LGBTQ Agenda: Southern groups help LGBTQ kids as schools begin new year

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday August 10, 2022
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Allison Scott is director of impact and innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality. Photo: Courtesy CSE<br>
Allison Scott is director of impact and innovation at the Campaign for Southern Equality. Photo: Courtesy CSE

When some LGBTQ kids go back to school in various Southern states this year at the end of their summer breaks, they may find support in a surprisingly intimate little detail. Handwritten notes of encouragement. From strangers.

The notes, according to Allison Scott, are included in back-to-school care packages sent to LGBTQ students in communities around the South from the Campaign for Southern Equality.

"A lot of it's just back to school stuff: water bottles, notebooks, pencils, digitoys, words of encouragement," said Scott, a transwoman who serves as director of impact and innovation at CSE. Hundreds of people volunteer to write supportive notes, she said. Plenty of businesses help out, too, she noted, and not to promote their products. Stores and other businesses will include things as mundane, and necessary, as socks.

Oh, and the packages will also include an updated "Know Your Rights" guide for LGBTQ students.

But the notes and packages are just one small aspect of a larger effort CSE — founded in 2011 in Asheville, North Carolina — is undertaking this year. Called "Meeting the Moment in the LGBTQ South," the organization launched a three-pronged plan to grapple not only with the recent torrent of anti-LGBTQ legislation cropping up in local statehouses, but also support measures — those care packages are just one element — for those having to endure the stress that arises from living under constant attack, and legal workshops to help LGBTQ families navigate those challenges, among other efforts.

Most ambitious is probably CSE's campaign Codify It, Congress, "urging Congressmembers to pass federal legislation to codify Supreme Court precedents on the freedom to marry, the right to consensual same-sex relationships, federal nondiscrimination protections, abortion access, and contraception access."

The organization is using a letter-writing campaign to draw attention to Supreme Court legal decisions such as Obergefell v. Hodges (which guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry), Lawrence v. Texas (which invalidated laws prohibiting same-sex sexual activities), and Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment violated federal law, and encouraging members of Congress to codify them into law.

Because of the relentless pace with which so many Southern — and other — statehouses have been introducing and passing anti-LGBTQ legislation, it can be overwhelming and difficult for many Southerners to remember that, quite frequently, there are federal laws in place that trump the efforts of state legislatures, said Scott. Codifying high court decisions can help solidify those wins.

"In the face of so much legal opposition," said Scott, "it's easy to forget that federal laws may overrule that."

Despite its legislative efforts, however, one aspect of CSE's approach to working for LGBTQ rights in the South sets it apart from similar organizations around the United States. While outside the South, many people can look to local and state governments for services, it's different for LGBTQ Southerners. In many cases, said Scott, people have to create the services they need for their communities. In those cases, CSE works with local, grassroots efforts to ensure they have the support they need.

"We are big believers that we are our own liberators," said Scott, "and we do that by helping each other."

That help can take the form of grants made directly to the people organizing the efforts. In one such case, she said, CSE made a $500 grant to a trans clothes closet, helping to provide clothing for trans individuals.

"We've given out half a million dollars in the last two years," Scott said.

It also means working directly with other organizations around the South. In Spartanburg, South Carolina, Deb Foreman, a straight ally, is executive director of Uplift Outreach Center, an organization she helped found almost exactly three years ago. Uplift will mark its third anniversary on August 27, said Foreman.

Providing a drop-in center for Spartanburg's LGBTQ youth, the group — like its notably larger counterpart, CSE — has its fingers in several pies. When Foreman spoke with the Bay Area Reporter, she said she was also at work writing grants for mental health services for 13 LGBTQ youth. There's also tutoring, a service it provided to 11 youth last year and for which Foreman expects an uptick in the coming school year.

And, like CSE, Uplift delves deeply into personal outreach, as well. Only six months after Uplift was founded, COVID hit, said Foreman, and the organization was forced to go almost entirely online. That didn't stop them from reaching out, however.

"Especially during COVID, I don't know how many times we took Christmas presents clear out to Piedmont, 60 miles away to drop off Christmas packages," Foreman said. "They drove care packages to trans youth. We just wanted to keep that personal connection."

Unlike CSE, which had an operating budget of $1.1 million in 2018, Uplift runs on a notably smaller budget, which was $15,000 when it started three years ago. Much of Foreman's time is spent writing grant requests. But with CSE, and South Carolina United for Justice and Equality, a coalition comprising nearly 30 organizations from all over the state, they were able to help create a youth group focusing on educating young people about government.

"It's actually to help youth learn about their state's legislation process, how the world works, and learn to fight for the good guys," said Foreman.

LGBTQ Agenda is an online column that appears weekly. Got a tip on queer news? Contact Eric Burkett at [email protected]

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