Peek into queer college life in today’s South

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You may have thought your youthful sacrifices paid off in less LGBT bullying and more gay tolerance for the next generation. You’re only partly right. Fast forward to these students speaking out and sounding off.

Just as fully grown LGBTs are trying to stomach this guy in Georgia and people like this in Texas, younger queers there and in two other Southern states are making some adjustments of their own, according to a USA Today study of LGBT life in the South.

As a case in point, meet Zachery Ferenczy (top photo), a University of Georgia senior who is transgender. A startling, emotional realization hit him at the end of his freshman year.

“My first year at UGA, my very last day I was hanging out with my new friend … and I actually started to cry,” he says. “I told her it was the first full year I hadn’t been called a faggot.”

For Ferenczy, a senior studying family financial planning, growing up in Atlanta, as a transgender person wasn’t easy.

“In high school when I started to transition into boy’s clothes … I still got called faggot,” he says.

Classmates regularly elbowed him in the halls and coughed homosexual slurs under their breath, Ferenczy says. One time a group of kids from his high school even circled him in their car, shouting obscenities from the side of the road at his girlfriend and him.

During his senior year, the thought of going to college in the South — where acceptance of LGBT people has traditionally been lackluster — terrified him.

In the college town of Athens, UGA turned out to be a blue island in a very red state, and Ferenczy was pleasantly surprised.

In the college town of Athens, UGA turned out to be a blue island in a very red state, and Ferenczy was pleasantly surprised.

“UGA is different because we’re so chill, I feel like. We really try to be as tolerant as can be,” he says. “What I think college really helped teach me … is the fact that (people) really don’t care — that everybody was OK with whatever I wanted to do. And that opened up my world of possibilities.”

But even at tolerant and accepting UGA, Ferenczy's full interview reveals that runs into ignorance more often than not and still gets questions as rude as “Are you gay or straight?” and “Are you a boy or a girl?”

 

‘Still highly frowned upon’

 

Perenczy’s story echoes some of the experiences that gay student Nathan Pulcher (second photo) has had at the University of Texas at Austin. Another student interviewed by USA Today, the UT sophomore says Southern religious mores has always his biggest obstacle, even in Austin, another college town smack dab in the middle of one of the most liberal cities in the state.

While Pulcher says that people have generally been accepting, coming out in a “very religious” small town came with its obstacles. Pulcher says he has occasionally been victim to discrimination and has “definitely felt the hate of (some) people.”

“I have to tell myself that this is part of the nature and culture of being a part of such a religious state,” Pulcher says.

“Being LGBT in the South, I wouldn’t say is nearly as much a problem — or at least in Austin, Texas it isn’t — but it’s still highly frowned upon,” Pulcher says. “(Being LGBT) is still very shrouded and very enclosed and kind of left to the hidden places of the community”

After delving into their full interviews among the students forging modern queer paths below the Mason-Dixon line, where does that leave the state of LGBT discrimination in the South? Well, better than it was and not as good as it could and should be. Spoiler alert: We still have work to do.

[USA Today]

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