As part of the Pride in Agriculture series, today we’ll hear from Steve Kempke, who lives in Valley Center, Kansas. I connected with Steve over the past few years through a mutual passion and work for cattle feedyards. Specifically, Steve loves working with feed mills on yards across the country. And he’s a big fan of our dahlia flowers with a massive garden of his own in Kansas. You can connect with Steve on Facebook and LinkedIn.
How are you involved in the agriculture community?
I’ve been in agriculture all of my life. I participated in 4-H and FFA growing up and now have been primarily involved with the beef industry. I currently work for Micro Technologies where I install, service, and support our feed mill batching systems.
Why are you proud to be part of the agriculture community?
I’m proud to be involved in feeding a growing hungry world and love all that agriculture is doing to be more sustainable through technology and innovation.
How have you felt or seen support for LGBTQ+ in the agriculture community?
While a majority of society has grown inclusive and supportive of folks like me, we in agriculture have work to do. We run the risk of losing valuable talent within all aspects of agriculture without a diverse and inclusive environment. I am sharing my story knowing that it may very well help those that haven’t started the journey of living their true authentic lives. If my story spares someone the pain and heartache that I’ve been through then I’ve done my part.
I know and work with folks that have deeply held religious beliefs. I get that and I respect that. We are just like everyone else. Our families may look different than yours but we have many of the same values. We cherish the ones we love and we work hard to support our families and we do it with a great passion for agriculture. Open your minds and hearts and see that we really aren’t that different.
For me personally, the support I gained from my coworkers after coming out was phenomenal. I started that process with an email to our operations manager who quickly called me after reading it to say he fully supported me. He couldn’t believe the pain I put myself through having to hide that part of who I was. From there it snowballed and within a few days, I was out and proud to everyone. Now, I feel included and supported and my coworkers are always asking about my husband.
If I could have one wish, it would have been to have the courage to come out earlier in my career. I could have saved myself so much heartache. I wish we had more organizations promoting diversity and, in particular, LGBTQ+ conversations.
What advice do you have for LGBTQ+ members of the agriculture community?
My best advice is to share your story and take time to have conversations with other people. It may be difficult at first, but you’ll find folks are way more supportive than you ever imagined.
What can people in the larger agriculture community do to be strong allies of LGBTQ+?
For those reading this that want to be an ally, I would encourage you to always make those in the LGBTQ+ feel included. If you’re talking about family and life outside of work make sure you include us in those conversations. Recognize that we are just like everyone else and have families and activities we love to do outside of work. Remember it’s not about special treatment just equal treatment.
Don’t just talk the talk, walk the walk. Show the benefits and strengths of having a diverse and inclusive community.
Is there anything else you’d like to share during June Pride Month?
My hope for Pride month is that one day young people don’t have to be afraid to be who they are, that they find happiness in this great big world, and that we finally learn to value and embrace our differences. At the end of the day, love is love.
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.