The Mirror Takes a Look at Gay Rights in the Most Conservative States

Gallup sought to find out the most conservative states in the country, and after a year of polling, the results came in: Alabama, North Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, and Utah.

Polling was done in 2012 on more than 200,000 adults and Gallup released the report in February 2013. Note, just because the state is highly conservative did not necessarily lend to political affiliation — Kansas, Montana, and Alaska are in the top ten GOP states, but were not in the top 10 conservative states.

For the most conservative state, “LGBT rights by and large don’t exist in Alabama,” said Michael Hansen, chair of communications at Equality Alabama.

The group came to fruition in 2002 when two LGBT organizations merged and has been active in state politics. This legislative session, a bill to repeal the 1901 amendment banning gay marriage sits in the capital. While Hansen isn’t optimistic about it passing, he says it’s a great way to get a conversation going.

Hansen grew up in a Southern Baptist home in Tennessee and did not come out until he was 25 for fear of losing his friends and family, as well as facing bullying, marginalization, or being sent to therapy.

Another disappointment for the state of Alabama, which surprised many, was when legislation to include LGBT students in anti-bullying laws failed. State Rep. Patricia Todd, who is openly gay, pushed forth legislation to include LGBT students in 2011, but it failed — another way that the LGBT community is not protected by its state

“There's a general apathy about politics in Alabama, so it’s a bit hard to get the people in the middle who maybe would be supportive, but just don’t care enough to get involved, to say a few words or to talk to their friends or volunteer,” Hansen said.

However, after a few years of dormancy, Equality Alabama was reinvigorated with a new board and has seen an increase in interest in their cause, with more people following their Facebook page, more groups wanting to partner, and more people donating. With that, the group hired a lobbyist for the first time, who will be working with the Alabama legislature.

“Having that presence in Montgomery is the first step in having a seat at the table in the state level. It’s going to be a game changer,” Hansen said.

Utah also fell in the top five conservative states, and seven bills discriminating against LGBT people are flying through the House. At Equality Utah, they’re fighting to make sure they don’t pass.

“Our goal is to secure equal rights and protections for LGBT Utahans and our families,” said Brandie Balken, the executive director at Equality Utah. “That really encompasses from birth to death.”

This includes artificial insemination and adoption, equal opportunities in employment, passing on benefits to a spouse, housing, end-of-life care, and more.

The group started as a political action committee in 2001 to create a dialogue with elected officials and help those who were passing LGBT-friendly laws. When a constitutional amendment threatened to ban gay marriages and civil unions, the group incorporated a nonprofit and 501(c)(4) to do policy work.

While there are many issues facing LGBT families in Utah, this year, Equality Utah has its sights set on anti-discrimination bills. So far, staffers are working at the local level with the school board all the way up to the Utah State House of Representatives. Currently, 19 cities and counties have passed inclusive nondiscrimination protections, representing about 40 percent of the population, Balken said.

Another victory for the state was when the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormon Church, created a website discussing same-sex attraction in Mormon families.

“[The site] really allowed a forum to have conversations if you have a child who happens to be gay or transgender or someone in your family,” Balken said. “These are remarkable changes and they definitely need to be acknowledged.”

Balken also has seen improvements personally — she and her wife have been together for 13 years, and at family reunions, Fourth of July parades, or at her wife’s hometown’s Peach Days celebration, she experiences people being more accepting of them.

“I don’t want to make this sound trite, but sometimes the things that are most important and most present are really how you move through your day-to-day lives,” she said.

Stereotyping is rampant in these states, with people assuming conservatives to never be accepting of homosexuality. In fact, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA, conservative state Mississippi actually has the highest rate of same-sex couples raising children (http://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/LGBT-Parenting.pdf), followed by Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho and Montana. The study found that the higher proportions of same-sex couples raising children are found in the South, Mountain West, and Midwest.

“I think we will find that people are way more supportive of specific issues than we think,” Hansen said. “I don’t want to discount those people who do have bad experiences… but I want to say I have had really good experiences in both Tennessee and Alabama.”

In the satirical news show, The Daily Show, Jon Stewart hosted an “intolerance off” in October 2013 to see how homophobic Alabama and Mississippi were (http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-october-29-2013/last-gay-standing). In fact, a civil rights lawyer in Alabama and a newspaper columnist both predicted that their state would be the last to pass a gay marriage law.

“I’m surprised a gay couple can get a fishing license in Mississippi, let along a marriage license,” the columnist said.

However, the results were surprising. Two men acting as a gay couple walked through both states holding hands, participating in a kissing booth, and even doing a public proposal at a public restaurant. Rather than being run out of the state, people congratulated them, commented on how great they looked together, or simply were unphased.

“It’s important for us to remember that there are always LGBT people living in those [conservative] states on the ground and they are working very hard to make change in their community and that change is incredibly important,” Balken said. “We do our community and our country a disservice when we write areas of our country off.”

10 Most Conservative States

1. Alabama -- 50.6 percent
2. North Dakota (tie) -- 48.6 percent
3. Wyoming (tie) -- 48.6 percent
4. Mississippi -- 48.2 percent
5. Utah -- 48 percent\
6. Oklahoma -- 47.3 percent
7. Idaho -- 47.1 percent
8. Louisiana -- 45.6 percent
9. Nebraska (tie) -- 45.3 percent
10. Arkansas (tie) -- 45.3 percent
Gallup, January to December 2012


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