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Fleeing Home Due to Anti-LGBTQ Hostility Is Heartbreaking. I Know Because I Did.

I share in the grief, determination and hope of all the LGBTQ+ people fleeing their homes due to legislative attacks.

People participate in the 15th annual Miami Beach Pride Celebration parade on April 16, 2023, in Miami Beach, Florida.

Scrolling through my social media feeds, I’m always taken aback when I see posts from LGBTQ+ people sharing their plans to flee conservative states. I find myself clenching my jaw, and my heart skips a beat as I watch videos with a familiar story of a queer person facing social and political repression.

I recall my own journey of relocating from Florida in response to homophobia in my own community five years ago, and I’m sad to see that things have only gotten worse. The juxtaposition between the current backlash and the hope and progress we witnessed previously in the past decade makes this harsh reality all the more unsavory.

When I realized I was bisexual at 15, I accepted that my home was incompatible with my sexuality. My conservative family members made their anti-LGBTQ+ views clear, and I decided to start planning to move out at 18 years old. During my search for a new home, Donald Trump was already president, and Ron DeSantis was serving his first term as Florida governor. I was shocked by Trump’s win in Florida, and saw the effects in my community: the rise of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups, more vocally homophobic politicians and increased anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

Over the course of Trump’s presidency, I witnessed the rise of hateful anti-LGBTQ+ political antagonism in Florida, as DeSantis continued to align himself with Trump. Even though I sensed that I needed to leave the state because of increased hostility, I couldn’t imagine the current circumstance. Today, conservative politicians are much bolder, and the hostility is much more pronounced. Laws in conservative states are restricting LGBTQ+ communities’ access to basic necessities like health care, community spaces and self-expression.

LGBTQ+ people fleeing their homes in search of more accepting communities is nothing new — generations of LGBTQ+ people in the United States made a similar journey decades before us. Though the political landscape has changed dramatically since those earlier journeys, members of the LGBTQ+ community are now facing a new onslaught of state laws that seek to control every aspect of our gender and sexual identity and expression. While responding to these social pressures to move, it is devastating to leave behind vibrant queer communities in conservative states. As newcomers grapple with what we’ve left behind, we are also reshaping the communities that we settle in.

I still struggle with my decision to leave Florida. Even though I’m grateful for my life in New York, I can’t help but grieve for what I left behind. I remember the warm nights, kind smiles and lively culture of my childhood in Florida. I miss the vibrant Pride parades, fierce political organizing and beautiful queer communities that continue to thrive in the midst of political repression. But painful as it was for me to leave, I still feel certain that my queer identity would struggle to thrive in the place that I grew up in and love.

Even amid white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ+ hostility from extremist politicians, conservative states remain home to great diversity. Some recent surveys suggest that one in three LGBT+ people live in the South — more than in any other region. LGBTQ+ communities have resiliently bloomed in many cities and towns in red states, and have created a long history of rich queer culture.

Leaving that behind is never easy, because it feels like an impossible choice: staying to fight and sacrificing your safety, or fleeing for safety and sacrificing your home. Legions of queer communities in conservative states remain active in challenging these laws, even as some leave. I recall the impactful work of organizations like Equality Florida and Aqua Foundation for Women, as they advocated for local queer communities.

LGBTQ+ organizations like these in conservative states remain to fiercely fight against political attacks, and I wonder if I should have stayed to fight with them. I’m grateful for the generations of queer people who paved the way for me, so that I have the option to fight or flee, instead of hiding. But I’m infuriated that I must face this same dilemma, even after they worked so hard to create a world where these paths were no longer necessary.

Witnessing this political backsliding in conservative states, after great victories for LGBTQ+ rights less than a decade before, makes the decision to move so much harder. I remember the landmark Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court case, and the hope it gave LGBTQ+ communities in conservative states. It seemed like a new chapter in LGBTQ+ history, one filled with promise. Momentarily giddy over signs of changing public opinion and increasing media representation, I briefly hoped that state-sponsored homophobic and transphobic persecution could become a thing of the past.

How wrong I was.

It is a painful reminder that progress is far from linear, and is a constant struggle to maintain the rights we have gained. Landmark cases such as Obergefell and Lawrence v. Texas overshadowed the important signs of growing anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments from conservative state and national politicians.

As LGBTQ+ people make the difficult decision to move, they are far from a monolith. Many LGBTQ+ youth are fleeing conservative states via their college decisions, choosing colleges in more liberal areas to escape right-wing laws. Many other LGBTQ+ youth are being cast out of their homes, and will experience homelessness during their journey: LGBTQ+ youth are 120 percent more likely to face homelessness than their straight and cisgender counterparts. I found myself somewhere in between these two circumstances, as I moved for college while facing housing insecurity in the process.

Other LGBTQ+ people are moving with their families, as supportive parents of LGBTQ+ youth take a firm stance to protect their kids. LGBTQ+ parents are also vulnerable and are relocating to protect their rights. Preliminary data trends suggest that LGBTQ+ people are trying to move to more LGBTQ+ friendly areas, even though they face constraints, such as financial limitations.

As LGBTQ+ people continue to migrate across the U.S., we can anticipate that they will help shape the communities that accept them. It is noticeable that most of these newcomers aren’t settling in historical “gayborhoods” (urban neighborhoods with a high concentration of LGBTQ+ people) like the Castro District in San Francisco, the West Village in New York City or Boystown in Chicago.

Gayborhoods such as these once served as a natural hub for resettlement because of their reputation as LGBTQ+ safe spaces and rich history of advocacy. But thanks partly to growing acceptance of LGBTQ+ people’s integration in a broader variety of different neighborhoods, LGBTQ+ people have dispersed across the country, leading to the decline of concentrated gayborhoods. Gentrification has also played a large role in the decline of gayborhoods nationwide, as the cost of living rises in cities, and more heterosexual families seek to move into historical gayborhoods. When I moved to New York City at 18, I certainly couldn’t afford the gayborhood of the West Village that has been branded as trendy and young.

However, major cities are still appealing to LGBTQ+ newcomers from conservative states in new ways. Sociologist Amin Ghaziani suggests that LGBTQ+ people living in cities prefer a more dispersed “cultural archipelago”: Instead of concentrated LGBTQ+ neighborhoods, major cities have LGBTQ+ communities integrated throughout the metropolitan area. This recent shift in LGBTQ+ urban life will likely affect where newcomers from conservative states live in cities. However, LGBTQ+ relocation isn’t limited to major cities, as many new hubs for LGBTQ+ communities emerge throughout the country in small towns, suburbs and rural areas.

Even as I grieve what I have left behind, I am excited to witness vibrant bubbles of LGBTQ+ life and community emerge in new places — through LGBTQ+ businesses, community spaces and social justice engagement. I hope to see stronger coalitions form across the country, linking LGBTQ+ activists in conservative states and in liberal states. LGBTQ+ newcomers to liberal states have an important role to play in connecting their experiences with vital advocacy work. Just because we have left our homes doesn’t mean that we have given up on fighting for our rights. Instead, many of us are working to assure that this last wave of LGBTQ+ relocation in response to political persecution will be the last.

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