New study finds LGBTQ Southerners say parents tried to change or repress their identity

Well over half of LGBTQ Southerners say their parents or caregivers attempted to change or repress their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a new report. The 2021 Survey of Southern LGBTQ Experiences, conducted last fall, is a survey of 4,186 LGBTQ people who live in the South. The report was published with a broad spectrum of new data about LGBTQ Southerners’ experiences with family, faith communities, school, and health. 

The 33 page report was produced by the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Southern Equality Research & Policy Center at the Campaign for Southern Equality, along with Campus Pride, the leading national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating safer, more inclusive communities for LGBTQ people and allies at colleges and universities.

The study focuses on the experiences of LGBTQ Southerners as they came of age. Those who participated detailed their experiences in a range of circumstances in their lives, including their home lives, school, religious settings and healthcare.

Comprehensive and vivid charts and tables delve into issues like non-binary and agender identifications to further explicate participants’ responses. There are also quotes from participants that highlight the study data with specificity and its personal impact. The report also includes recommendations for how educational institutions and individuals can improve the coming-of-age experiences of LGBTQ Southerners.

Some data runs counter to popular representations of acceptance of LGBTQ people, showing that in the South, repression of LGBTQ people is still commonplace within families. 

The study shows about 58% of LGBTQ people living in 13 Southern states reported that a parent or caregiver tried to change or repress their sexual orientation or gender identity. Trans people and people of color were even more likely to have these experiences in their families of origin, with more than two-thirds of trans participants (68.7%) and participants of color (67.5%) reporting this at higher rates compared to cisgender participants (50.8%) and white participants (57.4%). More LGBTQ Southerners aged 18 to 24 reported that a family member or caregiver tried to change or repress their identity or orientation (64.4%) compared with those 25 and older (51.1%). 

Citing both the Williams Institute and the Movement Advancement Project, the report states that “Population estimates suggest more than one-third of the LGBTQ community in the U.S. resides in the South, where they are likely to have fewer legal protections and face more anti-LGBTQ policies than their peers in other parts of the country.” 

This report highlights the experiences of LGBTQ Southerners, with a focus on the experiences of youth and young adults (ages 18-24) in the U.S. Southeast. The report says these data were collected “during a time of historical cultural and social progress paired with heightened and organized aggression aimed at queer and trans people. Our analysis introduces a cohort of LGBTQ adults, noting the comparisons between the youth in our sample (ages 18-24) and their older peers (ages 25 and older), who have experienced rejection, bullying, and violence as a result of their gender identity or sexual orientation; who have sought and been denied resources or support from parents, teachers, coaches, and faith leaders; who are coping with experiencing pressure from a variety of authority figures

to change or suppress their LGBTQ identity; and who are simultaneously experiencing poor physical and mental health, including heightened suicidality.”

In a statement, Austin H. Johnson, the director of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Research & Policy Center and an assistant professor of sociology at Kenyon College, said that the survey data shows “that thousands of individuals throughout the South are not getting the social support they need and deserve at home, in schools, and in their communities.” 

Johnson said, “This lack of support and inclusion is disempowering and may cause detrimental harm to their mental and physical well-being, especially when that lack of support gets compounded with clear, state-sponsored discrimination such as the passage of anti-LGBTQ laws.”

Other survey data found that more than two-thirds (68.8%) of respondents who identified as spiritual or religious reported that they were “alienated or discouraged from participating in their faith community due to their LGBTQ identity.”

More than one-third (33.9%) of all LGBTQ survey respondents reported experiencing efforts to repress or change their sexual orientation or gender identity in a religious setting, with participants ages 18-24 more likely to report such efforts (44.1%) compared to respondents 25 or older (30.7%).

The survey also asked LGBTQ Southerners about their physical and mental health. Most participants rated their physical health as fair (43.42%) or good (37.48%), though most also rated their mental health poor (28.7%) or fair (40.2%). More than half of LGBTQ Southerners surveyed (56%) reported experiencing suicidal ideation, and more than one in 10 (13.5%) reported attempting suicide at least once. 

In a statement, Shane L. Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, said “It’s especially troubling that younger people are often perceiving and receiving less emotional, mental, and physical support and resources than older respondents.” 

Windmeyer also noted that “Young LGBTQ+ people are being forced to conjure immense strength and resilience to combat marginalization and isolation — and it’s vital that we do everything we can, on every level of society, to support and affirm them for being who they are.” 

The survey recommends that educational institutions “take a proactive approach to inclusion” by having a clear mission statement against discrimination of LGBTQ students and by including queer students in school policies. It also recommends that schools create privacy policies that do not “out” LGBTQ students to their family or others without their knowledge and permission. This recommendation runs counter to policies being implemented nationally in response to “Don’t Say Gay” laws in various states and municipalities.

The report concludes by saying, “Considering both the findings of this report and the anti-LGBTQ sentiment among many school boards and decision makers across the South, it is clear that much of the harm experienced by younger LGBTQ individuals is in school.” 

The authors also wrote, “Regardless of the political and cultural attacks in the South, and the lack of protections from the institutions we rely on as Southerners, the LGBTQ community in the South is truly that — a community, one with an overwhelming amount of love, acceptance, joy and beauty.” 

Read the full report here.

Call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, or reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Trevor Project is available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678-678. 

Previous articleYeshiva and Brigham Young Universities clash with groups over LGBTQ rights
Next articleLiving
Victoria A. Brownworth is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, DAME, The Advocate, Bay Area Reporter and Curve among other publications. She was among the OUT 100 and is the author and editor of more than 20 books, including the Lambda Award-winning Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic and Ordinary Mayhem: A Novel, and the award-winning From Where They Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth and Too Queer: Essays from a Radical Life.