Out, Proud & Southern: Dyllón Burnside’s Story

Did you know that the South is home to more queer people than any other region in the U.S.? Join host Dyllón Burnside as he recounts his own experience coming out in the South and travels to the heart of Alabama to meet Carmarion D. Anderson, a barrier-breaking transgender woman of color and the Alabama State Director of the Human Rights Campaign.

AIRED: May 21, 2020 | 0:07:30

- The South is home to more queer people

than any other region in the US.

More than one third of all LGBTQ adults

live below the Mason-Dixon line.

But, it's not always easy to live here

and be your full self.

The South in general is home to some of

the most negative LGBTQ policies in the country.

In almost every southern state

you can be fired for being LGBTQ,

denied services including health services,

even turned away from adoption agencies

based on religious views.

But the South is changing,

and that's because so many LGBTQ people and their allies

have decided that nothing should prevent them

from living authentically without fear

wherever they may call home,

and that's where I wanted to begin this journey,

right here in my hometown; Pensacola, Florida.

(upbeat music)

I am from Pensacola, Florida,

the home of white sandy beaches and blue skies.

My family's been here for generations.

I grew up on a ranch just about 20 minutes away

from the Alabama state line.

I get on pretty well in the city,

but this, this feels like home.

My family went to church on Sundays.

Faith and religion have been such

an important part of my journey.

I've always known that I am attracted to men,

but it was a sin, it was an abomination.

It's something that I suppressed.

When I was a kid I was constantly corrected.

Don't put your hand on your hip,

don't talk like that, put some bass in your voice,

don't walk like that.

Things that as a kid I didn't understand what was so wrong.

But I came to know that if I learned

to present more masculine then people

responded to me differently.

I started a boy band when I was 12

and became a sex symbol for all of the teenage girls

in Pensacola and around the country,

toured across the country with Rihanna and Bow Wow,

but I recognized that I wasn't being

my full self in the process.

Once I left 3D I was recruited by a mega church.

They were looking for a new worship pastor

and I love my job at the church.

Somewhere along the way I had a conversation with my pastor.

I told him that I was attracted to men.

He didn't take it so well.

I was immediately removed from

my position of leadership in the church,

and I was crushed.

I chose to leave.

I chose to leave my home, I chose to leave my family,

in order to find a new support system

and a group of people who would understand

and could accept and embrace all of me.

And I was able to find that in New York City,

where I found success on Broadway,

a hit queer TV series called Pose,

and as an LGBTQ advocate.

But there are people who stay in the South

who are fighting every day

to create spaces that are affirming,

to find pockets of community in an environment

that has historically rejected them.

I'm excited to meet those people

who are finding ways to create space to be authentic

and live freely right here in the South.

- We are so excited that you're here.

- [Dyllón] My first stop is the state just over the border,

sweet home Alabama.

This is a place where the fight for civil rights

is deeply woven into the fabric of its history

and the collective memory of America.

It's where Martin Luther King served as a pastor

and started his civil rights activism.

- Free at last.

Free at last!

Thank God almighty,

we are free at last!

- And, where Rosa Parks got on a bus

and sparked a revolution.

It's where freedom rioters and brave marchers

put their lives on the line for racial justice and equality.

But in recent years, a red hot battle over

equal protections under the law

has centered around LGBTQ people.

I'm about to meet an incredible trans woman

who was putting in the work to make changes

right here in Alabama.

Carmarion D. Anderson is the Alabama state director

for The Human Rights Campaign,

the largest LGBTQ civil rights organization in the country,

and the first trans woman of color

to hold such a leadership position.

So talk to me a little bit about your background.

Where are you from and what was your family life like?

- I was reared in Dallas, Texas,

by way of Natchez, Mississippi.

Of course I grew up in a family very spiritual.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church.

In a grand old church with God and Christ.

And so we preach holiness or hell.

All I knew was church.

I have a heart, still, for spirituality,

because I don't debate if God made a mistake,

I don't debate if I feel like I'm trapped in the wrong body.

I mean I believe that this is holiness.

Because I believe that holiness brings about wholeness.

And that's my life.

- Holiness is wholeness.

- Holiness is to me is wholeness.

- Do you think people have trouble here

accepting what they don't understand?

- There's a lot of hovering

thoughts when it comes down to

anyone who's transitioning gender-wise,

anyone who is part of the LGBTQ community,

and that's not often accepted here in Alabama.

I will say that does challenge me at times.

I'm not without fears, as a woman of trans experience,

you know, there's a lot of hate out there,

because people are not willing to be educated.

But if I can change someone's mind

about living out my truth, you know,

and that purpose has carried me a long way.

- How do you create more empathy?

- When we show up to be counted,

we are demonstrating an opportunity

that we can show up in a space

that may not have been created for us.

It gives those outside looking in to learn from us,

to hear us, to be educated by us,

and I think that's one of the tools

that will allow empathy to be introduced.

And it will also remove a level of sympathy to empathy,

because you know, we're not trying to...

I don't need your sympathy.

I'm living out my truth, I'm living my best life.

- So you think there's value in staying

and not leaving, like I did, to go to the big city

and actually staying in the South.

A lot of what I'm hearing you say is

show up and be counted.

- Show up, show up.

This is where I've invested,

and this is where I wanna see change at.

We're part of the Southern community,

we're part of the state community.

We want those equal rights as well.

Equality is important, and we all should feel

very safe and comfortable being residents in Alabama.

- Hey there, thanks for watching.

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