As part of the Pride in Agriculture series, I am featuring LGBTQ+ people and allies from agriculture and rural communities to raise visibility and awareness of how we can address diversity, equity, and inclusion among us. Today, we’ll hear from the perspective of finding allyship as a parent.
Daren Williams (he/him) is a friend, mentor, and great ally in conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ topics. He is a veteran agriculture communicator, industry leader, and most importantly, a father to a daughter who helped him realize the importance of being an ally in the community. You can connect with Daren on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Family Roots in Agriculture
I shared the story of why I am Ag Proud on this blog (10 years ago!), so will suffice to say here that my family roots in agriculture run deep in the Western Kansas soil. I was born near the family farm my great, great grandparents homesteaded in 1886 and my mom grew up on, but I did not grow up on the farm.
When I was three years old we moved away to the big city of Topeka, where my father, Morgan Williams, was state director of the Farmers Home Administration. Later, we moved to the really big city of Washington, D.C., where my dad worked for Senator Bob Dole (R-KS) on the Senate Ag Committee. I also married a farmer’s daughter, so I have been around ag and ag policy all my life!
In my career, I have been able to stay connected to my family roots in agriculture by serving in a variety of communications roles with ag trade associations and commodity promotion boards, including the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and now the Almond Board of California. In these roles, I have been called to defend farmers and ranchers against unwarranted attacks on our way of life. With a personal connection to agriculture, being an advocate for agriculture has always come easy.
Finding Allyship as a Parent in Agriculture
Becoming an ally for the LGBTQ+ community followed a similar journey. I am not gay, but I have friends and family members who are. In my professional life, I have worked with gay colleagues – whether I knew it at the time or not. So being an ally for the LGBTQ+ community also came easy to me.
OK, that’s a lie. I have not always been a good ally. Not even after my daughter came out to us 10 years ago. I mean, I think my wife and I handled it alright. We both reassured her that we loved her and would always love her, just like any parent would, right? Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
While it was a no-brainer for my wife and I, it is not a given that parents accept their gay children. Many of my (and my daughter’s) gay friends were rejected by their parents, which I will never understand. That’s my child, my flesh and blood, my DNA. How could anyone reject their own child? Well, it happens, all too often, which is one of the reasons gay youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers.
I didn’t really become an ally until the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage in 2015. I was appalled by the posts and comments in my social media feed from some of my friends and colleagues in agriculture. I felt the hate my daughter experienced for the first time – discrimination, ridicule, and hypocrisy.
I even had one person comment that I should be careful publicly supporting gay marriage since I worked in the beef industry. That didn’t stop me! I got angry and decided to get my butt off the sidelines and start advocating for my daughter’s rights. That’s when I became an ally.
Being an Ally Starts with Unconditional Love
Being an ally starts with unconditional love. No ifs, ands, or buts. An ally does not say, “I love you and you must repent for your sins” or “I love you but won’t come to your wedding.” Just “I love you.” That’s all. But it doesn’t end there.
Being an ally, like an advocate for agriculture, means speaking up when you see discrimination in the workplace, at school, or at home. It means displaying visible signs of support like using your preferred pronouns in your profile, wearing a rainbow pin or wrist band, or showing up at a PRIDE event to give out Free Mom (or dad) Hugs. It means voting for candidates who support the rights of ALL Americans.
Being an ally for the LGBTQ+ community means getting off the sidelines and actively engaging in making the world a better place for all – a world where we value and embrace our differences.
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.