Is The Deep South The Next Big LGBT Rights Battleground?

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Saturday, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced a new initiative to advance LGBT equality in the Deep South. Entitled Project One America, the three-year, $8.5 million initiative will specifically target three states that currently offer no employment, housing, or marriage protections for LGBT residents: Arkansas, Mississippi, and Alabama.

The campaign has three primary goals, which include “changing hearts and minds, advancing enduring legal protections, and building more inclusive institutions for LGBT people from the church pew to the workplace.” Participating staff believe that engaging in personal conversations will encourage change in a region that has lagged in its acceptance of gay rights.

The organization plans to open an office in each state, and provide a total of twenty staff members to implement Project One America’s mission. One supporter in a same-sex partnership, Joce Pritchett, believes the interpersonal approach will be more effective than larger, “in-your-face” demonstrations.

With no legal protections, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama have substantial rates of discrimination against the LGBT community. A survey by the polling firm Anzalone Liszt Grove found that 65 percent of LGBT people living in the states experienced verbal abuse, and 20 percent experienced physical violence. Moreover, 25 percent reported discrimination in either the workplace or a “public accommodation.”

The launch of Project One America coincides with a larger progressive movement gaining traction in the South. Since its origin in North Carolina last year, Moral Monday protests have slammed the right-wing agendas of conservative leaders and tied today’s fights with the South’s history of civil rights activism. Specifically, cuts to unemployment benefits, refusals to expand Medicaid, and the implementation of voting rights restrictions have resulted in the protests’ movement throughout the region. Democrats are also pushing to turn deep-red states “purple”, as black, Latino and Asian American communities grow in the South.