The LGBT Institute is hosting the State of the South Symposium in downtown Atlanta. The occasion will take place on April 28 and 29 at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

The Symposium will serve as a public review of the Institute’s Southern Survey, a research program done in collaboration with Georgia State University.

The survey ended in January of this year. Over 140 groups in 14 Southern states participated: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. Well over 6,000 LGBTQ individuals took the survey.

In 2015, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights opened the LGBT Institute. The organization is primarily concerned with providing educational programs, fighting for civil rights and exploring critical LGBTQ issues through study.

In an email to Georgia Voice, Institute Executive Director Ryan Roemerman said the survey “serves to amplify the voices of LGBTQ Southerners and highlight the issues affecting our lives, and to create a more safe and welcoming South.” He said the survey was one of “the first of its kind.”

Roemerman described the survey as “of, by, and for Southern LGBTQ people.” After the launch of the Institute in 2015, the leadership invited the community to help them determine the survey questions. Roemerman said this grassroots participation had been vital for the success of the project.

The Director discussed the main reason for the survey: the South is a target for anti-LGBTQ legislation, despite a large number of LGBTQ people. Compared to all LGBTQ funding, Roemerman said that “the South receives little for research (2% vs. 9%).” The Institute was there to fill the gap, especially since the stories of the Southern community were “not being told.” He said the first step in achieving change was serious research; that would allow the community to dismantle oppressive systems and reframe narratives.

According to the Institute, the results cover the lived experience and needs of the Southern LGBTQ community. Specifically, survey results will discuss the issues of public health, criminal justice, education and employment. The survey will have much to say about class, economic and racial justice, incarceration, aging, disability, citizenship and immigration.

The survey wasn’t designed solely to satisfy curiosity. Ultimately, Roemerman said, the survey will inform the community about “what is working and not working in our efforts to help support LGBTQ people.” Roemerman said that in “addition to analyzing the survey data on its own, we also plan to compare results from the survey with corresponding publicly available national and state-level data from the U.S. Census Bureau and other national surveys.”

He said the next step was finding funding, so that the Institute could repeat the survey–ideally every two years. Future surveys would give the Institute “longitudinal data so we can track trends that can help focus our efforts to best help LGBTQ communities, and in particular those least heard from.”

In these tumultuous times, Roemerman said, an intense erasure of LGBTQ people from “policy and research” was well underway: “LGBTQ questions from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants (NSOAAP) and the upcoming 2020 United States Census are now gone. This survey makes clear: our lives and our experiences will not be erased.”

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