In her new book, Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers, author and scholar Anne Balay takes a no-holds-barred look at the lives of rural Midwesterners who found themselves forced to live in the closet.
Although social acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues is on the upswing internationally, Balay was surprised to find that the opposite was, in fact, true among Midwestern mill workers. Many of the workers she interviewed said they found themselves victims of what she described as "a backlash" against the LGBT community among their colleagues.
"In the '70s, it was easier to be gay in the mills than it is now," Balay said. "[Back then], gay and lesbian people were just sort of isolated weirdos...they were just sort of 'that person over there who has this, you know, awkward personality trait,' but it could be ignored."
She then added, "When gay people got a political clout and started to be a social threat to traditional ways of life, then people in the mills started to come down harder."
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