In an effort to keep spreading the message of LGBT equality in one of the nation’s most socially conservative regions, GLAAD has announced that a week-long, six-state summer tour will be added this June to its Southern Stories initiative.
Through live country music performances and various meetings and forums, the summer tour seeks to continue the momentum of the Southern Stories campaign with an effort to advance acceptance and understanding of LGBT people in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, and Georgia.
“The GLAAD Southern Stories Summer Tour will be the crescendo of the campaign for this calendar year as we move through six states in seven days to uplift the stories of LGBT southerners and their allies who are working to accelerate acceptance in the region,” said GLAAD’s vice president of programs, Zeke Stokes, in an exclusive statement to The Advocate. “I grew up in South Carolina, so I know firsthand the challenges that come with growing up gay in the South, and in spite of the progress that's been made on so many fronts for the LGBT community in that region and across the nation, there are still way too many kids growing up in difficult and often dangerous environments.”
Southern Stories, which launched last fall, acknowledges the strides the LGBT community has made legally but recognizes that some places (particularly the South) still have cultural barriers that prevent LGBT people from living their lives the way they want.
“The reality is that laws and policies are important but won't ultimately be the thing that makes the difference to make kids feel safe, keep them from being bullied, or keep them from considering suicide as we know from statistics so many do,” said Stokes. “Laws and policies alone don't save lives; but love and acceptance do. That's what this program is about and what this tour is about.”
The tour, which runs from June 12 to June 19, kicks off its festivities with a live music event in Nashville, the Concert for Love and Acceptance, during the well-attended, big-name Country Music Association Festival.
“This is a first-of-its-kind event aimed at bringing together a coalition of artists from across genres to send a strong message of love and acceptance for all people — especially our LGBT youth,” said Stokes. “Our partners include the Academy of Country Music, the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, and many others joining us to send a message that I believe will resonate beyond Nashville and into the homes and lives of people all across this nation who love country music.”
Slated to appear at the concert are popular acts like Antigone Rising, Melinda Doolittle, Stella Parton, Billy Gilman, and cohosts Meghan McCain (a political commentator and daughter of Sen. John McCain) and Ty Herndon (a country singer who came out as gay late last year in a story in People magazine).
Despite the big names and events that are sure to draw plenty of people to the tour, Stokes points out that the glamour is just the beginning of this campaign, and that the ultimate goal of the entire week-long event is to promote equality and love in an environment that is still so used to traditional ways.
“The tour will kick off with an emphasis on country music, but that is just the beginning,” he said. “Along the way, we will also be engaging in conversations and hosting events and meetings that focus on a number of issues important to LGBT Southerners. What they will all have in common is the goal of ensuring that Southerners who may still be on the journey to understanding know that the values of love and acceptance for their LGBT friends, family, and neighbors are entirely consistent with the values they already hold dear.”
“No one should have to live in a world where they can legally get married but not feel safe to hold their husband or wife's hand walking down the street in their hometown,” he said.