Sharing the Pride in Agriculture series has been a rewarding experience, to say the least. I’ve set out with a mission to improve the visibility and awareness of LGBTQ in rural and agricultural communities. To a much greater degree than expected, the community has been much more receptive and supportive of these stories than I had ever anticipated.
But this doesn’t come without its challenges. I’ve watched as many people who disagree unfollow me and tune me out because they do not want to hear or participate in these discussions. A select few have been vocal with their opposition to discussing these topics, often expressing that LGBTQ+ issues are not topics agriculture needs to discuss.
I’ve been told we need to keep our personal lives to ourselves and that LGBTQ+ people need to stop “flaunting” sex in front of other people. Then there are people who justify their discrimination based on religious beliefs.
These are all more reasons and examples of why we need to discuss this aspect of diversity, equity, and inclusion in agriculture and rural communities?
Are there gay people in rural communities?
Like many aspects of our diverse communities, it’s difficult to pin specific numbers if the demographic data is not recorded. When the USDA’s Ag Census doesn’t include classifications for these demographics, we rely on private and non-profit research efforts to gain insights.
When it comes to representation of LGBTQ in rural communities, these numbers rely upon people self-identifying as LGBTQ+ and that can often be underreported when there are social pressures not to be seen as gay or queer in rural communities.
The most recent or in-depth research into LGBTQ+ people in rural communities that I’ve been able to find has come from the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) in 2019 and was released in the report, “Where We Call Home: LGBT people in rural America.”
The report estimates that between 3% and 5% of the rural population identifies as LGBTQ+, which compares to an estimated 4.5% of the U.S. adult population. This suggests that between 2.9 and 3.8 million LGBTQ+ people reside in rural communities.
Culturally, it has often been suggested that LGBTQ+ people primarily reside in urban or suburban areas, but this report makes significant contributions to showing how many LGBTQ+ people are in rural areas of the country.
Challenges for LGBTQ+ in rural communities
For many LGBTQ+ people in agriculture and rural communities, we feel pressure not to publicly self-identify as such and that even further contributes to our underrepresentation and reduced visibility in our communities.
The MAP project does a good job of outlining some of these challenges when LGBTQ+ people reside in rural communities that are primarily structured around conservative values or politics, close-knit families, and strong social institutions such as churches, schools, and local businesses.
These challenges can often amplify either acceptance or rejection of LGBTQ+ people in rural communities. The MAP project summarizes these challenges:
- Increased Visibility – fewer people in rural communities means any difference is more noticeable
- Ripple Effects – when communities are tightly interwoven, rejection or acceptance in one area of life (such as religion) can ripple over into others (work or school)
- Fewer Alternatives – In the face of discrimination, the already limited number of rural service providers (health care, legal representation, employment) can be limited even further
- Less Supportive Structure – More social and geographic isolation means less ability to find supportive resources, build a supportive community, and endure challenges or discrimination
- Less Supportive Public Opinion – Rural residents are less likely to know LGBTQ+ people and be less supportive of LGBTQ+ policies. However, many rural residents – especially rural people of color, women, and younger people – support LGBTQ+ policies.
- Fewer Legal and Policy Protections – Rural states are less likely to have vital protections and laws for LGTBQ+ people. They are also more likely to have harmful, discriminatory laws.
- Less Political Power – In rural areas, there are fewer LBGTQ+ elected officials, fewer LGBTQ+ supportive resources that can help make political change, and political organizing is more difficult due to geographic isolation and other factors.
Many of these challenges of living as LGBTQ+ people in rural communities are similar to those encountered by other minority demographic groups. Take a deeper dive into these challenges by reading the full Where We Call Home report.
Are LGBTQ in rural areas discriminated against?
Through many of the interactions I’ve had with rural residents regarding LGBTQ+ topics, many have said they do not understand why being a LGBTQ+ person is an issue or that it isn’t something we need to discuss in agriculture or rural communities.
I truly hope for the day when all LGBTQ+ people feel safe coming out and being their true authentic selves around people and communities we care for and love. But we have work to do before that time arrives.
While most acts that make LGBTQ+ people feel excluded are not blatantly obvious, they do exist but are often not as visible to those who are not impacted by them.
Stuart Chutter phrased it well in his Pride in Agriculture feature.
“Rural spaces and communities still can have prejudice and hate that signal exclusion to people that are different from the standard farmer stereotype. In my experience, microaggressions and exclusion are way more common rurally than in larger urban centers, especially for those who pay attention or are affected by them.”
I’ve experienced many of these aggressions. These actions have ranged from conversations or commentary, sometimes framed as jokes, that are derogatory toward LGBTQ+ people. Others are more direct telling us we should not talk about our partners or families.
How can we support LGBTQ people in rural communities?
My goal in sharing the Pride in Agriculture series of stories is to raise awareness and visibility of LGBTQ+ people in agriculture and rural communities. We are leaders making great contributions as members of these communities, and the moments where we feel excluded should turn into opportunities for inclusion. We are people, too, and I want to put faces to the people impacted by these LGBTQ+ conversations.
My mission is to encourage our industry (organizations, leadership, and association members) to reflect on their organizational policies and culture to evaluate opportunities for stronger diversity and inclusion.
No one should have to hear “if you don’t like it, you can leave” when asking an industry CEO to acknowledge diversity and inclusion in organizational culture.
If you find your organization is already doing great things, let’s have conversations to elevate that great work.
If you find your organization is lacking in some areas, let’s have conversations to discover opportunities to improve.
We live and work in very diverse communities. It’s time we embrace those differences and work toward stronger inclusion for the benefit of everyone.
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.
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