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Over half of LGBTQ Southerners say their parents tried to change or repress their identity, report finds

Transgender participants and people of color were more likely to say that a caregiver tried to change or repress their LGBTQ identity.
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AAron Ontiveroz / MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images file

Though public support for pro-LGBTQ policies is at an all-time high, many queer people living in the South report that a caregiver tried to change their LGBTQ identity, a new survey found

More than half, or about 58%, of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people living in 13 Southern states reported that a parent or caregiver tried to change or repress their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to a survey published this week by the Campaign for Southern Equality, which promotes LGBTQ equality across the South.

Some groups were more likely to report experiencing such efforts: More than two-thirds of transgender participants (68.7%) and participants of color (67.5%) reported experiencing these efforts, compared to 50.8% of cisgender participants and 57.4% of white participants. Younger LGBTQ Southerners, those ages 18-24, were also more likely to report that a caregiver tried to change or repress their identity (64.4%) compared to those 25 and older (51.1%). 

The Campaign for Southern Equality partnered with Campus Pride, which advocates for LGBTQ inclusivity and safety at U.S. colleges and universities, to survey 4,146 LGBTQ Southerners in the fall of 2021. The new survey's questions covered family, faith, education and health.

Austin H. Johnson, the director of the Campaign for Southern Equality’s Research & Policy Center and an assistant professor of sociology at Kenyon College, said in a statement that the dominant narrative emerging from the survey data “is that thousands of individuals throughout the South are not getting the social support they need and deserve at home, in schools, and in their communities.” 

“This lack of support and inclusion is disempowering and may cause detrimental harm to their mental and physical wellbeing, especially when that lack of support gets compounded with clear, state-sponsored discrimination such as the passage of anti-LGBTQ laws,” he stated.

Among the other data, the survey found that more than two-thirds (68.82%) of respondents who identified as spiritual or religious reported that they were alienated or discouraged from participating in their faith community due to their LGBTQ identity.

More than one-third (33.9%) of all LGBTQ survey respondents reported experiencing efforts to repress or change their sexual orientation or gender identity in a religious setting, with participants ages 18-24 more likely to report such efforts (44.1%) compared to respondents 25 or older (30.7%).

The survey also asked LGBTQ Southerners about their physical and mental health. Most participants rated their physical health as fair (43.42%) or good (37.48%), though most also rated their mental health poor (28.7%) or fair (40.2%). More than half of LGBTQ Southerners surveyed (56%) reported experiencing suicidal ideation, and more than one in 10 (13.5%) reported attempting suicide at least once. 

Shane L. Windmeyer, founder and executive director of Campus Pride, said in a statement that “it’s especially troubling that younger people are often perceiving and receiving less emotional, mental, and physical support and resources than older respondents.” 

“Young LGBTQ+ people are being forced to conjure immense strength and resilience to combat marginalization and isolation — and it’s vital that we do everything we can, on every level of society, to support and affirm them for being who they are,” Windmeyer stated. 

The survey recommends that educational institutions “take a proactive approach to inclusion” by having a clear mission statement against discrimination of LGBTQ students and by including queer students in school policies. It also recommends that schools create privacy policies that do not “out” LGBTQ students to their family or others without their knowledge and permission — a recommendation that contradicts guidance that some teachers say they have received due to new state laws. 

“Considering both the findings of this report and the anti-LGBTQ sentiment among many school boards and decision makers across the South, it is clear that much of the harm experienced by younger LGBTQ individuals is in school,” the authors wrote in the report’s conclusion. “Regardless of the political and cultural attacks in the South, and the lack of protections from the institutions we rely on as Southerners, the LBGTQ community in the South is truly that — a community, one with an overwhelming amount of love, acceptance, joy, and beauty.” 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit for additional resources.

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