- Valdosta, Ga. - May 07, 2012 -
Gay people make up between 1% and 4% of the populations in most cities. And cities in the South are no exception.
In Valdosta, the "South Georgia Pride" club meets twice a month. They do everything from bowling at "Jac's Lanes" to dinner at "Buffalo Wild Wings". The point is to enjoy a night out where they can feel free to be themselves, free from judgment.
"(It's about) getting together, having fun and being comfortable and feeling safe around people that are accepting," said Raynae Williams, South Georgia Pride's Assistant Executive Director.
They're even hosting the South Georgia Pride Festival in September at "John W. Saunders Memorial Park" in Valdosta.
But you'll see a different side of the coin when you enter the taboo world of drag shows. Every Saturday night is drag night in downtown Valdosta at "Glo Ultra Lounge".
"I think they're fantastic. They're so energetic. There's nothing like it in Valdosta, and it's an art form," said drag show enthusiast, Katie Aufenthie.
Glo is not a gay bar, they serve any orientation indiscriminately. On a given night their profits can be up or down. But Saturday night means big business.
The drag queens come from all over including Jacksonville, Atlanta and right here in Valdosta.
At first glance it looks like a strip show, but there's no nudity. The crowd simply tips the performers as they lip sync to popular songs.
But still there are signs everywhere that serve as reminders that many see homosexuality as unacceptable. Countless drivers on Interstate-75 see billboards with these words "Homosexuality Is An Abomination".
There are several of these billboards in Cook County along the highway. They quote a verse from Leviticus 18-22. A conservative Kentucky church is responsible for them.
In November we asked local pastors in Adel what they thought about the signs.
"We do from a biblical point of view understand that homosexuality is a sin and it is an abomination. Now whether people running 75mph on the interstate understand that: probably not. But yeah, I agree with the billboard," said Pastor Ben Smith of First Baptist Church in Adel.
Still many worry about impressionable young adults in schools who are barraged with mixed messages about homosexuality. Nationally we've seen cases where bullying has gone so far that victims have taken their own lives.
"Students need to feel safe in their school environment. If they don't feel safe, they feel bullied or harassed or scared to go to school for fear of being called a name, they're not going to learn," said Brian Law, a counselor at Valdosta High School.
He says the Valdosta City School System is the only district in the southern half of Georgia whose policies offer protection to students based on sexual orientation.
"They can reach out to someone because they know that protection is there. And our teachers are trained if they witness any kind of harassment, the first thing they are to do is to stop it and report it immediately to an administrator," Law said.
So whether bowling, dancing, or studying, this is just a glimpse at what it's like to be "Gay In The South".
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Click the following link to view the "Valdosta City Schools" system's Nondiscrimination Policy.