The Campaign for Southern Equality (CSE) is based in Asheville, North Carolina, and works across the South to promote full LGBT equality. 

A New Approach:

Across the South, LGBT people lack basic legal protections, face robust opposition to our rights and have limited resources for advocacy. LGBT people in our region are also at an elevated risk of poverty. Beyond this, the South receives less than eight percent of the total annual funding that goes to LGBT organizations nationally. Factors like this contribute to the commonly held belief that the South is “unwinnable” when it comes to LGBT rights.

But we hold a different view and feel deeply hopeful about what’s possible in the South. To combat these structural issues, CSE was launched in 2011 after a 6-year planning period to work toward full LGBT equality in the South.

1) We believe there is a pressing need for advocacy, legal and crisis response services for LGBT people in the South.

2) Our baseline responsibility as a Southern progressive civil rights group is to engage in efforts around racial equity and economic justice.

3) We believe that federal equality is the most efficient and effective pathway to equality for LGBT people in the South. We also believe LGBT people and allies in the South are uniquely positioned to accelerate winning full equality on the federal level by directly resisting discriminatory laws and systems.

4) We believe that every person – including those conflicted about or opposed to LGBT rights – can become an ally.

As a result, we’re taking a new approach, building upon a rich legacy of civil rights organizing in the South and working in close partnership with other LGBT and civil rights groups.

As the landscape shifts in the South – around LGBT issues, racial equity, and economic justice issues – so too does our work. We feel deeply hopeful and we also know what’s at stake for so many in our community: this combination of hope and urgency fuels and inspires us.

The next phase of CSE’s work includes:

Hometown Organizing Project: Through the Hometown Organizing Project, CSE empowers local LGBT leaders to promote lived equality in towns across the South. We support leaders with trainings, funding, and other tools as they engage in advocacy, service and visibility projects. Initiatives include the annual conference, the Southern Equality Fund, #LGBTSouth convenings, and the weekly LGBT South newsletter.

LGBT Rights Toolkit: Through the Toolkit, we respond to the acute, and widespread need for culturally-competent direct services and resources. Current programs include our digital toolkit (www.lgbtrightstoolkit.org); pop-up clinics that provide direct services and resources; and providing training, networking and funding to support front-line providers of culturally-competent direct services.

Legal Equality Project: This project focuses on striking down anti-LGBT laws and policies that remain in the South in order to achieve legal equality. CSE will work to strike these laws down using an array of tactics, including litigation, lobbying, public education and direct action. Current projects include federal lawsuits challenging HB 1523 in Mississippi, and Senate Bill 2 in North Carolina, as well as being part of coalition efforts to defeat emerging anti-LGBT bills.

All of our work is based on empathic resistance, a new ethic which calls for 1) resisting persecuting systems by expressing the authentic self; and 2) approaching those who oppose your rights with empathy.

We are honored to have played a lead role in winning marriage equality across the South through the WE DO Campaign (from 2011 to 2015, more than 150 LGBT couples across the South took part in the WE DO Campaign. They requested – and were denied – marriage licenses in their hometowns in order to call for full equality under the law) and federal litigation; to have offered an ongoing series of free legal clinics on topics like name changes and health care power of attorneys, serving thousands with free legal education; worked to pass local equality initiatives in Asheville and Buncombe County; and launched the LGBT in the South conference and other initiatives to support grassroots organizers.


Based in the South, the Campaign for Southern Equality is a national effort to assert the full humanity and equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in American life and to increase public support for LGBT rights.

Ethical Basis:

CSE’s work is based upon empathic resistance, a new ethic which calls for 1) resisting persecuting systems by expressing the authentic self; and 2) approaching those who oppose your rights with empathy.


CSE was launched as a non-profit in 2011, after a 6-year period of planning and research.