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Crooked Letter I LGBT Essayists Respond to Human Rights Campaign Alabama Survey, Part 1: Susan Benton

Crooked Letter I: Coming Out in the South, edited by Connie Griffin

According to a recent survey of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Alabamians conducted by the Human Rights Campaign in Alabama, most of those surveyed have lived in Alabama “for more than 20 years, donate to charitable groups and non-profits, want to have children one day, and many consider faith an important part of their lives, but large percentages of respondents also reported harassment throughout their lives, from school to work to church,” according to an article about the survey from

In 2015, Alabama-based NewSouth Books plans to release a book of Southern-themed LGBT coming-out stories, tentatively titled Crooked Letter I and edited by University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Dr. Connie Griffin. Three of the essay contributors — Susan Benton, B. Andrew Plant, and Elizabeth Craven — sent their thoughts on the survey. Today’s submission is from Susan Benton.

The results show that LGBT Alabamians are just like their friends and family members — living, working, volunteering, and going to church within their communities.

These words resonated with me more than any others in the HRC LGBT Alabamians survey. I often tell people that “I escaped from Alabama in 1981.” My college years were not happy ones for a young lesbian due to blatant discrimination. As an active church member, and church employee, I was always acutely aware of the danger I might be in should someone find out I was gay.

The USA has come a long way since I was a fifteen-year-old and finally finding a word to describe what I was feeling. The Supreme Court decision to overturn Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013 has led to rapid change in many people’s way of thinking. While I’m not holding my breath that Alabama joins the Marriage Equality bandwagon any time soon, I do know that time will eventually bring Alabama into the fold.

We have made great progress, but in Alabama, I still have reason to be afraid. I am married to an Australian. When we visit my parents in Alabama, my spouse must always carry her documentation showing she has a right to be in the country. We must have copies of our marriage certificate, and our Medical Power of Attorney in case she must be admitted to a hospital, so that I am considered next-of-kin. Since Alabama does not recognize our marriage, we cannot and will not consider moving to Alabama.

The survey proves that we are human beings — no more and no less — than the people in our communities. We love our country, we love our families, we love our children, and many of us still try to find homes in religious organizations. I applaud the efforts of HRC Alabama to bring human rights to ALL people, and fervently hope that one day, I might be able to come home.

Crooked Letter I will be available direct from NewSouth Books or from your favorite bookstore in 2015. Come back tomorrow for another response to the survey from a Crooked Letter I contributor.