In a move that has shaken the "Bible Belt" of the nation, the largest gay rights advocacy group in the United States has announced it will take up residency in three Southern states.
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) announced earlier this week it will spend 8.5 million to place offices in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi to "expand social and legal protections in those states for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) residents," WORLD reports. These three states reportedly define marriage as between one man and one woman.
"HRC placing offices in the south is just a small step in pushing for the acceptance of homosexuality in these states," says Southern Baptist minister Bruce Kinnebrew of Decatur, Alabama. "I hope that Christians will remain resilient in the face of opposition to the clear word of God."
According to HRC, the program, which is called Project One America, will be set in the generally conservative South because states in this region typically lack sexual orientation nondiscrimination laws in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The group says this is due to lack sufficient funds, referencing a study that found that grant funding for every LGBT adult in the Northeast in 2011-2012 was $10.10, compared to $1.71 in the South.
Project One America's staff will work to encourage more LGBT people to come out publicly and raise the visibility of LGBT issues, as well as building partnerships with "faith communities, communities of color, business communities, and conservatives."
Jerry Cox, the director of the Arkansas Family Council, says many Americans are unhappy with the project, viewing it as an attack on their beliefs.
"I would differ with their assessment of the South," Cox stated. "I believe most people in Arkansas formed their opinions about homosexuality based on their Christian faith."
He said forcing pro-LGBT views on people is "really trying to get them to change what for some people is a deep-seated religious conviction that homosexuality is wrong."
Cox says his organization, which sponsored the Arkansas Marriage Amendment that passed with 75 percent of the vote in 2004, will "continue doing what we've always done: promote traditional marriage and talk about it being the gold standard for husband and wife relationships and child rearing." He also said churches can potentially be a heavy influence:"Will the people who stand in the pulpits boldly proclaim a biblical view of human sexuality or will they be silent?"