Project One America

Just six weeks prior to the first LGBT Rural Summit, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the self-proclaimed largest LGBT civil rights organization in the United States, unveiled “Project One America.” An HRC report accompanying the April 26, 2014 press release for the campaign launch stated:

 

This new campaign sought to “dramatically expand LGBT equality” in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, one of the areas of the country the HRC describes as “the other America.” This “other America” includes those places that ostensibly lack “nearly complete” LGBTQ equality, which, for the HRC, is the defining feature of this “other America.”

Project One America is necessary because, after last year’s historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings, this country is divided into Two Americas when it comes to equality. In one America, mostly on the coasts, LGBT people enjoy nearly complete legal equality. But in the other America, in the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Mountain West, and particularly in the South, even the most basic protections of the law are nonexistent.” [Emphasis added]

Metronormativity in the Campaign Goals and Advertising

The HRC’s descriptions of the campaign set up “One America” as a progressive coastal America where all is, apparently, well—an assertion that requires ignoring ongoing oppressions that transpire in urban and coastal places along the lines of race, class, gender, ability, nation, age, religion, and even sexuality. Such a place is imagined in binary relation to the non-coastal and homophobic “other” that the HRC has set out to fix. Although the HRC explicitly names that which is the other—“the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Mountain West, and particularly…the South”—they also leave out other important markers of place. In its five page document explaining the campaign, the words “urban” and “rural” are absent. We know, however, that the “one America” of the coasts is imagined as urban (the country’s two largest cities are coastal, after all) while the “other America” is not.

 Armed with a budget of $8.5 million, the HRC’s “One America” campaign identified nine goals it hoped to reach in these three Southern states over the course of its three year existence. These included the oft-heard calls to “create safer environments for LGBT young people,” “create more inclusive workplace[s] for LGBT people,” “empower LGBT people (and straight allies) to come out,” and “raise the visibility of LGBT people and issues with the general public.” What is notable in the list of goals specific to HRC Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas is their very lack of specificity; the goals of this campaign simply mirror those of the national HRC. Furthermore, rural queer studies scholars have suggested that some of the goals articulated here—particularly those around visibility and outness—do not have cultural traction or resonance in rural places. This is not because LGBTQ people cannot be or are not “out” in rural places but because expressions of outness and the cultural capital attached to such expressions operate in different manners in rural places (Gray 2009, Thomsen 2016). HRC’s geographically-neutral, one-size-fits-all approach to liberation is enabled by their metronormative positions, which do not allow for a recognition of place-based complexity and are made manifest through describing the rural as part of the “other America.” In a campaign titled “One America,” which assumes that the ways in which the “other America” does things are inherently less advanced than those of the “one America,” this oversight may come as little surprise.

Additional Examples of HRC's Metronormativity

Three months prior to the launch of the campaign, HRC co-sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Bringing Equality Home: LGBT in Rural America” along with the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. According to the HRC website, this event held on January 28, 2014 was “the first” on the topic and sought to address “current issues facing the LGBT community and individuals living with HIV/AIDS in rural America.” From the HRC website:

It’s critical that as a community we acknowledge and support the lived experience of LGBT communities across the country—including those struggling to thrive in rural areas...Although the LGBT community has experienced a series of significant victories over the past two years, many LGBT people living in rural areas still face systemic inequality.  Discrimination in health care, housing, and employment often leads to an increased risk for poverty and social isolation for LGBT families, and also creates an additional barrier to accessing critical state and federal social services. We hope yesterday’s discussion will be the first of many highlighting the needs of members of our community all across the country, including in rural areas. (Emphasis added)

In this landmark event on rural LGBTQ issues, the rural is a caricature of itself; it is a place where LGBTQ people face discrimination, poverty, and social isolation and struggle to thrive. The other America, of course, is the site of the “series of significant victories” for LGBTQ people.  

To see this metronormativity from gay rights groups in action, check out this “Project One America” campaign video.

That the HRC and other national gay rights  organizations are expressing concern over issues transpiring in the rural U.S. is quite new. What is not new is the effacing, homogenizing, and writing over of the rural within LGBTQ movements and studies--evident, ironically, even in campaigns supposedly focused on rural LGBTQ issues and people.

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