While Charleston has made several strides toward LGBTQ rights over the years, there's still more work to be done, according to a recent survey.
Hundreds of LGBTQ residents in the tri-county region fear they'll lose their jobs over their sexual orientation, lack access to quality and informed health care, and have been physically and verbally attacked in public, the survey released by a local advocacy group reveals.
For those part of the LGBTQ community who are living these struggles, the data isn't surprising, said Chase Glenn, executive director of the Alliance For Full Acceptance.
"We’ve definitely made progress," he said. "But there’s still so much work left to do."
In 2018, AFFA, a social justice organization that works for LGBTQ equality, partnered with the College of Charleston’s Community Assistance Program and the Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Health Professions to conduct an online survey and focus groups, which sought to bolster discussion of LGBTQ perspectives, issues and concerns in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties.
More than 1,400 respondents completed the survey, which examined personal and financial well-being, mental and emotional health, and personal safety.
Prior to the study, there was no existing research focused on the unique experiences of sexual gender minority residents in the tri-county region, according to AFFA.
Five recommendations emerged from the research:
1. Create resources and programming to address LGBTQ health care needs.
2. Engage in outreach to connect with young members of the LGBTQ community.
3. Develop resources to help community members navigate support programs.
4. Elevate the standing of groups within the tri-county area LGBTQ community for whom marginalization is compounded by intersecting identities.
5. Plan and launch cultural awareness campaigns with strategic community partners to counteract biases and misperceptions about LGBTQ persons.
The findings of the survey have tremendous implications, Glenn noted.
Regarding injustice in the workplace, more than half of respondents said they "cannot be themselves" at work, more than 250 worried they'll be terminated for their LGBTQ identity and, in general, LGBTQ respondents earn lower incomes, in spite of achieving higher education.
Many noted they lack access to quality and informed health care, with a third of respondents stating their doctors don’t know the answers to their questions, including providing information about hormones for transgender patients as well as life-saving HIV treatment and prevention options.
Glenn said results about health care stood out, including suicide statistics that revealed one in four respondents have considered taking their own lives.
"People always gasp a little bit when I share that piece of information," he said.
The survey brought to light personal experiences of triumph and adversity.
Jessica Giblin, a PhD candidate in Nursing Science MUSC's College of Nursing, noted some recent strides, such as the 21st Century Cures Act, which authorized research funding for sexual gender minorities. But health institutions could do more, like offer intake forms that ask for sexual orientation, Giblin said.
“It’s important to ask these questions,” she said.
Residents offered powerful stories of despair and triumph.
A Laurens lawmaker says gender reassignment surgery or treatment shouldn't be offered to children under 18. An opponent calls the proposal "disastrous."
Giblin became emotional as she recalled a 19-year-old boy who came out to his family two years ago. The boy's father drove his son to Charleston from their home in the Upstate, handed the boy some money, and told him he wasn't welcomed back home.
"If you want to be gay, you can be gay in Charleston," the father said. "You’re an embarrassment to us. No one wants you back.”
The boy obtained his GED and enrolled at Trident Technical College.
“Such resiliency and such strength," Giblin said.
The survey results challenge the perception that Charleston is a beacon of progressive thought, said faith leaders and advocacy group directors.
The city's police department has a LGBTQ liaison and the city was recently ranked as the top city by the Human Rights Campaign when it comes to inclusive policies.
But the survey shows that inclusiveness must trickle down, Glenn noted.
The Rev. Wendy Hudson-Jacoby, who pastors a congregation where at least of one-quarter of around 90 members identify as LGBTQ, agreed as she pointed to the deaths of four S.C. African American transgender women in South Carolina since 2018.
“Sometimes we can get this perhaps more positive view than what a lot of people are really experiencing on the ground," Hudson-Jacoby said.
Two Rivers, a United Methodist community, is one of several Methodist congregations that opposed the denomination's recent decision to strengthen restrictions around gay rights.
To help minister to the LGBTQ community, Two Rivers has been working to connect young adults of different sexual orientations, as well as making the church a place where the young people can be "authentically themselves," Hudson-Jacoby said.