The South is home to more LGBT people than any other region in the country, but it’s also home to the most anti-LGBT discrimination. Not one Southern state has passed an employment nondiscrimination law, and the region was ground zero for anti-LGBT bills this year, with Georgia just one of the states to garner national attention along with North Carolina, Tennessee and others.

So the LGBT Institute at the Center for Civil and Human Rights and Georgia State University (GSU) have partnered up to connect academic researchers with LGBT advocates across the region to tell the stories of those marginalized LGBT Southerners, using not a bullhorn or a protest but a less dramatic (though no less effective) tool—hard data.

GSU and the Institute will do so by connecting with LGBT advocates across the 14 states in the region over the next several months, conducting a survey in the fall, holding an academic symposium in November and releasing preliminary findings as early as this December.

Community feedback aids in survey creation

Soon after the Institute opened last fall, the organization’s programming board got busy meeting to identify the organization’s core areas of emphasis, which turned out to be education and employment, public health and wellness, and criminal justice and safety. Since then, the Institute has been hosting community events where the public has been joining stakeholder groups in those three areas to further the discussion and pinpoint more precisely the community’s greatest needs.

Armed with that information, Dr. Eric Wright, chair of the sociology department at GSU, and a team of researchers will now examine it even further to develop questions for the survey that will be distributed to LGBT Southerners this fall.

“By fostering this research, we will gain a more complete understanding of the systemic challenges facing LGBT communities and opportunities to create lived equality among LGBT Southerners,” said Ryan Roemerman, executive director of the Institute.

Meanwhile, they will be fanning out across the South to connect with and recruit a variety of LGBT organizations to reach out to LGBT Southerners and constituencies that they have access to in order for them to participate in the survey.

“Our goal would then be to then share that data back with them that they could then use for funding or additional research or potentially even using it for policy,” Roemerman said.

LGBT funding issues in the South

But that magic word—funding—hasn’t been an easy thing to come by, despite the South having the largest LGBT population and the most pressing needs.

“Equality requires policies that reflect and support LGBT people as equal citizens. The problem, especially in the South, is that the research needed to secure these policies is not often funded,” said Wright in a statement. “In fact, only 2 percent of national LGBT funding went to research in the South compared to 9 percent nationally. That’s a real opportunity for progress considering more than three in 10 LGBT adults live in the South.”

When asked why he thinks the South is underfunded on LGBT issues, Roemerman says it has to do with the community’s stories not being told. The partnership is one way he hopes to bring those stories to light.

“Statistics, research, those are important ways we can reframe and reshape narratives that can dismantle systems that promote discrimination,” he said. “I’m optimistic that the survey results might show that there’s a lot of resilience in the South, that people have been able to do a lot with a little.”

The survey will take place for a couple months, during which the academic symposium will be held. Experts on LGBT issues from around the South and the nation will join there to further the dialogue. And projections are for the release of preliminary findings by the end of the year, so that the needs and issues of the LGBT South can really start to be tackled in 2016.

“The South is a place that a majority of LGBT people call home and I think that’s because we do like the South,” Roemerman said. “The South is a great place to live and grow, but I do think that we know there’s challenges. So through these surveys we want to identify what those challenges are, what are some paths that organizations who have been working on these issues for decades or more [have taken], and what kinds of tools can we provide them.”

By The Numbers

35 percent
Of the U.S.’s LGBT population lives in the South, the highest of any region

2 percent
Of national LGBT funding went to research in the South

9 percent
Average of national LGBT funding that went to research nationally

*Figures per the Williams Institute and Georgia State University

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