Gaycation’s Deep South episode travels through Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, and Georgia - the states that originally formed the confederacy. Here's five things we learned about LGBT+ life in America's deep south.
1. The Republican strongholds in the deep south have created some of the most anti-LGBTQ legislation the United States has seen
From the controversial transgender bathroom bills that have stirred national debate, to religious freedom bills that allow people to discriminate against the LGBT+ community, the south is known for its ultra-conservative beliefs.
In 2015,Texas legislature pulled all HIV screen funding from Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of HIV screens in the state.
“Ultra-conservative voices in Texas are rewarded by voters who show up and vote for them,” says Wendy David, a former Democratic state senator from Texas. “The people who are leading the state right now come to understand that advancing hateful rhetoric, discriminatory laws… it's what keeps them in office.”
2. The South has a higher population of LGBTQ people than any other region in the nation
New Orleans has the fourth-largest gay population in the country, but as a whole, LGBTQ southerners fighting social stigma, hate and violence. Ian Daniels notes that “according to the FBI, LGBT people are more likely to be targets of hate crimes than any other minority group.”
3. Sissy Bounce is a subgenre of rap in New Orleans, Louisiana that's flourished in the post-Katrina queer community
New Orleans is known globally for its Mardi Gras parade, and is a Mecca for gay tourists. It’s also the home of Sissy Bounce, a style of music that comes with its own style of dance. We’re taken to Sissy Bounce club The Vibe, which is where partygoers “just catch the beat that makes them go crazy”.
Daphne Hargett owns The Vibe, and she describes it as people “expressing themselves on the mirror, on the floor, anywhere they can catch it”.
She also describes the club as “a blessing” because it’s a safe space for the LGBT+ community.
4. Across the South, HIV rates are on the rise, and according to a recent report from the CDC, Louisiana has the second-highest rate of new diagnoses in the country
Speaking to a HIV support group the Philadelphia Center - one of the only HIV support centres in Northern Louisiana, one woman attributes these statistics to abstinence-only sexual education, despite the fact that it’s “really been proven not to work”.
“You know, they do call it the Bible Belt for a reason,” she notes.
The other reason numbers are so high, he says, is that Louisiana is a “criminalisation state,” meaning that “you can be criminalised for having sex with somebody and not telling them you’re positive.”
She continues: “So then you have occasions of people knowing they might potentially be positive, and not getting tested because they don't want that criminalisation to be following them in the system.”
“Fundamentally,” she concludes, “the way things are run is probably why our numbers are so high down here.”
5. There is a lesbian-only community that's been hidden in the woods of Mississippi for almost 20 years
A community that 18 women call home, Barbara Lieu - the community’s leader - says that they’ve come from all over the United States.
“They called it Lesbian Heaven!” she exclaims.
The group lives isolated from the rest of the world, and Gaycation does not reveal their location. They go into the cities to “quietly be a help, be an influence,” before returning to their community.
“I work with a local church helping to feed, you know, people in this community,” says Barbara Stoll. “I do things like that. And more people are beginning to know that I am gay. And it's okay.”