NAME: Nathan Martin
ORGANIZATION: The Spectrum Center; Hattiesburg, Mississippi
ABOUT NATHAN: Raised in the Midwest, Nathan moved to the deep south for college to pursue Graphic Design. He moved to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to be with his fiancé in 2013 and became passionate about Social Justice, LGBT equality and developing an LGBT community after experiencing the complete lack of said resources in the Deep south, outside major cities. He spends his time working for a local health network, supporting and developing an LGBT community in Mississippi and flipping houses.
ABOUT THE SPECTRUM CENTER: The Spectrum Center in Hattiesburg, MS was founded in 2014 to be a Community center to support LGBT people in Mississippi. We are a community space hosting a monthly series of events promoting LGBT Support, Social events for the community, HIV testing/education/awareness, and educational meetings. We also have a small food pantry, clothing closet, and we will soon be a drop in center for those who need laundry/bathing/food and additional services. We support all organizations inside and outside of Mississippi working for LGBT Equality and have formed the Hattiesburg Pride celebration and Gay Hattiesburg Mardi Gras Ball, the Krewe of Erotes.
Why is LGBT activism still so important?
LGBT people are still openly oppressed especially here in the deep south. Oppression takes many forms, especially in regard to the poor, people of color, and those who are not heteronormative in their appearance. We are working to change that. When you look for successful LGBT people in the south it shouldn’t just be a group of white gay men, or white Lesbian women. I feel making the deep south a more open and welcoming for LGBT people in all our forms will help alleviate some of the poverty that I see everywhere here. Its difficult for people to find good jobs and careers here in the deep south where we are mainly rural with few corporations or large entities to support a population. Its made even more difficult when work places and educational institutions aren’t specifically welcome or open to LGBT people that don’t fit a heteronormative appearance or personality. This leads to a large segment of our population living below the poverty line because the only work they can get is low paying and unhealthy. There is also the rampant self-medication that comes from being completely disowned from your family and community and the social stigma and oppression that is so common here in the deep south. LGBT people here are far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol to erase that emotional pain and it becomes a destructive cycle that leads to poverty and the poverty cycle. Most people think the solution is to get out of the deep south, but peoples families are here, their lives are here, and regardless what issues will be resolved by moving to another state, a lot of the problems developed while living in this oppressive climate will follow you. If you’re an alcoholic, moving from Mississippi to Oregon won’t change that.
What’s an important issue facing the LGBT community that we aren’t addressing as well as we should?
Internalized homophobia. Many people here in the deep south are LGBT, but they are reclusive, covering their sexuality out of fear or shame, actively working against LGBTQ+ inclusion or apathetic about it. These people separate themselves from others in the LGBTQ community in their mind. They identify as “Gay” but they don’t approve of all that” tranny bullshit” or “Sissy boys” and they feel that everything is fine for themselves in Mississippi and it would be for LGBTQ+ if they would just conform the social norms. Internalized homophobia causes isolation from the LGBT community, and thus a loss of power and inability to change the current social norms that exclude LGBTQ people from being openly accepted in this area. We have many LGBT friends who won’t come to social events because “gay people will be there”. We have the largest amount of Gay parents raising children in Mississippi simply because social pressure and internalized homophobia causes LGBT people to marry, have kids, and then realize many years later that they are gay and can’t live like this anymore. They divorce and continue to raise kids. This stuff still happens and is rampant here.
What inspires your activism?
Seeing the complete lack of LGBT community here because it is so segmented by social expectations, internalized homophobia, racism, classism, and apathy. Having a community that is supportive and nurturing for those of us that need it the most in this oppressive atmosphere is what drives me to support people, organizations, and events that create that LGBTQ+ community. We need a community to come together to oppose things like this new HB1523 law, so we can come out in force against such things, part of the reason our response wasn’t greater is there is no community network here to organize and activate.
What’s the best piece of advice you can give LGBT allies to be better and stronger allies?
Come out. Be visible. Be open, speak out against ignorance and oppression and create a personal connection to those around you to educate them and be a good influence. Its that simple.
What’s one simple action that readers could do today that would positively impact the LGBT community?
Attend LGBTQ+ community events. Its so easy to talk about it and post on social media, but when you attend an event, create connections and actually show your support THAT is when a community is created and THAT is when things change.
You can support The Spectrum Center by visiting the Donations page at TheSpectrumCenterMS.org. You can donate as a single donation or pledge as little as $5 per month to support the center and its programming.
You can also sponsor the Hattiesburg PRIDE weekend event coming in October. For more information about it, check out Http://www.hattiesburgpride.com