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.

A New Approach:

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 eight percent of the total annual funding that goes to LGBTQ organizations nationally. To combat these structural issues, CSE was launched in 2011 after a 6-year planning period to work toward full LGBTQ equality in the South.

We feel deeply hopeful about what’s possible in the South. 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 LGBT 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.

Our work starts by asking what a LGBTQ Southerner needs when they decide that they are ready to lead transformative equality efforts in their rural 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.

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

In the past two years, we have worked to oppose anti-LGBTQ legislation in the South, using tactics from federal litigation (we are part of two active lawsuits in MS and NC), direct action and lobbying. In 2015, we launched our Southern Equality Fund as a micro-granting initiative that provides direct funding and technical assistance to grassroots LGBTQ leaders. Since then we have distributed more than $35,000 to more than 40 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.

The current phase of CSE’s work includes:

Rapid Response Initiative: Through the Rapid Response Initiative, we are providing direct services and resources to help LGBTQ Southerners protect their rights and health; and taking part in ongoing organizing and political mobilization to oppose regressive federal civil rights policies and laws.

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.

LGBTQ 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. Since launching, CSE has run 102 free Pop-Up Clinics across the South, serving more than 3,500 people with free legal education.  We also provide continuing education and training opportunities for direct service providers to build skills and knowledge to offer culturally-competent services to LGBTQ people. 

Legal Equality Project: This project focuses on striking down anti-LGBTQ 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-LGBTQ bills.