by Joel McDonald
What is it really like to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer person in some of America’s most conservative places? Samantha Allen set out to answer this question, touring some of the most conservative states in the US to collect and share the stories of the LGBTQ Americans who live there. She’s now published this collection of stories in her new book, Real Queer America: LGBTQ Stories from Red States.
Her first stop? Utah. For Allen, going to Utah was like going home. Allen attended Brigham Young University in Provo, and it was in Utah that Allen began her transition from a Mormon man into the queer transgender woman that she is today.
In her interview with MSNBC’s Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski and panel members, Allen shared that she “found amazing pockets of LGBT acceptance all over more conservative parts of the United States, whether it’s om Provo, Utah, or Bloomington, Indiana; just amazing communities of support and inclusion.”
While in Utah, Allen volunteers at Encircle. “A lot of LGBT youth that were there came from Mormon families. Their parents were figuring out how to support them while also observing a pretty conservative faith,” she said of the experience. “It was just remarkable.”
That’s not to say everything is rainbows and unicorns for LGBT people in these areas, but Allen wanted to show that their experiences aren’t “uniformly awful” while also expressing the concern that, “there’s lots to combat at the state legislative level. Lot’s of anti-LGBT bills being proposed.”
A panel member questioned the understanding by some that the loneliness and isolation of LGBT people lead to higher rates of suicide. Allen responded, “I think that’s very much true. I don’t want to sugarcoat what’s happening in these places. Utah, for example, still has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country. I think there are very real issues to deal with.”
In speaking about the differences in experiences of LGBT youth over time, Allen said, “Overall, I think the road is going to get easier. I was really moved when I went to Utah. I’m transgender myself. I’m an ex-Mormon. I had a road to acceptance with my own family when I came out. But, when I went to Utah, I met transgender kids, queer kids, who had come out to their Mormon parents and their parent’s first reaction was, ‘I want you to be happy. I want to figure out a way forward for you in this life.'”