberal and even has its own little gay beach community while north Maine has lower average levels of wealth and education with a higher median age and conservative christian constituency. I live in northern Maine and plan to go to college in Vermont which is incredibly gay, at least in comparison.

    • Yay! Another Mainer! I’ve been in Texas for almost 2 years but I spent most of my life in Maine. I lived in liberal southern Maine, I spent a lot of time in Ogunquit which turns into supergaytown during the summer.

      Recently I went to a film program up in the Camden/Rockport area, which was still very accepting but when I traveled about 4 hours farther north and inland it was much different. I was working with another woman, we both have short hair and were dressed in jeans and t-shirts. One of us may or may not have been wearing plaid. Throw in us being filmmakers and the fact that our subjects were all hunters in rural Maine so I noticed some scrutiny.

  23. So, I’m from Northern Alabama, going to school in Birmingham and recently visited Mississippi. First of all, Birmingham is pretty gay. Northern Alabama is really progressing as well. I understand that it’s pretty religious, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not gay friendly. In both northern huntsville and birmingham, there are plenty of open churches and there is a movement that is creating more open churches.

    Also, Mississippi is full of gays. Lol…but seriously. I will admit that Mississippi seems to be more…resistant than Alabama. But the main point is that Alabama is truly opening up. Even when I first came out in high school, it wasn’t bad. I’ve held my exes hand and kissed her in public, with no problem. While I understand that hasnt been the case for everyone I know, it truly isnt too bad for gays. From my interaction with some of the trans community, it’s different. While the LGB community is settling okay, the Trans community is having problems. Nonetheless, the population is here and progressing more and more everyday. I’ve been extremely proud of Alabama lately. People in all counties are connecting and discussing ways to increase visibility and work for more rights. We’re like the Super Duper Rainbow League in this bitch :D

    • Trans* people are behind in lots of more “accepting” places. In Maryland, we have employment/housing non-discrimination laws for LGB people, so as a bi cis girl I don’t have to worry about being out at work (though I’m not out simply because I haven’t seen any reason to mention my sexual orientation yet). But the law has not caught up for trans* people. When they tried to propose one the legislature lit up with the same stupid arguments about “oh no but what about men in women’s bathrooms!!!!” And of course, there was the attack on Chrissy Lee Poliss last April…disgusting.

    • I was going to write my own comment on the difference between being gay in Mississippi and gay in Alabama, then saw yours. I’ll agree with you that Alabama is definitely making great progress in being open and accepting of the LGB community. It’s definitely not the worst place to be gay. We have lots of activist groups, pride events, openly accepting places of worship and gay bars and clubs. I’ve never questioned whether or not holding my girlfriend’s hand in public would be a threat to my safety. Mississippi is a different story. There is no public queer community. Yes, there are supportive people and places but few advertise that. I don’t know of any places that cater specifically to the LGB community. Hell, there are still laws on the books in some cities that straight up make being gay an offense that can land you in jail. Perhaps we know so many gay people from Mississippi because like me they went to college in Alabama and refused to go back to Mississippi?

  24. Texas might be a wild card, but living day-to-day you only see the conservative part, at least if you live in a small town. It entails a lot of hiding/ dreaming of college in Austin.

  25. We want more options. We fall in love with other cities constantly. There are so many beautiful places to live in this country, IF you’re straight, or willing to settle for second-class rights. Maybe if you’re single and don’t care or don’t care for the institution of marriage, I don’t know. Never mind the beauty, there are so many other cities in this country where the quality of living might be better AND less expensive – for instance outstanding, accessible public education for your children – but there’s the brick wall, there’s the door slamming in your face.

    It fills me with a very heavy, burdensome sadness, turning away from all of those beautiful places and the possibilities they present; it feels like actual heartbreak when I accidentally let myself wonder what possibilities they might hold for my daughter.

    I should say that we’re currently legally married in California. Lucky. Moving to an oasis like Austin or Portland ARE bona fide steps forward for some, even some families, and that’s wonderful, but for us they’d be steps backward. We can’t elect to settle someplace where our marriage ceases to exist, where those protections vanish and all the Powers of Attorney in the world still won’t bring us peace of mind (and what about the families and couples who can’t afford them?).

    To say nothing of federal inequality.

    • This comment makes me so sad.

      I have serious wanderlust and am constantly adding new cities and countries to my wishlist of Places to Travel, let alone settle down and live, and the realization that I have to be careful when making these plans and take into account the inherent dangers that go along with being open and queer, at least if I want to experience my travels in an honest way with my incredible girlfriend by my side, is like a punch in the gut every time.

  26. I got out of Colorado Springs by moving in with my girlfriend in Philly… but now we’re moving to Atlanta for her job. I hope the rest of the state catches up, we’re probably gonna be there for a while.

  27. I live in PA, just outside of Philly. For me, I’ve been lucky, in that coming out to my family and close friends was not a big deal. It didn’t ‘change’ how my family and close friends saw me. They always ‘knew’. For a good portion of my friends, however, their coming out caused them deep personal pain. For some, it’s better now, but for others, nothing has changed.

    Because I’ve been so lucky and I surround myself with people that are accepting, I forget that there are homophobic people out there. Here and there I’ve encountered homophobia. Most recently, I was going over to my girlfriend’s house to cook dinner. I had just come from an interview where I was offered a job on the spot. I apparently ‘earned’ the screaming rant of this man by parking on his block rather than my girlfriend’s. If I had parked on her street, I would have a lot more trouble in leaving the next morning. I am not one to sit quietly and to take things, but I did because I didn’t want my girlfriend and her roommate to have to deal with this man. I just wanted to yell right back and to call him out for being the pathetic human being he is. I just couldn’t do it.

    For me my experience in PA/Philly, that for the most part people are very accepting.

    • Philadelphia is accepting, Pennsylvania as a whole is not. There’s a saying that PA is Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Alabama in between. Its a little exaggerated but somewhat accurate.

      I would put PA in the wildcard category.

      • I absolutely agree. If I drive north for 40 minutes, I can’t hold hands with my girlfriend. Or west, actually. Or south. Hmmm.

  28. I live in Canada, where a lot of it’s the same: there are big cities, and generally, they’re the more accepting ones. But basically, all these cities are right on or near the border. The country is where all the small towns are, and if you’ve seen a map of Canada, it’s pretty much all country. So I don’t know, I live in an accepting place (Vancouver) but I know for a fact that there are many Evangelicals here, and that the same kind of shit happens everywhere in Canada. We’ve got the same problem, and a crappy prime minister to move things along the bad way.

  29. I’m from South Carolina but living in Morocco right now. Being here really puts things in perspective, since I’ve been here for 7 months and still can’t find anybody who can tell me where the lesbians are. Gay guys are all over the clubs, but with the status of women here, only prostitutes go out to bars in general. I can’t search too hard though because of my job. But it makes me feel thankful that I was born in the U.S.

  30. Chattanooga! :)

    (I used to live there). So, yes, but I’d still categorize Chattanooga as one of those liberal-ish bubbles. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not Austin, but it’s not exactly the deepest, most conservative part of TN either. Doesn’t Hamilton County tend to vote fairly along a fairly even split of Democrat-Republican?

    But regardless, I think the point is that there are certainly many places out in those “less tolerant” states where you really can have mountains, stars, and still live a happy life. Sometimes people just need to be given a bit of a chance to show how tolerant/accepting they really can be, too. Plus, Chattanooga’s just so darn cute.

  31. The South Atlantic category is really misleading – Delaware, D.C. and Maryland are all more liberal (well, Delaware is socially) and would be better grouped with the mid-Atlantic region. Putting them there gives the impression that those states/district are way behind the average on gay issues, when it’s the other states in that category that are the reason the percentage is so low. I can’t speak for Delaware, but Maryland will probably have marriage equality in the next couple of years and D.C. already has it – and both are very gay-friendly blue states. (Western Maryland the Eastern Shore are much more conservative, but there’s a reason that the state remains blue despite them – most people live in the more liberal Baltimore/D.C. metro.)

  32. Very much appreciate the article! My partner and I just returned from DC/VA. We both noticed how even in Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan, we were alone in holding hands while window shopping (eek – PDA! PDA!). DC – awesome for our rights, not so much for the buttoned-up/closeted social strata.

    It was a palpable relief to come back to Minneapolis.

  33. I live in Texas, and I have never felt unsafe or scared to be affectionate with my girlfriend. I live in Galveston, an island an hour away from Houston, and I have never had any problems. I always feel very comfortable in Houston and Austin as well. Obviously, if I was to go to the more rural areas, I would be a bit nervous. But I think that if you stick in the big cities (or areas surrounding them), then you will be fine

  34. I’m a baby gay from Memphis, TN going to school in Nashville, and though I know there are bubbles of gaymo-friendly-ness here, I’ve lived the evangelical protestant stats my whole life. From going to a private school where “lesbian” ranked worse than “slut” and “whore” on the scale of insult offensiveness, and where the most talented musician I’ve ever had the privilege of singing with was fired from my church because the vestry figured out that the person behind the really f*cking amazing cakes at the potlucks was not his wife but in fact his life partner, to the best friend who said that if a hypothetical friend was to come out she would “cry because that person would be going to hell” and the other best friend who said that homosexuals aren’t human, to the parents who say “we thank god YOU’RE straight, and you should too” every time homosexuality is on the news, it’s really not surprising that I only came out to myself at age 19. I’m lucky I live in cities, where I know I can find fellow gays if I look hard enough- for those questioning/newly out in the small highly evangelical towns, it can be incredible lonely and confusing.

    The day the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation passed I grieved for all the young people like teen me whose identity will now be legally and systematically negated as an option just at the time they need the most help, and the school counselors who will have to stand by and watch these kids flounder or risk getting losing their jobs. I’m studying to be a school psychologist and I think I’ll have to find a job outside of TN- I’m not strong enough to have to watch confused/depressed questioning/gay teens come through my office and walk right back out without me even being able to refer them to outside help. Not to mention the shitfest that would go down if I ever slipped up and mentioned my sexuality.

  35. I think it is interesting that the northeast is so much more gay friendly than trans* friendly. Only half of the states in the northeast that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation extend that protection to trans folks. They also have a large number of states with legal gay marriage.

    I wonder if there is any cultural reason why the north east isn’t trans friendly?

    • I think it’s more that the US isn’t trans friendly, as a whole. Trans* rights still lag behind gay rights, and there’s been less of a political focus on them. Maybe legislators are coming around on sexuality-based discrimination, but I think a lot of them haven’t wrapped their heads around the gender thing yet, even in liberal areas. And certain major gay-rights organizations have sadly not put forth their strongest efforts to secure rights for trans* people.

      That said, I haven’t found the Northeast particularly trans-unfriendly, I’ve met more trans* folks in my area (Massachusetts) than anywhere I’ve lived, and I certainly feel safer here as a genderqueer person than where I grew up in the South.

  36. Does anyone have anything to say about Georgia? I live in Vermont right, which is gaytastic, but my parents are thinking of moving the family to Georgia, and after being so used to living in Vt, and Northampton before, the move kinda scares me.

    • athens and savannah are both really great cities. my hippie cousins have probably tinted my view of their state a little though so…in my mind, it’s way more liberal than mississippi at least.

    • Savannah’s gorgeous in that old South way, but Atlanta is probably your better choice for gay-friendly city. I don’t think you’ll have any real problems in the cities, just don’t expect a very visible population or support unless we’re talking Atlanta. The rural areas are gorgeous, but you might have some issues. But I doubt you’ll be moving there. Nothing to be scared of in the cities, but maybe a bit to be nervous about in the country, as beautiful as it is. (Note: I do not live in Georgia, but I have tons of family in both Atlanta and in the boonies and visit them often)

  37. I think I found a reason to be patriotic at last! Just realized how bloody lucky I am to live in South Africa (never thought those words would cross my.. uh fingers)

    “South Africa’s post-apartheid constitution was the first in the world to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and on 1 December 2006 South Africa became the fifth country in the world, and the first in Africa, to legalise same-sex marriage.” if anybody wants to see more about how awesome we have it! I wanted to go to USA, really don’t anymore, I pity you guys, still fighting for what we take for granted.

    • Do you feel genuinely safe though? I ask that sincerely–legislation does not always equal safety, and I feel as though at least in parts of South Africa I’d be afraid to act outwardly gay.

      My family is South African and though we’ve lived in North America for 18 years now, my entire extended family is still in SA and so we visit somewhat frequently. I’ve been dying to bring my girlfriend on our next trip, specifically to Durban, Cape Town, and some of the game reserves, but I’m genuinely fearful for how acceptable it would be for us to be out as lesbians in the country (even in the small tasks such as booking hotel rooms with one bed for the two of us, etc.) I hope you don’t mind me picking your brain, I’m just really curious and would love to get some unexpected positive feedback. I can’t really ask my family as I’m still not out to most of them…I suppose that will be its own “dangerous” situation if we do ever get to visit South Africa!

      Thanks in advance for any more insight :)

      • Well I’ve never felt UNsafe… But I haven’t really tried things like booking hotel rooms and stuff. However nobody has ever complained about random PDA’s. I spend most of my time in Pretoria, some near Nelspruit, those places at least are friendly! I think in general most places would be fine, maybe I’m just lucky enough to always be in the right places so far?

        I wouldn’t try being openly gay in the rural areas, views are slightly different there, but I doubt you would go there anyway. I don’t really keep up with the news, so I wouldn’t know about anti-gay violence or such. But my experiences so far a pretty good!

        Hope that contained some helpful info?

  38. I grew up in (a suburb of) Birmingham, Alabama, and now go to school in Greenville, South Carolina. School is an hour away from Asheville, North Carolina. I am not visibly queer. I have always been a little ‘different’ but I chalk it up to nerdiness. I did not realize that I was anything other than straight until I was 16, and did not come out to my family until I was 18. I have also always been extremely fortunate to be comfortable and have a secure, stable family life.

    This is the context of my answer.

    In both Birmingham and Greenville, I’d say it’s getting better. I have a friend who says that the gay bar Quest in Birmingham is the best he’s been to in all the southeast… which is something, hah. In Greenville I have found a lot of resources to help me find myself. Maybe that’s because I go to a liberal college. Growing up in Birmingham, when I finally realized I like girls too… I thought I was alone. There’s just a lack of ready information. Thank goodness for the Internet or else I would still be so lost & scared.

    This summer I found a youth LGBTQ group in Birmingham, because I was really missing the gay/straight alliance from school. They are small but doing good things & I know that the UAB GSA tries to reach out to the Birmingham community. I also went to Birmingham pride for the first time this summer and it made me so happy. It wasn’t more than 300-500 people I’d guess but it was just so, so good to see ‘my people’ in my hometown, and to finally realize that I hadn’t been alone at all.

    I’d wager a bet that a lot of people down here are growing more accepting of LGBTQ people but they have a VERY strict definition of the word ‘marriage.’ And so that’s what’s hindering the struggle for marriage.

    • ETA: Asheville really is gaytastic. And there’s a reason Tegan and Sara stopped there & in Birmingham on their most recent US tour :P

      I used to want, badly, to move to Canada. As a white person, I know I can’t understand the oppression of racism, but there’s a certain ache to living, feeling like a fraud in a heteronormative society. And so I wanted to get away, go somewhere where I knew I could marry if I so chose (and if anyone would ever want me back haha).

      But now I think differently. I completely understand the need to Get Out. If someone has been bullied and abused their whole life, I get it. I think I’m starting to realize for myself, however, that maybe there was a reason I was born in the South. I want to help educate people here, I want to help combat ignorance.

      I don’t ever want another girl growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, thinking she was alone and that no one would ever accept her.

  39. Tennessee definitely has its bubbles. Memphis, Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville… We have our little sanctuaries. I’ve lived outside of Knoxville my whole live, so I’ve never dealt with “dyke” being the worst slur thing you could call someone, or ever feeling unsafe because I had worn a rainbow shirt that day or something. Maybe it’s because everyone is so damn polite, idk. Have any of you ever been down here? We are some polite mofos.
    At the same time, we have our shit holes. You can drive 45 minutes outside of any of these cities and you have baby gays who can’t be out, and they can’t get out.

    • Hey fellow Knoxvillian! Well, at least that I live here while I go to school. Close enough. I laughed at the politeness thing because it is so true. Seriously, I’ve talked to people who are obviously utterly appalled by my gayness and LGBT people in general, but they will not say one mean word to me and are unfailingly polite about their dislike. I actually was talking to this one dude who said his roommate was gay, and he was completely cool with him, but he still thought gay people were disgusting and wrong but he would never, ever say anything mean or hurtful to someone. It’s actually really nice, because it allows me to get to know them and slowly change their perception of gay people and educate them.
      (Also, apparently I’m commenting all over the place today. Lots to say)

  40. As a native downstate Illinoisan, I can’t help but wonder what our percentage would be if Chicago and its suburbs were discounted. Or, if this were true for other large cities in the region, like Ann Arbor and Madison.

    I’m in MA now, and boy can I feel the 20% difference!

  41. Awesome, awesome article, Riese. Thanks for doing the legwork for most of us and promoting an informed queer community here on Autostraddle.

  42. i grew up in pa you know its hickville when it says in your highschool handbook that you arnt allowed to drive your tractors to school. people are not the most open minded and excepting also my town used to be the home of a large group of kkk members so being different is kind of a bad thing here.

  43. I live in Texas in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and it sucks! I hate it, i’ve hated it all my life. I would never recommend it. A few gay-friendly places does not acceptance make. The ignorance is overwhelming. I lived in Philadelphia for a year after college and I was much more comfortable. I’m moving back to Philly in 2 months and I’m never coming back to Texas. EVER.

  44. I live in College Station, TX. Kind of sad, or maybe I’m too antisocial of a teen, but I’ve heard and noticed that here in CS they aren’t too welcoming. Then two hours away to Austin or two hours to Houston and it is fine. School wise here, high school was a 50/50 knew teachers who discriminated and knew some who didn’t. College, I haven’t been completely social enough to take notice, but I also don’t “look” gay (btw hate that.. like honestly there has to be a suspected look lol). A girl from Austin sat next to me the first day of lecture for one class and asked “where are all the homos? It’s really conservative here!” lol didn’t say I was a homo cause people started acting dumb, but I could’ve made a good joke lol

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