‘NY Times’ Op-Ed Offers Glimpse Into Being Gay Down South

Rhettbutler2I'm finally getting to the actual printed paper, so pardon if you've already seen this New York Times op-ed about being gay in the South.

Using Honey Boo Boo's surprising and welcome support for gay "poodles" as a launching pad, University of North Carolina, Charlotte professor Karen Cox's piece explains the good, the bad and what sounds like tepid tolerance that comes with being gay below the Mason-Dixon.

Here's her conclusion:

There is a limit to the acceptance. In the rural South, people love their sons and daughters and they may even break bread with the florist and his partner, but they still believe homosexuality is a sin. They draw the line at a gay pride march down Main Street, and they won’t stand for gay marriage.

Still, as Alana’s Uncle Lee has shown America, there are gays living in the rural South who don’t all set out for the big city. They lead rich lives and have families, and sometimes even communities, that love them and accept them for who they are.

Cox also notes that many Southerners avoid describing someone as gay, preferring instead to say someone is "light in the loafers" or "has sugar in his britches," the latter of which could go either way…


  1. andy says

    Someone’s looking back thru rose colored glasses. My experience in Tennessee was pure hell. Almost every day you’d hear about a gay bar set on fire, or a gay people beaten, threatened, fired, kicked out of places, etc. The good ole boys cops, teachers, principles, judges, and politicians did absolutely nothing to protect gay people and would routinely humiliate anyone having the nerve to try to defend themselves.

  2. EchtKultig says

    Exactly…in other, people in the south are just as two faced about this as they are about everything else. I’m sorry. Not all of them. But the stereotype is there for a reason.

  3. AT says

    I’ve met bunches of gay people who live in Hattiesburg (a town mentioned in the article). From visits I sort of see the appeal. I actually found the article to be very true to what I’ve seen: It’s not perfect, there is discrimination, it’s just done in the southern style (with exceptions, of course).

  4. Land of Cotton says

    The difference is that you’ll NEVER hear any person in a position of authority speak of same-sex relationships as valid, or normal or deserving of equal treatment and equal protection, while they have no problem whatsoever decrying homosexuality as sinful and deserving of condemnation.

    They may not kill you, they may (emphasis on ‘may’) not beat you up. But they damned sure don’t regard you as equals–gays and lesbians are inferior, which is the same way they regard African-Americans. Hell, a lot of American-Americans are as bad bigots as the reddest-state redneck.

    I do NOT wish I were in Dixie.

  5. jason says

    This is a very stereotypical article. It’s sad that those who claim to write for us simply serve to reinforce stereotypes and the prejudices associated with such stereotypes. I get the feeling that we are being oppressed by writers who claim to write for us.

    The New York Times should know better than to publish such stereotypical articles.

  6. Francis says

    Anywhere South of Philadelphia is a toss-up. DC has a large community presence yet horrible hate crime rate, Atlanta the same. Research triangle in NC is college-student/post-college student dominated but voted 75% against Amendment One. Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando are very gay.

    Problem with the South is, for the most part, that it’s pockets of acceptance surrounding ton of hate. Even within the borders of cities that are more progressive, it’s literally night and day block-to-block. We have a more entrenched presence in other places in the country. More vibrancy. More legitimate acceptance. And, of course, the laws in most Southern states, are very anti-gay.

  7. says

    This op-ed in the New York Times almost immediately contradicts its own premise. The author claims “you can be openly gay and accepted in the rural South.” She then gives multiple cases that prove completely otherwise.

    Her first case is two women who people know are gay but no one talks about it. “It’s an unspoken truth that Helen and Kathleen are in a committed relationship…” They can attend things together and be accepted—just don’t talk about it.

    The next example is a woman named Sandy. Of her she says, “I don’t think her mother ever openly acknowledged her daughter’s sexual orientation, which she certainly knew, because SUCH THINGS USUALLY GO UNSAID in the South.”

    Next she tells you that people will use “euphemisms” where a partner is a “friend” and a gay man is “light in the loafers.” How insulting.

    These are her examples of living openly, it involves never speaking the truth and using somewhat insulting euphemisms. After that she warns, “there is a limit to the acceptance.” I’m sorry, but her examples are not acceptance. The limits are they believe gays are sinners, “draw the line at a gay pride marching” and “won’t stand for gay marriage. After giving nothing but examples of demeaning euphemisms, closeted identities, and staying in one’s place she claims the South “accept them for who they are.”

    No, they don’t. Yes, there are people in the South who are accepting but the culture is bigoted and narrow-minded and public opinion polls show this to be the case. The South is most anti-gay place in the country, as well as most racist.

    To give examples of people living in the closet, being allowed to “fit in” provided no one speaks of them actually being gay, and as long as they don’t ask for the same rights as other people, is not acceptance. It is the old Southern view that blacks are okay as long as they know their place and don’t get uppity, just applied to gay people.

  8. Bill says

    Read William Jack Sibley’s excellent novel “Any Kind Of Luck” (Kensington, 2001). New York gay couple returns to rural Texas to care for a dying parent. Tough, unflinching and funny as hell. No the south isn’t quite ready for rainbow flags up the wazoo – but in its own eccentric way perfectly willing to tolerate most anything long as they know “who your people are”. (Like Mardi Gras – don’t try to analyze the south by rational, methodical thinking. Doesn’t work. Think of gumbo – you get a little of everything in the mix.)

  9. BobN says

    I stopped reading at the point where she said the following in regards to hate crimes.

    “But while such crimes do occur, they are less common than in large urban centers”

    Well, DUH. There are far more gay people in urban areas. Heard of the phrase “per capita”?

    A professor, eh? Pffff.

  10. Mark says

    I was born in Vermont but raised in the South. The prejudice and hate was enough to keep me closeted throughout my teen years. As an adult, I found a partner and we bought a house together in Roanoke, Virginia. Over the years we received late night phone calls telling us we were going to be killed, we had strangers call us faggots as we walked down the street and as we raised 2 children, my partner was not considered their legal parent. We finally moved to New York and are living in a small town upstate. We are legally married and even though we live in a rural area, same sex couples routinely walk the street hand in hand. Is their prejudice here? Most certainly, but not at all to the institutionalized level in the south. Why live there? I have no idea.

  11. Gus says

    I often get flack for saying Republicans, especially southern Republicans, are still fighting against everything 1970’s. Polite Southerners merely treat gays and lesbians the same way New Yorkers did pre-Stonewall. It was the way I was treated when I first came out in a mid-sized Midwestern city in 1974. It is the same to this day in the rural small towns in the Midwest.

    If a Southerner knows “where your people are from” you get your civilian DADT pass as long as you are useful as sparkling dinner conversationalist and/or are the ‘go to person’ for, say, the community theater. They will love the sinner, but never mention the sin except in quiet tones in closed rooms. They also think they are being modern and accepting…until something hits the ceiling fan.

    It is completely transactional relationship with their court jester or ‘their pet gay’ who knows their place. If your partner should die, those very same fine mannered folk, who once invited you as a couple to dinner or a BBQ, will turn. After grave site grieving with you in the morning they will help your late partner’s family load up all your joint possessions in the afternoon. Saying with those politely understanding eyes, “Those are his people.” That is southern and rural American family values. Don’t think for a moment you are a real person, you are a useful accessory, a little color in their lives.

    Be very careful and get your legal paperwork in order.

  12. Jean de Florette says

    Class was more pivotal than region in my experience. I grew up upper middle-class in Upstate South Carolina (i.e. Tea Party Country). I was only explicitly out to my friends, but I never denied my sexuality when someone asked.

    Also, I never faced discrimination and felt perfectly safe walking down the street holding my boyfriend’s hand. But, then again, we either hung out downtown or in educated upper middle-class neighborhoods. Things really sucked for people that went to some of the rougher public schools or lived in poorer neighborhoods, as is true with many things.

    I surrounded myself with people that were openly affirming, including adults and people in positions of power, but that was an element of all different kinds of privilege.

  13. candideinnc says

    Politeness, like Southern hospitality, is nothing more than a bad paint job on a rusty clunker. Living here in a Mayberry sized town in eastern North Carolina, since I have having far more education and a bit more money than the bulk of my neighbors, they can’t very easily say nasty things to my face. But their bigotry has a way of showing itself. “Oh, I don’t mind gay people.” “We have a lot of tolerance for gays.” Snort. And I don’t mind bible thumping bigots.

  14. BEAHBEAH says

    “Politeness, like Southern hospitality, is nothing more than a bad paint job on a rusty clunker.”

    Borned and raised in small town Georgia here. And this describes it perfectly. Women were always easier to deal with, all smiles and politeness, but you knew in the back of their minds they thought you were going to burn for all eternity. Men were harder to deal with, the minute they found out you were gay, things got incredibly awkward or you were cut off. It’s one of the reasons I scraped and clawed to get the hell out of there. Thankfully I’ve found far more acceptance in PA.

  15. Charles in DC says

    From Janet: “I live in Minnesota, Not stepping a foot outside of it….We love gay people here and treat them with respect…”

    Janet, we’ll see on election day.

  16. Steve says

    @James Peron

    It’s the difference between tolerance and accepted. They are tolerated – i.e. people put up with them. But they certainly aren’t accepted

  17. Oz in OK says

    This article is a joke. What’s worse, it’s a sad joke.

    The author didn’t bother talking about Amendment One, or how the backers came right out and said that this amendment was nothing more than codifying a few mis-interpreted scriptures into law. She said nothing about the overwhelming number of people who voted in favor of the amendment.

    She said nothing about the ‘pastors’ in a number of large southern congregations flinging ‘child abuse is okay if your kid is gay’ or ’round up all the gays and lesbians into concentration camps!’ or ‘the government should kill off gays’ from the pulpit.

    She says nothing about Gays and Lesbians fighting tooth and nail just to get to larger cities where they *might* have a chance at a better life.

    Disgusting article – and all it does is make all the southern homophobes feel better about what they’re doing.

  18. The Milkman says

    I’ve lived in both northern and southern areas, and can attest that each locale is what you make of it. If you’re living in a small town, whether northern or southern, you’ll likely have similar small-town myopia and prejudice… and similar discriminatory laws. This isn’t always the case, but for the most part it holds true. Religious hysteria aside, class and educational background exert a huge influence on GLBT acceptance rates.

  19. ratbastard says

    I’ve traveled down south and stayed off and on for brief periods. I’ve found most people regardless of their ‘race’ or socioeconomic status without question, on the surface at least, friendlier than northerners. But, I also agree there’s a lot of passive aggressive fake politeness. When someone doesn’t like you for whatever reason up north, there’s no misunderstandings about it, they aren’t remotely s passive aggressive as many southerners. But in general I really enjoy my trips down south and think most people are genuinely nice.

    That said, the problem can be laded at the doorstep of the omnipresent evangelical Christian churches. They still have enormous control and influence in society that is non-existent up north, either Protestant or Catholic. People up north, especially where I live, are simply not fanatically religious like many southerners and most think it’s bizarre, even freakish. It’s the reason many southerners think northern [especially New England] ‘Conservatives’ aren’t conservative, because they aren’t remotely as obsessed with stuff like homosexuality. sex in general, etc., And ironically, in many cases, the only folks up here who come close to behaving or mimicking this rigid, religion obsessed, ‘traditionalist’ southern attitude are black Americans from the south.

  20. John says

    My in-laws are all in the south. Some of them are totally accepting of my husband’s orientation, and of me. Others are very polite and welcoming to us to our faces, yet still are devout members of a church which is adamantly anti-gay . One is actually a “fire and brimstone” preacher. The church actively protests the Pride parade.
    It’s the same with race… like my sister-in-law who is “not racist”, yet regularly e-mails blatantly racist “jokes”. It’s sickening.

  21. ratbastard says

    Of course, my experiences may be slightly affected by the delusional state I live in each day. You see, I’m a rather pathetic excuse for a homosexual, and I really hate black people. In fact, I hate them so much that I’ve invented an online persona whose father was killed by “a group of blacks” – just to justify how much I hate them. See? I actually wish that blacks had killed my father so I can have a reason to hate them. I’m pretty messed up.

  22. Davis says

    Well I’ll start by saying I live in the southern most part of the USA, in good ole Mississippi. As I see it as a gay man living in the south it’s fine if you are a florist, hair dresser, makeup artist or in some other profession deemed as gay one then you will survive with no problem. However, if you are expecting free rights for all and to walk down the street holding hands and kissing its not going to happen. Even in a large area of population say in the capital where I live.

    These views are not right and make people to stay in the closet. Which in the end is a very sad situation for everyone. Being raised here in the south it’s been hard to be an out and proud gay man, but I remember that it took along time for things to change down here for other types of people and situations and for me to think it will happen over night is just silly. There is still prejudice toward African-Americans down here so we are not the only groups being targeted by bigots and hateful behavior. I just hope that one day I will be able to look back and say I was there when the world changed in Mississippi.

  23. says

    Hey, thanks, guys. I thought I was alone when I read this article and thought it was a joke. Oddly, there’s no place to comment on it. Yeah, gays are totally accepted in the South. Everybody loves them. Except they don’t want them to have any rights.

    This is my problem with religious people: I can’t be friends with somebody who doesn’t want me to have any rights. And frankly I find it pitiful that this poor Times writer is so happy to announce that in the South you can get lots of people who think you’re a second-class citizen to come to your house for food and drink.

  24. Rick says

    I actually have found very little real regional difference in terms of the way people view homosexuality….and I have lived in all 4 regions of the country for significant periods of time.

    The supposed “liberals” I have worked with in places like New York, Chicago, and California I found were actually only “liberal” in “official” terms–in personal terms, they were no less homophobic on average than conservative Southerners.

    They will say all the right, politically correct things when it comes to being tolerant and accepting of gays…..but the straight men are no more likely on a personal, individual level, to socialize with you if they know you are gay than are conservative men in the Heartland…..and the women are just as likely to regard you as a “pet” the way women in the South are, someone who is not to be taken seriously as a man, but who is to be regarded as their social accessory.

    It is partly because of this experience that I realized how utterly pointless the attempts to pass laws are.

    The real issue is changing the culture. And that means re-defining masculinity.

    All these other differences, regional or otherwise, are just trivial fluff and not really worth noting…..and they don’t really make much difference in terms of the way you live your life unless you are a wave-the-rainbow-flag-in-people’s-faces type, which very few gay people are.

    The only purpose such exercises serve is to make New Yorkers and others feel smug about themselves, when there really is very little justification for doing so.

  25. ratbastard says

    PLEASE disregard Lil’ Canadian [AKA Little Kiwi’s] obsessive compulsive habit of high jacking a posters persona to troll.

    And once again, Lil’ Canadian, YES, my dad was a victim of a very violent crime and the perps were a group of young black men. I’m not going to lie or pretend otherwise in order to not offend sensitive folk like Lil’ Canadian or others. Neither does it mean I’m ‘Racist’, Lil’ Canadian. I think you project in your posts, boss.

  26. ratbastard says


    I appreciate what you posted, and agree there’s plenty of hypocrisy among ‘Progressives’ in the north and elsewhere. And you see this attitude outside the U.S. also; Euros and others who often smugly proclaim how tolerant they are, can just as often be total aholes on a personal level, and just as capable of being unkind. But in their case, they’ll often point to their Democratic Socialist society, as a way of claiming they’re morally and ethically superior, when they don’t volunteer in their community, engage in charitable acts, are unkind to those down on their luck, or are just cold on a personal level in general.

  27. Bill says

    These articles (and comments) always make me roll my eyes. I grew up on a farm in South GA. I have lived all over yhr country, and I am settled back in Atlanta (not the suburbs. The actual city). I find it amazing that people can be so sure of a culture and a place they know nothing about. If you think growing up gay is any better or worse in rural New York state than it is in rural Georgia, then you clearly need yo leave the city more often. I have often been shocked by the acceptance I’ve received from small town Texas, and by the discrimination I’ve endured in liberal California. Yes, stereotypes all come from some old truth. So do prejudices. And seriously, “sugar in his britches”? Do they play a banjo and molest their sister while saying that? Good lord, how can people be so unaware?

  28. Caliban says

    Interesting discussion. I live in Tennessee, and I’m openly gay, and I have had very few overt problems. It really is true that Southerners are very nice- to your face. It’s after you leave the room that the problems start and what kind of “acceptance” is that? That isn’t acceptance, that’s being two-faced.

    But here’s where the stereotype of the South is often wrong. There really is no such thing as a “red state” or a “blue state.” They’re all purple, because the voting is almost always in the vicinity of 50/50. Just a few percentage points either way make the difference, so they just tend a little more toward a shade more blue or red. Not that all Democrats are gay-friendly, they’re not, but that there isn’t just one monolithic opinion, one culture. So it’s possible to find a community of educated and accepting people even in the South, at least in towns with a decent-sized population.

  29. Rick says

    “Interesting discussion. I live in Tennessee, and I’m openly gay, and I have had very few overt problems. It really is true that Southerners are very nice- to your face. It’s after you leave the room that the problems start and what kind of “acceptance” is that? That isn’t acceptance, that’s being two-faced”

    It is also about whether you are from the South and have family connections….or whether you are an outsider, particularly since Southerners–understandably–are weary of “do-gooders” from other parts of the country coming into their space and arrogantly and disrespectfully telling them that everything about their culture is wrong and backwards and needs to be changed.

    Two things came randomly to mind as I was typing that.

    One, when Jimmy Carter was running against Ronald Reagan, I remember a Southern politician (and I cannot remember which one), justifying his support for Carter over the more conservative Reagan, being quoted as saying: “He (Carter) may be a liberal, but he is OUR liberal”….

    and two, William Faulkner, who was a strong supporter of civil rights, incurring the wrath of activists outside the South by insisting that they mind their own business and let the South solve its own problems.

    In the cases of many of these people, some of the hostility they get is due less to their being gay, even openly gay, than it is to their being disrespectful of the locals……which is not really an issue if you grew up there and have family there..

  30. Colin says

    So the guy who wrote it is a Southern apologist, trying to whitewash Southern atrocities against anyone who is different (race, gender, orientation…)?

  31. No Illusions, No Delusions says

    “In the cases of many of these people, some of the hostility they get is due less to their being gay, even openly gay, than it is to their being disrespectful of the locals……which is not really an issue if you grew up there and have family there…”

    Wrong. It’s about going against the system, whether you’re a local yokel or not. If you stand up for yourself, live an open life, act like you expect to be respected, and assert your right to equal treatment, that’s when you’ll get encounter resistance adn bigotry.

    I have heard EXPLICITLY, and first hand, how a gaggle of Southern church ladies referred to someone as “nice man” because he kept his “personal business” private, and didn’t “throw it in everyone’s face” and demand acceptance.

    I recently ended a conversation with my parents when they began making bigoted racial remarks. The hypocrisy is breathtakingly stunning because I know that they know a lot of people whom they regard as good friends, and that they think of themselves as “tolerant” and “accepting” of persons of other races. And yet they make bigoted comments, not just the use of a racial slur, but actual sweeping, derogatory observations about the cognitive abilities of an entire race, the inescapable implication being that they’re not “our equals”.

    I realized afterward that what was so upsetting to me was that I know my parents don’t consider ME their “equal” either when it comes to marriage equality. On that count, in their eyes, I’m just as inferior as “the blacks”.

  32. Jeff says

    At the risk of being accused of inciting divisiveness in the gay community, I must comment on the fact that this article is written from a FEMALE perspective and not a male one. The couple she used as an example were lesbians, and the person who was included in the good ole boys’ hunting trips was a woman.

    Let me tell you that my experience as a gay MALE is exactly the opposite of this. Intolerance for perceived femininity or weakness in a man is legendary in the South and very real. I am not the most flamboyant of homosexuals, but I can definitely assure you I wouldn’t have been invited to go shooting ‘possum with the boys from the pool hall.

    Lesbians are given a “pass” in the South (for the most part) because no matter how short their hair may be or how masculine their attire, they are still seen as the “weaker sex” underneath. As wrong as it is, women exist to be protected for many red-blooded Southern men. Even gay women. What’s saddens me is that I never hear lesbians discuss this very real gulf in acceptance between the genders when they start praising their small town “back home”.

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