Photo: Dean Rohrer/NewsArt
Photo: Dean Rohrer/NewsArt

Southern, gay and not leaving

It would be tempting for a gay Georgia resident to leave the South and head for California or the Northeast, where same-sex marriage and workplace non-discrimination policies are the law of the land. I can see my husband and I starting over in another state where we cannot be mistreated at work because of our sexual orientation, where we don’t pay additional state income taxes, and where our marriage to each other is recognized by the state.

For some people, it may be the healthiest option to move to such progressive states.

But I am not leaving.

Nearly 10 years after voters in Georgia and other Southern states banned same-sex marriage through state constitutional ballot referenda, my resolve to be a proud, married gay man living in the South has never been stronger. This resolve will endure, even as certain lawmakers consider allowing private business owners to deny services to gay customers on religious grounds.

Family is a Southern value, and that includes gay families. Marriage was such a cherished dream for my husband and me that we traveled to Washington, D.C., in 2010 to legally wed on our 10th anniversary. It took extra time and money — thousands of dollars we didn’t spend in Georgia — to make that wedding happen.

Still, we immediately headed back South afterwards.

The South is our home, and we deeply wanted to be close to our family as they age. What’s more, the South is where my heart belongs. It was in Georgia where my husband and I met on the steps of the University of Georgia student center at the age of 22 and fell in love — the same steps where I helped teach thousands of students how to “call the Dawgs” as a UGA freshmen orientation leader.

Georgia is where my husband and I bought our first home, struggled through difficult career paths and found jobs we love.

Here, among red-clay hills and sweet tea, my husband and I built a home filled with the lovely anecdotes and messy realness that define every marriage. Like many others, we believe marriage is about the freedom to create, nurture and sustain a family with the one you love.

Our weekends are filled with chores like vacuuming and bill paying, as well as Sunday suppers with family and friends.

When my husband is sick, I drive to Kroger at midnight to buy soup for him.

And it was in my grandparents’ country church that my husband sat in a wooden pew with me at my father’s funeral, holding my hand before I delivered the eulogy.

I am not giving this up. I am not giving up living within driving distance of my grandmother and mother — or my father’s grave — just because it will take time to bring marriage equality and workplace non-discrimination to gay workers to the South.

My husband and I are simply another Southern family, albeit one not recognized under state law … yet.

But change is coming.

We won’t see another generation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender American youth living through the widespread degrading and humiliating experiences my generation experienced in terms of school bullying, job discrimination and roadblocks to marriage. Second-class citizenship for gays is destined for the fringe-element dustbin alongside racial segregation and opposition to voting rights for women.

The change will come from political organization and sharing our stories.

The more we offer our experiences, such as mistreatment by anti-gay employers and the homophobic violence that marked many of our childhoods, the more the reason for change will resonate with a fair majority of our fellow Southerners.

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Brian M. Basinger is an Atlanta attorney chosen in 2012 as one of the nation’s Best LGBT Lawyers Under 40 by the National LGBT Bar Association.