In the Bible Belt, it’s common to see bumper stickers that claim One Man + One Woman = Marriage, church billboards that command one to “Get right with Jesus,” letters to the editor comparing gay marriage to marrying one’s dog, and nightly news about homophobic attacks from the Family Foundation. While some areas of the Unites States have made tremendous progress in securing rights for gay people, Bible Belt states lag behind. Not only do most Bible Belt gays lack domestic partner benefits, lesbians and gay men can still be fired from some places of employment in many regions of the Bible Belt for being a homosexual. In Pray the Gay Away, Bernadette Barton argues that conventions of small town life, rules which govern Southern manners, and the power wielded by Christian institutions serve as a foundation for both passive and active homophobia in the Bible Belt. She explores how conservative Christian ideology reproduces homophobic attitudes and shares how Bible Belt gays negotiate these attitudes in their daily lives. Drawing on the remarkable stories of Bible Belt gays, Barton brings to the fore their thoughts, experiences and hard-won insights to explore the front lines of our national culture war over marriage, family, hate crimes, and equal rights. Pray the Gay Away illuminates their lives as both foot soldiers and casualties in the battle for gay rights.
Barton, a professor of sociology and women s studies at Morehead State University, explores the toll of homophobia on the lives of Bible Belt gays, and the ways in which they respond to that adversity. Describing the Bible Belt as a region of compulsory Christianity, Barton (Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers) argues that the influence of Christian institutions on secular life creates a foundation for passive and active homophobia. Barton draws on a trove of ethnographic data, including in-depth interviews with Bible Belt gays, visits to the Creation Museum and a local megachurch, attendance at an Exodus International conference for ex-gays, and her own experiences as an openly lesbian professor. Interview subjects share wrenching stories of being disowned by their families, and the immeasurable harm caused by attempts to reconcile identities as good, moral Christians with the unchangeable fact of their sexuality. As Barton notes, gay youth are overrepresented among homeless youth and at high risk of suicide. Though Barton documents numerous cases of religious-based abuse, she is tolerant of conservative Christians mostly nice people intent on doing good even if our definition of what that meant differed. Although many of her subjects felt abandoned by their religion, others discovered that adversity strengthened their understanding of faith, God, and spirituality.