Project One America from the Human Rights Campaign

by Bob Schwartz

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The new Project One America from the Human Rights Campaign is extraordinary for two reasons. As HRC describes it:

HRC’s Project One America is a comprehensive, multi-year campaign to dramatically expand LGBT equality in the South through permanent campaigns in Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas.

That this is aimed at these three Southern states is extraordinary because of the special circumstances and needs it addresses. These states have enjoyed the presence of gay men and women for generations, including some of the very famous: Tennessee Williams, for example, was not from Tennessee but from Columbus, Mississippi. “Enjoyed” is probably not the right word, since until recently—and still in some parts of these states—gay people had the choice of invisibility, damnation, lack of legal protection, or just leaving (which is precisely what many gay Southerners did).

The second extraordinary thing about Project One America is its strategy. Rather than confrontation, part of the approach is one of the front porch—conversations and discussions among family, friends, neighbors, citizens. This doesn’t mean that legal restrictions and inequities won’t continue to be addressed. It means that the South, some historical and present-day evidence to the contrary, does have a tradition of civility and caring. Caricatures are one part truth, one part projection of our own prejudices, one part wanting to feel morally superior, and the Southern caricature is all of these. Gently opening people’s eyes to the realities and humanity of LGBT life—including the lives of those close to them—is a valuable tactic. The lessons of loving and fairness and tolerance, in a place that tightly embraces its faith, should fall of fertile soil.

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