Author discusses the effects of religion-based homophobia

Bernadette Barton brought clarity to the title of her book and the reason behind writing it at a lecture on the Georgia Southern Statesboro campus. 

Abby Fuller

STATESBORO — Bernadette Barton, a professor of sociology and gender studies at Morehead State University, presented a lecture on Feb. 24 at the Statesboro campus about her book “Pray the Gay Away: The Extraordinary Lives of Bible Belt Gays.”

Barton’s lecture covered religion-based homophobia and used examples from several of the people who were part of the research presented in her book.

Before beginning the lecture, Barton addressed the controversy and confusion that people had felt regarding the title of the event. The event was given the same title as her book.

“It seems like a bunch of folks read the title but didn’t read the second part and thought that I was advocating conversion therapy,” Barton said.

She then explained that the title came from one of her informants for her research. The informant used the phrase when discussing her experience in church.

The book is a qualitative study in which she investigated what it means to grow up gay in the Bible Belt. She discussed both her own experience as a woman who identifies as a lesbian and the experiences of the participants in her study.

“I hadn’t planned to do this project,” Barton said. 

She then told the story of what she referred to as the “abomination incident,” which occurred shortly after she moved to a small town in the Bible Belt with her wife, who she was not married to at the time but had done a civil union ceremony with.

The incident occurred when man was doing yard work for Barton’s neighbor, and the two of them had a conversation in which she told him that she was in a same-sex relationship. 

The man responded with, “It’s an abomination.”

Barton quoted one of the participants in the study, who said, “I was made this way. I didn’t choose to be this way. The only choice you have is whether you want to be happy or not.”

Barton presented and disputed many common arguments against homosexuality, including the idea of religious freedom and how lawmakers attempt to use that to legalize discrimination.

The lecture ended with a hopeful message for the future, referencing the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling as evidence that things are improving for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S.

“As a queer person raised in the Bible Belt, from a southern baptist church, it was really important for me to not only hear individual experiences, but to hear someone in academia using actual terms to explain the things that are happening and the way that society influences the experiences of queer people in the Bible Belt,” GS student Ashley Strickland said.

Barton’s other books include “Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers”, “Stripped: More Stories from Exotic Dancers”, and the forthcoming book, “Porn in the USA: How Raunch Culture is Ruining America”.

Abby Fuller, The George-Anne News Reporter, [email protected]