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

One third of all LGBTQ Americans live in the South. Yet across the region, LGBTQ people lack basic legal protections, face robust opposition to our rights and have limited resources for advocacy. LGBTQ people in our region are also at an elevated risk of poverty and health disparities. Beyond this, the South receives less than 8% of the annual foundation funding that goes to LGBTQ organizations nationally – and the majority of this Southern funding goes to large metro areas.

We believe that new approaches are required to do impactful work in the South. Our work starts by asking what a LGBTQ Southerner needs when they decide that they are ready to lead transformative equality efforts in their hometown: they will likely have to disrupt longstanding personal relationships and community safety nets and face day-to-day animus, often while needing economic and legal support themselves. Tactically, we thus apply a range of tools to support grassroots LGBTQ leaders throughout the South, including direct services, civil disobedience, direct action, litigation, grant-making, and both digital and old school organizing.

Our current work includes:

Rapid Response Initiative: Our Rapid Response Initiative will run from December 2016 – July 2017 and focus on responding to our new political climate. Against the backdrop of a chaotic political climate, our work is guided by this question: How we can best serve LGBTQ Southerners and stand shoulder to shoulder with other communities under attack? We are providing direct services and resources to help LGBTQ Southerners protect their rights and health; and taking part in ongoing political mobilization to oppose regressive federal civil rights policies and laws.

Legal Equality Project: This project focuses on achieving legal equality by striking down anti-LGBTQ laws and policies in the South. CSE uses an array of tactics to do this, including litigation, lobbying, public education and direct action. Current projects include federal lawsuits challenging HB1523 in Mississippi and Senate Bill 2 in North Carolina, as well as being part of coalition efforts to defeat anti-LGBTQ bills and laws.

Hometown Organizing Project: Through the Hometown Organizing Project, CSE empowers local LGBTQ leaders across the South to promote lived equality in their hometowns. Through our Southern Equality Fund, we support leaders with funding, trainings, and other critical tools as they engage in advocacy, activism, service and visibility projects. Since then we have distributed more than $55,000 to more than 70 grassroots groups, leaders and direct service providers across the South. In 2016, we began offering Rapid Response rounds in response to the wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation sweeping the South. Other initiatives include #LGBTSouth convenings and our weekly LGBT South newsletter.

LGBTQ Rights Toolkit: Through the Toolkit, we respond to the acute and widespread need for direct services and resources for LGBTQ Southerners. Current programs include our digital toolkit (www.lgbtrightstoolkit.org); free 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. Since launching, CSE has run more than 115 free Pop Up Clinics across the South, serving more than 3,500 people with free legal education, services and resources.  We also provide continuing education and training opportunities for direct service providers to build skills and knowledge to better serve the LGBTQ people.

Core Beliefs and Track Record:

We feel deeply hopeful about what’s possible in the South over the long term. We believe that LGBTQ Southerners possess the courage and resilience to be the architects of our liberation; that there is a moral mandate to respond to acute needs – often for legal and health services – in the lives of LGBTQ individuals and families; that our work is inextricably bound to the legacy, and future, of racial equity and economic justice movements in the South; and that every person – including those conflicted about or opposed to LGBTQ rights – can become an ally. All of 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 in 2011 after a 6-year planning period to work toward full LGBTQ equality in the South. From 2011 to 2015, CSE was on the frontlines of efforts to win marriage equality in the South using an innovative blend of direct action, public education and litigation. We led the WE DO Campaign, which involved LGBTQ couples requesting – and being denied – marriage licenses in their hometowns, from Wilson, NC, to Morristown, TN, to Poplarville, MS. More than 200 couples took action, with thousands of friends, family members and neighbors standing in support of them. We were honored to be part of the lawsuits that struck down marriage bans in North Carolina and Mississippi, as well as a lawsuit that struck down the adoption ban in Mississippi. During this period, we also offered more than 75 free legal clinics across the South, focused on topics such as health care power of attorney, name changes, family law and employment rights. Lessons learned during this first phase of our work have shaped our current efforts. Our work was covered by local Southern media, from The Wilson Times to The Hattiesburg American, and by national outlets including The New York Times, the Associated Press, and MSNBC, telling a new story about LGBTQ life in our region.