Symposium | What is Red-State Liberalism?

Out and Proud Down South

By Alvin McEwen

The work I do in South Carolina is specifically focused on the LGBTQ community. Over the years, I’ve worked as one of the founders of SC Black Pride, as a board member of SC Pride and the Harriet Hancock LGBT Center (Columbia’s LGBTQ community center); I’ve served on city committees, and spoken to groups about LGBTQ issues.

However, my primary work is my blog, Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters, which I’ve done now for 11 years. Through this blog, and special projects relating to it, I educate my readers about anti-LGBTQ propaganda and the groups who push it.

It’s hasn’t been an easy task because of where I live. South Carolina is a state so red that the GOP nominee for President is announced as the winner and the recipient of our Electoral College votes immediately after the polls close. A Democratic presidential candidate hasn’t carried this state for as long as I can remember. Since 2003 the state GOP has controlled all of the major state offices, from governor to the U.S. Senate. We only have one Democratic congressman, Jim Clyburn, and that’s because of racial redistricting.

Regardless of this, I’ve had tremendous success in my endeavors, and specifically my blog. That’s not to say that things haven’t been difficult or there aren’t situations I wish were different. For one thing, it isn’t easy having an LGBTQ blog in a red state. Many of my fellow LGBTQ bloggers come from New York or California, or other blue states, and this gives them a high and loyal readership. When I began, no one down here even knew what a blog was. And many still don’t.

My fellow bloggers who reside in blue states have also gotten a tremendous amount of media attention, as well as invitations to large LGBTQ events because their states are the epicenters of the community. There is always something LGBTQ-related going on in New York or California. Not so much here in South Carolina. Or rather not at all. The Human Rights Campaign won’t be having a gala dinner down here any time soon. Neither will GLAAD or any other prominent group.

Also, blogging in a red state is considerably problematic whenever I’m attempting to garner attention from the LGBTQ media. My blog has nothing to do with “local color.” It is a blog that that deals with the larger issue of anti-LGBTQ propaganda (homosexuality and pedophilia are related, homosexuality is a dangerous lifestyle, gays are trying to imprison Christians, etc.) and how it is used to undermine LGBTQ equality. In my 11 years, I’ve broken many stories (how the lawyer Paul Clement, arguing for the Defense of Marriage Act, was using junk science, the large number of researchers complaining that the religious right distorts their work, and more) that received much underground attention and even garnered a GLAAD Media Award earlier this year, yet still wasn’t mentioned in the LGBTQ press at large.

There seems to be an aura of lowered expectations when it comes to progressive political action in red states, and that unsurprisingly filters down to the LGBTQ community. I often get the impression that I am expected to be in a constant state of sadness and dread, or else I am supposed to relate incident after incident of how my community is done dirty by the state legislature and their fellow Palmetto state citizens.

But there is some good news. We’re still not exactly on our last legs in South Carolina. We have more than 50 organizations across the state dealing with a range of LGBTQ issues. We have chapters of PFLAG (one of the oldest and largest LGBTQ activist support groups) in several cities, and a wonderful relationship with law enforcement and the city council in several other areas. We have successful regional and ethnic pride events, and our main Pride celebration is celebrating its 28th anniversary and last year attracted more than 55,000 people from all over America to our capital city of Columbia.

But the community has the same problem as my blog. In terms of attention and expectations, we reside on the lower end of the LGBTQ echelon. When homophobic incidents happen in South Carolina, the LGBTQ community in blue states collectively shrugs its shoulders as if to say “it figures that this would happen in a backwards state like yours.”

But in this so-called backwards state, there are kernels of progress and brilliance, if they bothered to look. We aren’t looking to escape to the so-called greener pastures of places like New York or California. We prefer to sow for greener pastures here. And reap the benefits.

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Alvin McEwen is a native of Columbia, South Carolina and the editor of the GLAAD Media Award winning blog Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters.

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