In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges settled a decades-long national debate over the legality of same-sex marriage. Since Obergefell, however, local and state legislatures in conservative and mostly rural states have proposed and passed hundreds of antiLGBTQ bills. Obergefell may have ended the legal debate over same-sex marriage, but it did not resolve the cultural divide. Many rural Americans, especially in predominately white communities, feel that they are under attack. Judicial opinions and legislation protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination are serious threats to rural dwellers because they conflict with several core tenets of rural identity: community solidarity, selfreliance, and compliance with religiously informed gender and sexual norms. This conflict is amplified by the relative invisibility of gay and transgender people who live in rural areas, and the predominately urban media representations of gay and transgender people. In several respects, the conflict is merely perceived and is not real. It is at these junctures of perceived conflict that we can draw important lessons for bridging the cultural divide, thereby protecting LGBTQ people across geographic spaces.
This Article examines the sources and modern manifestations of rural LGBTQ resentment to provide foundational insights for the ongoing fight to protect all vulnerable minorities. Pro-LGBTQ legislation and judicial opinions symbolize a changing America in which white rural inhabitants see their identities disappearing, devalued, and disrespected. The left, popularly represented in rural America as a group of urban elites, characterizes anti-LGBTQ views as bigoted, and many people in small towns feel victimized by this criticism. Drawing on a robust body of social science research, this Article suggests that these feelings of victimization lead to resentment when outside forces, like federal judges and state and big-city legislators, tell rural Americans how to act, think, and feel. Rural Americans resent “undeserving” minorities who have gained rights and recognition, in contrast to the identities of, and at the perceived expense of, white, straight, working-class prestige. They resent that liberal, largely urban outsiders are telling them that they must change who they are to accommodate people they perceive as unlike them. Opposing LGBTQ rights is thus one mechanism to protect and assert rural identity. It is important to unearth and pay attention to white rural anti-LGBTQ resentment in the post-Obergefell era because it is part of a larger force animating conservative politics across the United States.