THE BLOG
12/15/2014 03:07 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Let's Talk About the South, You Guys

Note: The "you guys" is in reference to the fact that in New York, we say "you guys" and in the South, folks say "y'all". It does not have any intended gender references whatsoever.

In the wake of some rough losses for equality in the past few weeks, I've been seeing more and more negative talk about Southern states on Facebook, and I feel compelled to share some thoughts.

I have now spent my entire adult life in New York -- almost 10 years in New York City, and about two and a half in Syracuse -- until one week ago, when I moved to Little Rock, AR, to be closer to my family. I grew up in McAlester, OK, and I spent most of my life not feeling like I fit in, and then dogging on what a terrible state Oklahoma is after I moved to New York.

The truth is, it's not the state of Oklahoma that I don't enjoy. Oklahoma itself is actually really beautiful, unique, and awesome. (After having lived in Syracuse, NY, I can attest to the fact that Tulsa is a cooler city than Syracuse).

Just a few months ago, I had the honor and the privilege of spending three weeks driving from Syracuse, NY, to Los Angeles, and back to Syracuse, NY, to photograph transgender and gender non-conforming humans across the United States. During that time, I was so fortunate to see so many different places in this beautiful country. While we may not always agree with our government, our elected officials, and each other, one thing that I took away from my trip is that this country is beautiful, and we, the people, are diverse, and beautiful, too.

I had been in Arkansas for exactly 48 hours, to the hour, when the results of the vote in Fayetteville were announced. I was fortunate enough to be in the room with the people who had worked tirelessly to avoid repeal, and let me tell you something. I have been in a lot of activist spaces, but I have never been more inspired to continue doing this important work than I was on Tuesday, December 9, 2014 in Fayetteville, AR.

The people at the venue supporting equality that night were amazing. There were gay people. Bisexual people. Transgender people. Straight people, people who were not transgender (cisgender people), and everyone in between. Obviously, I did not spend my evening asking everyone how they identify, but from what I gathered, it was an amazingly diverse crowd with a lot of allies there.

I am issuing a challenge to everyone, right now. When you are tempted to say things like "Ugh, (insert Southern state here) is a terrible state and I am never living there," I am asking you to just pause, and remember that there are LGBT people who live in that state and love that state. And that we are fighting for equality so that LGBT can live in ANY state and not fear discrimination or violence.

This country is beautiful, and our people are beautiful -- but bigotry is not beautiful. Let's remember to keep them separate.