Definitely the noise. That’s my usual response to the question, “What do you miss about New York?” It’s not the response most people expect—especially in Mississippi.
I left New York a year ago. First, I came back to Alabama. Then, I moved on to Oxford, Mississippi, where I started law school. I had spent my whole life in the South, and like most queer Southerners, dreamed about “getting away” to New York or Los Angeles or Philadelphia or Chicago. So my friends were puzzled when I decided I would be moving back South.
If my move confused my friends, then it confounded the people I found when I returned. Why would I give up New York for here? You know HB 1523 is law now, right? You heard Roy Moore is running for senator?
You should have stayed where you were.
I had a lot of reasons for coming home, and staying home. Most of them were personal; however, New York had started to wear on me—specifically, queer New York. Whenever a discussion came up about LGBT rights and culture in the South, the same criticisms would come out. Oh, everyone down there is ignorant. They’re prejudiced. They can’t think for themselves. It’s not safe.
Like most people, Southerners hate being talked down to—and that includes progressive Southerners. Every time an LGBT issue comes up, the criticism of Southerners overtakes the many efforts and yes, even successes, of progressives in the South.
I decided I was done. Yes, I feared returning to a South under President Donald Trump. Yes, I have run into awkward, even dangerous, interactions because of my sexuality since I’ve been back. But I have also encountered people who are willing to listen and see my humanity. I have seen the quiet courage of the queer Southerners who never got—or never will—get the chance to leave and try to make the world better around them.
After a year back in the South, I believe the next great victory for LGBTQ rights is retaking the South. And I believe the first step starts with living here.
For queer Southerners who “got out,” believe me, I know how scary that is. But you look at the places we used to call home, like my state of Alabama. It’s on the brink of electing an anti-gay zealot accused of sexual misconduct with minors. When a United Nations poverty expert toured Alabama’s Black Belt last week, he said he had never seen anything approaching that level of poverty and want in the first world.
Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ Americans live in the South, according to the Williams Institute. They likely at or near the poverty line and in or near cities that suffer from the highest HIV infection rates in the country. That's before we even start talking about the discriminatory politics.
Do you want to prevent another Roy Moore? Come back. The South needs you not only for your queerness, but also your skills, your intelligence, your vibrancy. The South needs your progressive politics not from a witty tweet, but from your boots on the ground.
Living—just living and showing by example—is an act of radical protest down here. I’ve noticed that just in the past few months. Be proud enough of where you come from to want and change it for the better.