As part of the Pride in Agriculture series, today we’ll hear from Riley Hintzsche (he/him), who lives in Ottawa, Illinois. Over the years, Riley and I have been on some fun adventures, including a desert road trip just before the world shut down in March of 2020. He’s a dear friend who always has a smile on his face and a big heart for helping others. You can connect with Riley on Facebook and Instagram (@riles313).
How are you involved in the agriculture community?
I grew up on a family farm just south of Rockford, Illinois. My dad and mom both grew up in the country and bought our family farm together in 1985 which is roughly 100 acres in size. My dad was a high school agricultural educator for 34 years and really enjoyed teaching agricultural education. My mom taught elementary physical education for 33 years and to this day serves as an advocate for personal health through both physical and nutritional aspects.
Growing up on that family farm, it was expected that my siblings and I stay busy so when we were not helping our parents we raised livestock. Specifically, my brother raised pigs and I raised honeybees and dairy goats. When I graduated high school I planned to become a large animal veterinarian but then transitioned over to following in my father’s footsteps of becoming a high school agricultural educator.
Today, I have been the High School Ag Teacher at Streator High School in Streator, Illinois for the last 8 years. I am very fortunate to work in a school and community that not only embraces my crazy ideas and passions but also shows me support personally.
Why are you proud to be part of the agriculture community?
The agricultural community is just amazing. From a young age, I knew it was something that I was proud to be a part of because you are always reminded that you are never alone and that you always have someone that is willing to guide, support, and strengthen you.
In 2015, our family farm was leveled in a tornado. The house, barns, equipment, and machinery were all destroyed. In under an hour, hundreds of people from our small community showed up to assist us to pick up the pieces of our lives. It didn’t matter if you were arguing with someone over the fence row the day before, they were there to help.
This is just one example of why I am proud to be a part of the ag community. It’s just what the ag community does.
How have you felt or seen support for LGBTQ+ in the agriculture community?
Growing up was difficult in a small, rural town. There were many times I was told I couldn’t be a good human because I was gay. I would never find true love because I was gay. I could never be an ag teacher because I was gay. However, as I look back at my life, there has been very little that I have not been able to do because I am gay.
One group of individuals that have truly seen or supported me are my colleagues in agricultural education. When I began my career, I was very insecure about who I was, my job, what I could do, etc.
However, they have all supported and embraced me for who I am and many have asked me to serve as a voice for their students that are struggling. To me, that paints a big picture of the job agricultural educators do in and outside the classroom.
I will never forget the day a fellow colleague said “I have a student that is struggling with their sexual identity, and I don’t know how to talk with them about that. Are you willing to listen?” As I reflect on this discussion, I recognize the progression that one small conversation had in not only agriculture but the LGBTQ+ community as well.
What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ members of the agriculture community?
I think the best piece of advice is to understand that this is your journey. Cliché, I know, but it is a complete truth. You have to choose your level of comfort and decide if that is the space you want to be in.
I will never forget the day that I came out via social media, it was an invigorating experience that has changed my world. However, I can also tell you I have never been more terrified than I was on that night.
At the end of the day, surround yourself with the people who will love and support you for who you are! They will always and forever embrace your journey and assist you in finding the next step of that journey when you are ready.
When you embrace your own journey and understand where you are, you set yourself up for success and positive embracement. Even if you are struggling, you understand where you are and can develop action plans for moving forward. As for me, I never did this and it made being gay in agriculture a very large burden on myself.
What can people in the larger agriculture community do to be strong allies of LGBTQ+?
One of the best things people can do is understand the story of friends, no matter where they come from and no matter what their sexual orientation is.
I grew up in a small, rural school district and I really struggled throughout my life. I have said it many times, the brain is an amazing thing. However, I can’t count how much trauma my brain holds and how developmentally delayed I have found myself to be because of some of that trauma.
School and life were very lonely places for most of my life and not a lot of people know that that can be the case for many LGBTQ+ individuals as they struggle to find their place. Understanding people’s stories, where they come from, and how they developed into the human they are can really paint a picture as to why people are the way that they are.
Is there anything else you’d like to share during June Pride Month?
Like all of my friends in the LGBTQ+ community, this is not the life I chose for myself and there are many days, I do wish it could be different.
I chose to be an ag teacher. I chose to live in Ottawa, Illinois. I chose to love agriculture. I can’t recall one time in my life when I chose to be gay. Honestly, I have spent more time wishing the opposite. However, this doesn’t make me any less proud of who I am, where I have come from, the struggles I have overcome and the fight to be accepted as a human in everyday society. I remember the day I told my parents and my mom said “Riley, we have known since you were three, we just needed you to come to terms with it.” Take time to understand the stories of people around you and use that to embrace them. I ask you to be like my parents and take the time to allow people to come to terms with who they are.
The Pride in Agriculture series highlights voices from LGBTQ+ people and allies in agriculture to feature the diversity and leadership within our industry who work to make our community a better place for everyone. To have your LGBTQ+ or Ally story featured, contact Ryan Goodman here.
Consider making a contribution this month to the Cultivating Change Foundation, whose mission is to value and elevate LGBTQ+ agriculturists through advocacy, education, and community.