LGBTQ INFORMATION NETWORK │ RAINBOW OF RESOURCES

RURAL

 

NBC News Report: Gay in Rural America

LGBTQ Community is Transforming the South

Country People: Gay Short Film

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

MAP Report: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Being Queer in the Country

 

 

All American Boy: Country Song by Steve Grand

LGBTQ and Rurality

Rednecks for Black Lives: Southerners Fight for Racial Justice

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

LGBTQ Nation: Rural Pride Events

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Matt and Blue: Gay Family Living in a Small Town

Small Town Gay Pride Parade

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Better This Way: Country Song by Doug Strahm

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Small Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Dancing in the Living Room: Country Song by Cameron Hawthorn

 

Small Town LGBTQ Pride

What does LGBTQ pride look like in places like South Carolina or Georgia? How does it feel to be gay in Mississippi or Louisiana? What is life like for an LGBTQ person in Alabama or Tennessee?  How is LGBTQ pride different in Texas or Florida?

 

You should attend a rural gay pride event this year. Why? Because, you just might learn a little something about LGBTQ country folks. You probably do not realize that LGBTQ people actually live in small towns. You very likely do not know that there are LGBTQ farmers, ranchers, cowboys, and cowgirls. They go fly fishing, mudding, hunting, and square dancing. You may not be aware that there are gay rodeos and gay chili cook-offs and gay country music singers.

 

 

Look up a rural pride event this summer. Go to it. And lend your support to the LGBTQ folks who live in the country.  Clap at the little parade, consume large quantities of barbeque, dance in a barn, make out with a hot cowboy or cowgirl, encourage a teen, hug a drag queen, listen to an elder, give money to a PFLAG chapter.

LGBTQ people live in rural America, in little towns all across Appalachia. They work there, go to school, own property, pay taxes, raise families, attend churches, shop and donate to charity. They don’t have a lot of gay bars, LGBTQ sports clubs, drag shows or neighborhoods where they can hold hands with their partners. Nonetheless, they live in these rural settings. They have friends and families there. They are part of the community. And sometimes, depending on the attitudes of the locals, they do it under a great deal of stress.

 

Oftentimes, rural mindsets do not take well to LGBTQ issues. People who live in small southern towns tend to be more traditional, more conservative in their perspectives.  Their worldview is typically not affected by outside influences and often colored by their religious upbringing and conventional mores. So, a gay country boy is a contradiction in terms.

 

On the other hand, it may be surprising for you to learn that there is some degree (and in some cases, a great degree) of openness and acceptance for the LGBTQ community in the larger metropolitan areas in the south, like Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham, Houston, Orlando, and New Orleans. While they are located in the conservative south, these are not small towns or rural areas by any definition. Many of these urban centers host a thriving LGBTQ community.

 

Gay Rodeo: Hall of Fame

LGBTQ Pride in Rural Missouri

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

International Gay Rodeo Association: John King Interview

PFLAG: Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Small Rural Towns

In the Face of Discrimination: LGBTQ Farmers are Hopeful

LGBTQ and Rurality

Advocate: What is a Cottagecore Lesbian?

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Time: Country Song by Steve Grand

Matt and Blue: Southern Boys

LGBTQ Nation: Lesbian and Trans Hillbillies Taking Over Rural America

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Gay Rodeo History

LGBTQ Institute: Southern Survey

Research on Rural LGBTQ People of Color

 

 

Finding the LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Redneck Lesbo by Jennifer Corday

Country Queers: Oral Histories

Being Gay in Tennessee Wasn't Always Easy

International Gay Rodeo Association

Country People: Gay Short Film

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Tyler and Todd: Living Off the Grid

LGBTQ People: Fundamental Part of the Fabric of Rural Communities

Interview: Married Mountain Men of West Virginia

Hometown: Country Song by Brandon Stansell

Advocate: LGBTQ People of Color in Rural America

Josh Burford: Chronicler of Southern LGBTQ History

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

Advocate: Champions of Pride from the South

South Florida Gay News: Queering the Redneck Riviera

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Spend a Weekend in Florida’s Most LGBTQ Friendly Small Town

Being Gay and Lesbian in Appalachia

Point of Pride: How to Be Queer in a Small Town

Gay Farmers: Bilkurra Homestead

Conversation with Gay Fly Fisherman

 

 

Queer in the Country

Why do some LGBTQ Americans prefer rural life to urban gayborhoods?  Pop portrayals of LGBTQ Americans tend to feature urban gay life, from Ru Paul’s “Drag Race” and “Queer Eye” and “Pose.”   But not all gay people live in cities. Demographers estimate that 15% to 20% of the United States’ total LGBTQ population – between 2.9 million and 3.8 million people – live in rural areas.

These millions of understudied LGBTQ residents of rural America are the subject of my latest academic research project. Since 2015 I have conducted interviews with 40 rural LGBTQ people and analyzed various survey data sets to understand the rural gay experience. My study results, now under peer review for publication in an academic journal, found that many LGBTQ people in rural areas view their sexual identity substantially differently from their urban counterparts – and question the merits of urban gay life.

 

Easy come, easy go
 

The standard narrative of rural gay life is that it’s tough for LGBTQ kids who flee their rural hometowns for iconic urban “gayborhoods” like Chicago’s Boystown or the Castro in San Francisco – places where they can find love, feel “normal” and be surrounded by others like them. But this rural exodus story is incomplete. Most research, mine included, suggests that many rural LGBTQ folks who once sought refuge in the big city ultimately return home.

To the extent that American pop culture portrays rural LGBTQ adult life, the focus is on their isolation – think “Brokeback Mountain” or “Thelma & Louise.” The gay protagonists of these films are lonely, seldom able to express their sexual selves.

But my analysis of a 2013 Pew Survey of LGBTQ Americans (the latest available comprehensive national survey data on this population) showed that LGBTQ rural residents are actually more likely to be legally married than their urban counterparts – 24.8% compared with 18.6%. This aligns with what I’ve heard in interviews. The rural LGBTQ people I spoke with placed a high value on monogamy – on what many of them consider a “normal” life.

Those who returned home from urban gayborhoods also told me they found gay city living rarely delivered on its promises of companionship and inclusion. Many said they had experienced rejection while trying to date or develop a social circle. And they had missed the charm of small-town life.

 


 

No escape


The rural LGBTQ people I interviewed seemed to place less importance on being gay than their urban communities had. Downplaying their sexual or gender identities, many emphasized other aspects of themselves, such as their involvement in music, sports, nature or games. They rejected an urban gay culture that they felt was shallow and overly focused on gayness as the defining feature of life.

One married 35-year-old described his big-city life this way: “Going to bars, bitching about how bad we have it in comparison to other cities, or judging people based on what they are wearing.”

Such comments call into question certain assumptions of the contemporary gay rights movement, including that “gayborhoods” are the pinnacle of gay life and that rural America is no place for LGBTQ people.

This may be less true, though, for Black and Latino LGBTQ people. A 2019 report on rural LGBTQ Americans found that “discrimination based on race and immigration status is compounded by discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.”

 



While I found no direct evidence that LGBTQ people of color were less likely to return to rural areas, the many difficulties of rural living for this population may partly explain why most of my interview subjects were white, despite my efforts to identify a more diverse pool.
 

But, as some of the people I interviewed reminded me, no matter where they lived they would not be fully accepted. “As a trans person, I’m always going to have to deal with people discriminating against me,” one woman said. Living in a rural locale with an active local music scene let her focus on aspects of her identity that were more important to her than her gender identity.

For some LGBTQ Americans, then, rural life allows them to more fully express themselves. Given the variety of issues facing LGBTQ Americans, from health care access to work problems, the rural world is not an escape from discrimination.

But neither are urban areas. One lesbian from Kansas recalled attending a fundraiser for the Human Rights Campaign (the country’s most prominent LGBTQ advocacy group) in Washington, DC, where a high-ranking member of the organization shook her hand and said, “Thank you so much. We need you out there in Kansas badly!”  To this the Kansan replied, “Thank me? I’ve been there my whole life. We are the ones who need you in Kansas. You are the ones who forgot about us!”

[Source: Christopher T. Conner, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, March 2021]
 

Growing Up Gay in the Christian South

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Farming is Tough: Being LGBTQ Makes it Tougher

Southeast US: Dangerous for Trans People

Queer in Rural America

Black and Gay in Birmingham

Son of a Preacher Man: Country Song by Tom Goss

Fabulous Beekman Boys: Gay Green Acres

LGBTQ Community is Transforming the South

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia

Gay Prom in Birmingham

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Lesbian Farmers: Redefining Rural America

Clearly Gay in Small Town Alabama

LGBTQ Pride Festivals in Rural Canada

Country Teens

This Gorgeous Beach Town Is the Best Gaycation in New England

Growing Up Gay in the Country

Slow Down: Country Song by Brandon Stansell and Ty Herndon

 

 

Gay Life in Rural America

Millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people live in rural areas of the United States — largely by choice, according to a report released earlier this month by the LGBTQ think tank Movement Advancement Project. MAP’s report estimates between 2.9 million and 3.8 million lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people live in rural America, comprising approximately 3 to 5 percent of the estimated 62 million people who live in rural areas.

“We so often overlook that LGBTQ people live in rural communities,” Logan Casey, a MAP policy researcher and one of the report’s lead authors, said. “But being LGBTQ doesn’t mean you want to go live in a coastal city.” The report notes that LGBTQ people are drawn to rural areas for many of the same reasons as their heterosexual counterparts — proximity to family, a tight-knit community and a connection to the land. However, the report also found rural LGBTQ communities are uniquely affected by the “structural challenges and other aspects of rural life,” which it notes could “amplify the impacts of both rejection and acceptance.”

 



The report found the social and political landscape of rural areas makes LGBTQ people “more vulnerable to discrimination. Public opinion in rural areas is generally less supportive of LGBTQ people and policies, and rural states are significantly less likely to have vital nondiscrimination laws and more likely to have harmful, discriminatory laws,” the report states.

Simple, everyday actions can also be fraught, especially for transgender people. According to the report, 34 percent of trans people report discrimination on public transportation and 18 percent report harassment at a gym or health club. These numbers apply to rural and urban residents, but Casey’s research indicates that lack of alternative options and the importance of public spaces in small, tight-knit communities can make harassment harder to bear in rural areas.

The report also notes the geographic distance and isolation of rural areas can present challenges for LGBTQ people. “If someone experiences discrimination at a doctor’s office, school or job, it’s less likely there’s another option close by,” Casey explained.

The report also found those in rural areas have less access to LGBTQ-specific resources. Fifty-seven percent of LGBTQ adults in urban areas have access to an LGBTQ health center, while only 11 percent of those in rural areas do. And when it comes to senior services, almost half of LGBTQ adults have access to LGBTQ senior services, compared to just 10 percent of their rural counterparts.



There was also an urban-rural divide when it comes to the school climate for LGBTQ youth. Almost 60 percent of LGBTQ youth in urban areas reported having a gay-straight alliance club in their school, compared to just 36 percent of LGBTQ youth in rural areas.

The smaller populations of rural areas can also complicate matters for LGBTQ people, because they are more likely to stand out. This can make them more vulnerable to discrimination but also keep problems they face under the radar.

One of the biggest challenges the report identifies is health care. Fifty six percent of gay, lesbian and bisexual people across the country reported at least one instance of discrimination or patient profiling in a health care setting. According to statistics cited in the report, more than 40 percent of non-metropolitan LGBTQ people said if they were turned away by their local hospital, it would be “very difficult” or “not possible” for them to find an alternative, compared to 18 percent of the general LGBTQ population, according to a statistic cited in the report.

 



Transgender people often struggle to find health care providers knowledgeable about gender-affirming care and are more likely to have such care denied by their insurance provider. Trans people of color often face the added burden of providers with a lack of cultural competency for their community. Trans people are also 15 percent more likely to have transition-related surgery denied by their insurance if they live in a rural area.

While challenges for LGBTQ people can be “amplified” in rural areas, the report also found bright spots for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people living in non-metropolitan communities. Same-sex couples and LGBTQ individuals are raising children in rural areas at higher rates than urban areas. Some LGBTQ people feel safer in rural areas than urban areas.

 

While social conditions in the area are changing, there are still legal and policy hurdles. “LGBTQ people in rural areas are disproportionately harmed by the lack of protections and the presence of discriminatory laws,” the report states. “The current policy landscape demonstrates the clear and urgent need for federal and state nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people.”

[Source: Avichai Scher, NBC News, April 2019]

 

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

PFLAG: Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Small Rural Towns

In the Face of Discrimination: LGBTQ Farmers are Hopeful

Advocate: What is a Cottagecore Lesbian?

Ride Me Cowboy by Paisley Fields

Country People: Gay Short Film

LGBTQ and Rurality

Research on Rural LGBTQ People of Color

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Advocate: Champions of Pride from the South

LGBTQ Nation: Lesbian and Trans Hillbillies Taking Over Rural America

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Finding the LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Country Queers: Oral Histories

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys

Being Gay in Tennessee Wasn't Always Easy

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

I'm Queer and I'm Country

 

 

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Advocate: LGBTQ People of Color in Rural America

Being Gay and Lesbian in Appalachia

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Matt and Blue: Southern Boys

Wishing Well by Jamie Wyatt

LGBTQ People: Fundamental Part of the Fabric of Rural Communities

Point of Pride: How to Be Queer in a Small Town

Farming is Tough: Being LGBTQ Makes it Tougher

Queer in Rural America

Fabulous Beekman Boys: Gay Green Acres

LGBTQ Community is Transforming the South

This Tiny Michigan Town Is One of America’s Best LGBTQ Destinations

Redneck Lesbo by Jennifer Corday

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Lesbian Farmers: Redefining Rural America

I'm Not in Love With You by Justin Hiltner and Jon Weisberger

Clearly Gay in Small Town Alabama

 

 

Southern LGBTQ Voters

According to a recent study, a huge number of Southern LGBTQ people registered to vote in the 2020 presidential election. Queer voters in this conservative region appear very motivated to vote, according to findings.

Recent findings indicate Southern LGBTQ voters could make a significant impact on the 2020 election, with states like Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas in play. The Campaign for Southern Equality and Western North Carolina Community Health Services released a report this week about LGBTQ Southerners’ voting behaviors and beliefs. The survey queried over 5,600 participants across the South last year.

There are about 9 million LGBTQ voters in the US, according to the Williams Institute. Southern states hold about 37 percent of the US population. One of the key findings involved voter participation and enthusiasm. Nearly 92 percent of those who participated in the study were registered to vote. Those numbers are significantly higher than that of the general U.S. population, with about 79 percent registered.

Researchers also asked participants about their experience with physical or emotional abuse and found that those with a history of such trauma were less likely to be registered than those who did not. Transgender people and those with lower incomes were also less likely to be registered than cisgender people and those with more money.

[Source: Neal Broverman, Advocate, Nov 2020]

 

 

Cottagecore Lesbians

Longing to escape to the countryside with your queer girlfriend? You're not alone. If you're on social media platforms like TikTok, Tumblr and Pinterest, you've likely noticed the "cottagecore" trend that's getting popular with queer women and femmes. All at once, everyone seems to want to quit their jobs and run off to upstate Vermont to pick apples, raise chickens, and live their best woman-loving-woman life.

It's caught on so much that the The New York Times published a feature about it in March 2020. "Take modern escapist fantasies like tiny homes, voluntary simplicity, forest bathing and screen-free childhoods, then place them inside a delicate, moss-filled terrarium, and the result will look a lot like cottagecore," says writer Isabel Slone.

The cottagecore aesthetic, however, is rooted in real-world issues like climate change, the global pandemic, and safe spaces for LGBTQ people.

 


Essentially, the cottagecore aesthetic is images of idealized life on a Western farm — cozy little houses surrounded by gardens, fields of wildflowers, forest glades, and cute farm animals. Occasionally you'll find fantasy elements like fairies and goblins thrown in. If you're into nostalgia, books, baking, teacups, prairie dresses, flower crowns, picnic baskets, knitting, embroidery, Hozier, ceramic frogs for some reason, and strolling through farmers' markets, cottagecore might be the movement for you.

Writer Katherine Gillespie of Paper Magazine puts it this way: "The politics of cottagecore are thoughtfully prelapsarian: what if we could go back to a time before the planet was ravaged by industry, except with added protections for marginalized queer communities? What if we all lived like tradwives, minus the husbands?"

And, if you really identify with this idea, you can even fly your own Pride flag (presumably in a very small Pride parade through your imaginary rustic village), with soft, natural, earth-tone shades.

Much of the cottagecore movement is actually a response to people being dissatistfied with their hectic, crowded lives in cities or suburbs, and the feelings of burnout that come with it. Tired of the minimalist aesthetic that's dominated interior design in the last ten years, they're decorating their apartments with potted plants and porcelain teacups, and taking comfort in old-fashioned hobbies like arts & crafts and baking. The NY Times calls it "an aspirational form of nostalgia that praises the benefits of living a slow life."
 

[Source: Christine Linnell, Advocate Magazine]

 

 

Queering Country Music

 

Queer Country Music Artists Fans Should Know About

Country Music Star TJ Osbourne Comes Out as Gay

All American Boy by Steve Grand

Time by Steve Grand

Jennifer Corday: Lesbian Country Rocker

Redneck Lesbo by Jennifer Corday

Heartbeat by Jennifer Corday

Dancing in the Living Room by Cameron Hawthorn

Take the Journey by Molly Tuttle

Chely Wright: Return to the Grand Ole Opry

So Small by Ty Herndon

Slow Down by Brandon Stansell and Ty Herndon

Hometown by Brandon Stansell

Fink and Marxer: Queer Bluegrass

Darling Cora by Amythyst Kiah

Cowboys Are Frequently Secretly Fond of Each Other by Ned Sublette

 

 

Follow Your Arrow by Kasey Musgraves

I'm Not in Love With You by Justin Hiltner and Jon Weisberger

Son of a Preacher Man by Tom Goss

Neon Cross by Jamie Wyatt

Wishing Well by Jamie Wyatt

Cryin' These Cocksucking Tears by Lavender Country

Justin Hiltner: Subversive Twist on a Familiar Motif

Limp Wrist and a Steady Hand by My Gay Banjo

Country Boys in the City by My Gay Banjo

Porch Pride: LGBTQ Bluegrass and Roots Music

Better This Way by Doug Strahm

Old Town Road by Lil Nas X
Ride Me Cowboy by Paisley Fields

If She Ever Leaves Me by Highwomen

Ty Herndon: What Mattered Most (Alternative Version)

Ty Herndon: What Mattered Most (Original Version)

 

LGBTQ Rurality

Throughout history, rural spaces have held multiple meanings and served various functions for LGBTQ individuals and communities, ranging from sites for political organizing or sanctuary to sites of repression and violence for LGBTQ individuals.

Many popular representations of rurality as well as anti-LGBTQ discourse citing "protecting rural values" suggest these communities intrinsically place a heightened value on “traditional moral standards.” Thus, communities in rural areas are associated with a lower tolerance for difference (including non-binary gender expression and queer sexuality) compared to urban environments. Some queer-identified individuals living in rural areas do experience antagonism, oppression, and violence matching the stereotypical representation of what it means to be queer in a rural community.

As of 2000, the US Census found that 46 million people (roughly 16% of the nation's total population) live in areas with population densities of 999 people per square mile or fewer. Considering the high number of individuals and the small population density, the rural population of the US exists across a wide geographical area. Despite the categorization based upon population density, "the rural population is not the same everywhere except in its distinction of not being urban." The variation within the category of rural is reflected in the multiple, varied experiences of queer-identified people living in rural areas.

In popular depictions, rurality is often portrayed as an inherently incompatible, or even hostile, environment for individuals who are not heterosexual and/or cisgender. While this may be an accurate contrast between some urban and rural settings, there is significant variation within each categorization based on population density.

 



Rural/Urban Dichotomy and Visibility Politics
 

Queer regionalist scholars such as Mary Gray have illustrated that organizing for LGBTQ issues in the post-Stonewall US has centered around a politics of visibility. Within this political framework, publicly claiming a minority sexual orientation is viewed as inherently political. Visibility politics claim that, by making one's own queerness visible, 'out' individuals resist heteronormativity and the erasure of non-heterosexual behaviors and identities as well as illustrate to their local, national, and global communities that queer people exist and need equal rights and protection under the law. Therefore, visibility politics view a public declaration of queer identity as the primary road to political liberation and equality for queer communities.

Visibility politics also creates an understanding of queer lives through the metaphor of the closet (which Eve Sedgwick terms the epistemology of the closet). Within the epistemology of the closet framework, LGBTQ persons are born 'in the closet' or with a repressed sexuality until the catalytic moment of 'coming out' at which point they become 'out' or publicly queer. Regional scholars have argued that the reliance upon the epistemology of the closet and visibility politics within US queer activism is urban-centric, excluding and erasing LGBTQ individuals and communities in rural areas across the globe.  As the majority of national-scale queer activism reliant on visibility politics within the US emerged from its major cities, this ideology was "tailor-made for and from the population densities; capital; and systems of gender, sexual, class, and racial privilege that converge in cities." Mary Gray expands upon this point in her book, Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America:
 

 

"Metronormative epistemologies of visibility privilege urban queer scenes. The systemic marginalization of the rural as endemically hostile and lacking the cultural milieu necessary for a celebratory politics of difference naturalizes cities as the necessary centers and standard bearers of queer politics and representations. Along the way all those not able, or inclined, to migrate to the city are put at a notable disadvantage not just by the material realities of rural places but also by the shortcoming of queer theory and LGBTQ social movement in ways we have only recently begun to explore."

 

US scholarship on queer life within metropoles further perpetuates the centrality of metronormative narratives of queer life and identity. John D'Emilio proposed a contradictory connection between capitalism and homosexuality. He argued that capitalism emphasized the importance of family units and reproduction as the primary function of that unit. However, simultaneously the anonymity of US cities, a product of capitalist development, enabled networks of same-sex desiring individuals to form and a homosexual community and shared identity to emerge. George Chauncey is another historian whose work centered on queer life in urban centers. His book Gay New York examined how gay life in New York City formed around patterns of congregation and habit. Both D'Emilio and Chauncey highlight the ways that urban environments distinctly, and possibly uniquely, enable queerness. Thus, their findings to some extent reinforce a binary view of urban/rural wherein urban is perceived as a space for liberated, 'out' queer communities while rural is a space for isolated, 'closeted' queer individuals.

 



Studies and fieldwork by contemporary scholars prove the existence of queer lives in rural areas and challenge a systemic erasure of non-urban queer life. In particular, scholars of the American South and Midwest have written on queer life in rural areas, challenging the belief that rurality is inherently not conducive to queer sexual expression.

The presence of LGBTQ bars, bookstores, and neighborhoods within population-dense, urban areas makes the presence of queer individuals and communities more visible than in less populated areas; however, queer-identified individuals can also be found living in both densely and sparsely populated communities all around the world.

Research on migration patterns between urban and rural areas also challenges a binary view of the two categories as well as the common narrative that queer-identifying individuals 'escape' to the city over the course of their lives. In Coming Out and Coming Back: Rural Gay Migration and the City, authors Meredith Redlin and Alexis Annes' find that the migratory flow between urban and rural is not unidirectional, but rather a series of movements over time between the two spaces. Their essay illustrates how queer individuals move within and between rural and urban areas in response to the ways that each space limits and/or enables their identity formation and sexual expression.

 



Rural Queer Lifestyle
 

In rural areas, the heterosexual family unit is valued as an essential part of life. It is the overtly dominant lifestyle in these spaces, which makes being queer a different experience than one would have in a metropolitan area.

Masculine and feminine gender representations operate differently for those in rural areas because work done by both genders is perceived as masculine behavior in other non-rural areas. Both men and women can exhibit masculine features and be perceived as normal. Many rural women work alongside men on farms or in construction work, thus certain types of masculinity displayed by rural women are not interpreted as lesbian behavior as they might be in an urban or suburban environment. As a result of female gender representations being more masculine for women in rural spaces, femininity operates very differently there, and thus so does lesbianism. This masculine dynamic allows for some lesbians to blend in quite easily, where typical female attire can be wearing flannels and cowboy boots. However, deviations in style, such as short hair or wearing ties, can still result in judgment from the woman's surrounding community. Emily Kayzak notes that “the sexual identity of rural butch lesbian women is not invisible in urban lesbian cultures, their more butch gender presentations do not do the same work in rural areas because those gender presentations are also tied to normative (hetero) sexuality.” Generally, lesbian-butch women are compatible with rural lifestyles as long as they can fit in with the typical masculine-female appearance. Rural spaces have even been referred to as makings for “lesbian lands,” in part due to their ability to blend in.

In the 1970s, women began to move to agricultural communes where they could live and work with other “country women”. In these communities, lesbian women built communes where they grew their own food and created societies away from men. They believed that living and working in nature allowed them to embrace their inherent connection with nature. Gay men also partook in similar activities; Bell and Valentine note how the Edward Carpenter Community in England hosts Gay Men's Weeks where they conduct events related to free-spiritedness and the embracement of one's sexuality.

 



For rural men, on the other hand, “publicly disrupting normative gender expectations arguably remains as, if not more, contentious than homoerotic desires.” In many places, as long as a gay man subscribes to masculine representations and activities, such as wearing traditionally masculine attire and working in manual labor, acceptance comes much more easily. Deviations in appearance, like dressing up in drag, would be seen as very unacceptable, and can result in harassment. Male effeminate expressions and rurality are generally seen as incompatible. Many gay men in rural communities reject femininity and embrace masculine roles. Feminine gays typically face persecution and disapproval from their community members.

Queer individuals in rural areas, as in many other places, face discrimination and violence. In small rural areas, perpetrators and victims are typically both known to the surrounding community. Even police, who are intended to hold up the law, are known to commit crimes against sexually marginalized people. Brett Beemyn's review of John Howard's piece "Men Like That: A Southern Queer History" explains some of the roots of violent hate crimes and discrimination against queer people. In the 1960s, amongst the acrimony of racists was the tendency to depict African Americans as sexual deviants. In addition, during the civil rights movement African Americans were known to have queer allies, thus stereotypes of racial justice supporters as engagers in perverted sexual acts became prevalent in the 1960s and the focus of discrimination spread to include queer individuals in a more direct manner.

In contrast, queer urbanites have gained much more acceptance and visibility as a result of gay rights movements and the recognition of the potential of the queer economy. Acceptance of queerness is also much more common in suburban and urban communities, because there is a higher acceptance of diversity in general. All cities have recognized, visible gay neighborhoods. Gay couples are more likely to live in urban areas than are lesbian couples, as the urban setting can be much more conducive to gay culture and life. Amongst those with higher income or education, acceptance is also more prevalent. These two points have led to an increase of the migration of queer people from rural communities to metropolitan areas. The cost of moving to a city filters out some with lower incomes, creating a class bias for those who are more affluent. Yet discrimination from community members, local police, and even state governments still occurs in urban spheres, although cities typically maintain a relative liberalism.

 



Rural Queer Farmers
 

Other communities of queer farmers prefer to live a more conventional lifestyle with a house and agricultural land of their own. The documentary Out Here portrays the lives of many rural queer people across the United States, and it shows how many queer people make a living and are making a difference in their communities through agriculture.

The documentary's creators also provide many biographies about queer farmers on their blog. The farmers documented have a wide variety of experiences, from being a specialty cattle farmer to an urban community gardener at a non-profit. The farmers surveyed state that they feel that farming provides a place where it is free to experiment, and is a place where queers naturally belong. They also describe the discrimination that they have faced throughout their agricultural careers, from social isolation to having fungicide dropped on them in the field.

Farmers and Friends, a helpline for closeted gay farmers in England, was created to help farmers deal with discrimination and to provide emotional support. Many closeted queer farmers risk being outed by their communities, which could lead to loss of their livelihoods and community ties.

The eco-queer movement aims to draw attention to the intersectionality of nature and sexuality. Part of this intersectionality is the reason why many queer individuals may not feel comfortable in a rural setting due to the population dynamics that generally occur in these areas, which mainly consist of straight, middle-class, white men. Because of this, many queer farmers have taken to growing food in urban environments so that they can be agricultural while maintaining their queer lifestyles.

 



Queer Rural Political Activism

 

Many queer political organizers believe reform is more difficult to pass in rural communities that are less tolerant of queer lifestyles. It is harder to mobilize communities in rural spaces where queer populations are less dense and financial contributions are limited. This has led to a divestment in formal rural queer political organizing. Because political activism has been silent in rural communities, many Americans assume rural queer people do not exist, or that they only do so only before moving to more urban and accepting communities. This assumption has created a misrepresentation of the US queer population. US Census data shows that 66% of South Dakotan same-sex households were located outside of urban areas. Queer communities exist outside urban areas, although they are generally less visible.

A lack of visibility and political attention has left queer people more vulnerable to institutional discrimination. Compared to the heterosexual population, they have reduced access to housing and healthcare and face greater employment discrimination. In South Dakota, only 29% of rural same-sex households own homes, compared to 84% of married heterosexual couples. There are generally fewer community resources and support groups for queer individuals in rural areas, as more limited local resources do not facilitate their existence.

 



Legislation often neglects rural queer populations, leaving them without protection under the law. In a 2006 custody case, a mother found herself unfit to care for her child and relinquished rights to a queer caretaker. Once the new guardian's sexuality was discovered the court ruled against the biological mother's request, stating that "the adoption would not be in the best interest of the child." The court used rurality in their reasoning to reject the request, citing "stigma that the child may face growing up in a small, rural town with two women, in whose case she was placed at the age of six, who openly engage in a homosexual relationship." The court found the state of Georgia a more fit guardian than a rural queer couple.


Despite similar cases, many fights in rural areas are won in state courtrooms. The Iowa Supreme Court struck down the state's defense of marriage statute, which made it one of the first states to allow same-sex marriage, affecting the predominantly rural population. This action was met with political resistance. The Iowa electorate voted to not retain all three judges, marking the first time in Iowa's history that a judge had not been retained since 1961.

 

Many rural politicians have cited their reluctance to come out in support of same-sex marriage, for fear of similar political repercussions. Representative Paul Davis, the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial nominee in Kansas, voted against a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage three times in the state legislature, but did not take a definitive stance on the issue in his run for governor. More liberal and urban districts can offer public officials a politically safe place to take stances on issues that are not popular in predominantly rural states.



In recent years, the country has seen a shift in national public opinion on queer issues, which has spread to rural communities. In 2006, 71 Wisconsin counties voted to ban same-sex marriage, while only one county voted against the ban. Opinion has since overwhelmingly shifted. According to a 2014 poll by Marquette Law School, only 35% of voters in the Green Bay media market, a predominantly conservative area, still support the marriage ban, compared to 65% of the population in 2006.

Queer visibility plays a critical role in political activism, though this has not been a viable strategy for many rural queer people. Being openly queer can lead to more discrimination and isolation in rural spaces. Rural queer individuals have had to re-imagine how to make political and social progress in their communities. New digital media has opened more political options for rural queer people. Social media is a means to expand local communities and allow rural queer individuals to take part in a larger queer community. Access to queer people's experiences are available on blogs and websites and provide access to the terminology needed to describe and understand their experiences. New media can give rural queer individuals the political tools and connections to make changes in their own communities.

 

 

All American Boy: Country Song by Steve Grand

LGBTQ and Rurality

Advocate: LGBTQ People of Color in Rural America

Rednecks for Black Lives: Southerners Fight for Racial Justice

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Country People: Gay Short Film

LGBTQ Nation: Rural Pride Events

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Matt and Blue: Gay Family Living in a Small Town

Small Town Gay Pride Parade

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Better This Way: Country Song by Doug Strahm

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Small Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Dancing in the Living Room: Country Song by Cameron Hawthorn

 

Country Queers Project

When Rae Garringer was growing up on a farm in southeastern West Virginia in the 1980s and 1990s, LGBTQ people (both real or fictional) were nowhere to be found. “I grew up without TV, and it was mostly pre-internet, so I just didn’t know any queer people,” Garringer, 35. “I never met queer people my age, and I wasn’t seeing queer representation in the place that I existed; I just think I didn’t even realize that it was kind of an option.”

 



It wasn’t until Garringer, who uses nonbinary they/them pronouns, moved away to Massachusetts for college in 2003 that they met other LGBTQ people and embraced their sexual orientation and gender identity. After living away for several years, first at university and then in liberal Austin, Texas, Garringer questioned whether they could live openly and find a queer community of friends back home. Then in 2011, after eight years away, Garringer headed back to the farm for a job opportunity and to be closer to family.

 

Garringer, who now lives in neighboring Kentucky, said their move back to West Virginia was “healing” and filled with “joy.” But while queerness was not as hidden as it had been, it was still far from easily visible. “I was just really frustrated that it was so hard to find rural queer stories and histories, and it was also very hard to find each other in small-town spaces,” Garringer said.

So in 2013, feeling a need to find a sense of community, Garringer had an idea. They carried a tape recorder and set out to document the diverse experiences of LGBTQ individuals living in rural towns across the United States. Those interviews turned into Country Queers, a multimedia, oral-history project. The stories collected by Garringer over the years have been shared on the Country Queers website and Instagram page, and starting June 30, the new Country Queers podcast will debut on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher.



 

For the past seven years, Garringer has interviewed 65 people from 15 states (from Arizona to Vermont )and has collaborated with queer organizations including the Two Spirit National Cultural Exchange, the Kansas Queer Youth Network and the International Gay Rodeo Association. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign, Garringer was able to buy a camera and take a long road trip to six states in the summer of 2014, driving a total of 7,000 miles to interview 30 people in 30 days. In a piece Garringer wrote for Scalawag, a Southern storytelling website, they said their aim is to share stories that portray “the full contradictory glory that is human life. I believe in the power of those of us living an experience daily sharing stories of the messy complicated joy, pain, monotony and fabulosity of rural and small town queer life."

Early on in the project, it was clear to Garringer that rural queer experiences are not monolithic, which is why Country Queers aims to document rural, queer people of different races, ages, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds and occupations.

[Source: Gabriela Martinez, NBC News, June 2020]

 

Country Queers: Podcast

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

Gay Rodeo: Hall of Fame

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia

LGBTQ Pride in Rural Missouri

International Gay Rodeo Association: John King Interview

Conversation with Gay Fly Fisherman

Hometown: Country Song by Brandon Stansell

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Queer in Rural America

 

 

Being Gay in Tennessee Wasn't Always Easy

LGBTQ and Rurality

LGBTQ People: Fundamental Part of the Fabric of Rural Communities

Growing Up Gay in a Small Conservative Texas Town

Research on Rural LGBTQ People of Color

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Advocate: What is a Cottagecore Lesbian?

Josh Burford: Chronicler of Southern LGBTQ History

Clearly Gay in Small Town Alabama

TED Talk: The LGBTQ Community Could Save Small Towns

MAP Report: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Lesbian Farmers: Redefining Rural America

Being Queer in the Country

PFLAG: Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Small Rural Towns

LGBTQ Nation: Lesbian and Trans Hillbillies Taking Over Rural America

Matt and Blue: Southern Boys

 

 

Black and Gay in Birmingham

Farming is Tough: Being LGBTQ Makes it Tougher

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Point of Pride: How to Be Queer in a Small Town

Gay Farmer Breaking Down LGBTQ Stereotypes

Todd and Tyler: Isolating in the Woods

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Son of a Preacher Man: Country Song by Tom Goss

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Living in the South as a Gay Person

Country People: Gay Short Film

Advocate: Champions of Pride from the South

LGBTQ Institute: Southern Survey

Country Teens

Small  Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

In the Face of Discrimination: LGBTQ Farmers are Hopeful

Gay Rodeo History

 

Farming While Gay

 

"I grew up on the family farm, but there’s no place for me on the farm. The future’s not there for a gay farmer."

-Ryan Reed, Now Working as Gay Rodeo Cowboy

"I never thought that I would get the opportunity to combine my personal life and farming. I thought to myself, well you can’t be gay if you’re a farmer. The two did not go together. I initially thought that I had to hide my sexuality to be a farmer and then I thought that I had to hide being a farmer to be gay. However, through awareness, inclusion and shifting attitudes, I am now living the normal life. Normal is living with the person you love and doing the things you’re passionate about. Life is too short not to."
-Ben Lewis, Gay Farmer

"One of my customers did not renew my contract after two years because of who I am."

-Ari Rosenberg, Lesbian, Now Working as Urban Farmer in Philadelphia

"Farming in general is rural. And in a rural environment, LGBTQ does not fly."

-Nathan Looney, Trans, Now Working as Urban Farmer in Los Angeles

 

 

Although being an urban farmer, especially in an area that is much more welcoming of those in the LGBTQ community, feels like a lighter lift, it still comes with challenges, says Nate Looney, a transgender farmer in Los Angeles. “I live in a bit of a bubble because of where I live, but I’m also aware that I present as a cis, straight black man,” he says. “Even living here, I never talked about being transgender when I started farming, as a measure of self preservation, given the predominantly conservative nature of agriculture.”

He adds that since he’s also a military veteran, that was one more factor allowing him to “fly under the radar,” but at a 2018 Farmer Veterans Coalition talk, he officially outed himself, as a way to bring more awareness to that fact that, yes, there are transgender farmers. “It’s definitely easier to not call attention to yourself as an LGBTQ farmer, but I came to the point where I felt like people in the agricultural community need to understand that we’re here, and that we’re just as passionate about farming as any other farmers,” he said.

There is still, obviously, a long way to go. Rural LGBTQ people are less likely to have explicit nondiscrimination protections, more likely to live where there are religious exemption laws allowing service providers to discriminate, and tend to have fewer alternatives when facing discrimination. And, as Looney shares, even urban farmers can feel challenged by the dominant conservatism of the agriculture industry.

But there are some signs of hope. For example, Looney says, at a recent farming conference, the biggest caucus group was the LGBTQ table, and that gave him hope. Also, he points out that some large agricultural companies, like Bayer, either have LGBTQ groups already or have been talking about starting them.

 

 

NBC News Report: Gay in Rural America

LGBTQ Community is Transforming the South

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

All American Boy: Country Song by Steve Grand

LGBTQ Nation: Rural Pride Events

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

MAP Report: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Matt and Blue: Gay Family Living in a Small Town

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Being LGBTQ in Rural Spaces

Small Town Gay Pride Parade

Better This Way: Country Song by Doug Strahm

Advocate: What is a Cottagecore Lesbian?

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Advocate: LGBTQ People of Color in Rural America

Redneck Lesbo by Jennifer Corday

Being Queer in the Country

Small Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

LGBTQ and Rurality

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Dancing in the Living Room: Country Song by Cameron Hawthorn

 

 

LGBTQ Folks in Rural Settings

 

"As time went on, my sexuality became known across the school. No one ever outwardly gave me a problem aside from whispers and stares in the hallway and cafeteria. I learned that the small minds in my town were generally accepted as the status quo."

-Alex Yates, Trans Teacher
 

"Most queer people I know from my small town in Idaho have left by now. At a certain point, when you’re walking down the street and hear the daily, casual homophobia dribbling out of the mouths of camo-decked hicks spitting chew onto the sidewalk, you say enough. You don’t say it to them, because they’ll hit you or shoot you. But you become convinced that there is no place for you, that there will never be a place for you there, and you leave."
-K., Queer Librarian from Idaho

 

Though urban areas are often considered huge draws for those in the LGBTQ community (a 2015 Gallup poll found that San Francisco, Portland and Austin all ranked highest in the country for the largest LGBTQ population), little is written about those LGBTQ people who choose to call rural communities home.

 

However, a recent study finds that of the 62 million Americans who live in rural areas, between 2.9 and 3.8 or 15 to 20 percent of that number identify as LGBTQ and call rural America home. “General societal stereotypes and pop culture portrayals of LGBTQ people suggest that LGBTQ people live solely in urban settings, while stereotypes and portrayals of rural communities rarely, if ever, include LGBTQ people — except as targets of anti-LGBTQ violence, or as people yearning to leave their rural home to migrate to ‘more accepting’ urban areas,” says the study.

 

 

The study’s authors go on to say that those stereotypes falsely create “singular understandings” of how and where one can “be” LGBTQ in the US, unfairly excluding those who do not adhere to the urban “expectations” of the LGBTQ community. “In reality, not only do LGBTQ people live in rural America, but many of them want to and enjoy living in rural America,” the study says.


The study makes clear at the outset that to find a singular example of the “LGBTQ experience” would be impossible, but it does show that those members of the community who live in rural America and responded to inquiries by the authors described their communities similarly: “built around family and close-knit community; centered around strong social institutions such as churches, schools and local businesses; deeply connected to place and the environment; and based in a sense of efficacy and self-reliance to make change in their own communities.”
 

In rural settings, there is increased visibility for members of the LGBTQ community. The study found that lower population calls more attention to anyone “different,” and that being open about one part of their identity puts people in the LGBTQ community at risk of having that information spread among people more quickly than in urban areas. Due to the interconnectedness of rural life, both positive and negative impressions about a person may spread throughout the community more quickly.

 

 
 

“For example, if a person is excluded from their faith community for being gay, they may have a difficult time at work or finding a job, because their church members may also be their coworkers or potential employers,” the study said. “This effect may also work in a positive way: if a rural church community or employer takes a supportive stand for local LGBTQ residents, that support can also ripple outward to other areas of life.”

Rural LGBTQ folks are vulnerable to discrimination. On average, the report states that public opinion tends to be less favorable regarding LGBTQ issues, “but it is far more diverse than might be assumed.” Still, rural areas are less likely to have non-discrimination policies for the LGBTQ community living there, fewer LGBTQ elected politicians and less of a sociopolitical infrastructure available to advance an understanding of the community. The study pinpointed three ways in which these factors can come together to expose LGBTQ people to more discrimination.

 

[Source: Eve Kucharski, Michigan News, May 2019]

 

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Country Queers: Oral Histories

Finding the LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

LGBTQ Nation: Lesbian and Trans Hillbillies Taking Over Rural America

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Gay Farmers: Bilkurra Homestead

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Advocate: Champions of Pride from the South

Growing Up Gay in Small Town America

Time: Country Song by Steve Grand

MAP Report: LGBTQ People in Rural America

International Gay Rodeo Association

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys

 

 

 

LGBTQ People: Fundamental Part of the Fabric of Rural Communities

Clearly Gay in Small Town Alabama

Being Gay in Tennessee Wasn't Always Easy

Country People: Gay Short Film

Being LGBTQ in Rural Spaces

Queer in Rural America

Fabulous Beekman Boys: Gay Green Acres

Living in the South as a Gay Person

Gay Farmer Breaking Down LGBTQ Stereotypes

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Lesbian Farmers: Redefining Rural America

Slow Down: Country Song by Brandon Stansell and Ty Herndon

Interview: Married Mountain Men of West Virginia

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Growing Up Gay in the Christian South

Advocate: LGBTQ People of Color in Rural America

LGBTQ Pride Festivals in Rural Canada

Growing Up Gay in the Country

 

Gay Country Boys

 

According to Urban Dictionary, a country boy is a guy born and raised in the country, usually the American South. A true country boy has rather short hair, and no piercings. They dress in nice, clean-looking clothes, and only wear ripped jeans to work in. The definition goes on to describe country boys as strong, hard-working, and very masculine. Chances are, he drives a truck. In a relationship, a country boy is usually an old-fashioned gentleman.

But can they be gay? Well, it turns out, there are quite a few gay country boys living our in rural America. And here are some shout-outs from those gay country boys:

 



--Gay redneck farm boy here. Born and raised in the middle of nowhere. So, yup, we exist.

--Gay country boy checking in from Iowa. Grew up on a hog farm, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, mudding. I’ll always be a country boy at heart.

--I'm queer and I spent the first 18 years of my life living and working on a family ranch in east Texas. Got my degree in Agricultural Science, and I’m employed in the livestock industry. I’ve just contentedly resigned myself to the fact that it’s my lot in life to work with cattle.

--I'm a gay guy living in Oklahoma, and three quarters of the Grindr profiles here are for guys with pickup trucks looking for someone to go hunting, fishing, and mudding with.

--I always think gay country boys are hot, like in Brokeback Mountain, right? That’s very country.

--My gay boyfriend is a country boy. He grew up in the bible belt of Alabama.

--I’d love to meet some gay country boys. I am exhausted by these uppity city gays I’ve been dealing with. I am assuming that gay country boy have more productive, meaningful things to do besides throwing shade and spilling tea.

 

[Source: Graham Gremore, October 2016]

 

 

Gay Rodeo: Hall of Fame

LGBTQ Pride in Rural Missouri

International Gay Rodeo Association: John King Interview

GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

Black and Gay in Birmingham

Hometown: Country Song by Brandon Stansell

LGBTQ and Rurality

Advocate: What is a Cottagecore Lesbian?

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Point of Pride: How to Be Queer in a Small Town

Finding LGBTQ Community in the Rural South

Growing Up Gay in Appalachia

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Lesbian Farmers: Redefining Rural America

Being Queer in the Country

LGBTQ Nation: Lesbian and Trans Hillbillies Taking Over Rural America

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Son of a Preacher Man: Country Song by Tom Goss

LGBTQ Institute: Southern Survey

Small  Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

Gay Rodeo History

 

LGBTQ Institute: Southern Survey

 

What do LGBTQ people in the south say life is really like for them? The LGBTQ Institute’s inaugural Southern Survey gives an insight into the lives of people living in places where government policies are often hostile toward them.

A huge proportion of the country’s LGBTQ adults live in the South. So do lots and lots of hate groups. That sad irony isn’t lost on Ryan Roemerman, the executive director of the LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. “We have some of the most LGBTQ populated areas, yet we’re under attack most often,” he says. As Roemerman sees it, such attacks happen two ways: through discriminatory anti–LGBTQ state legislation preventing marriage and workplace equality, and also through physical intimidation and assault.

 

 

Part of the issue is that there’s been little research about who is being affected, how, and the ways they’d like people, companies, and legislators to better support them. But, recently the LGBTQ Institute released its inaugural Southern Survey of more than 6,500 residents across 14 states. The data was collected in partnership with researchers at Georgia State University, who coordinated with 146 nonprofits throughout the region. “Our mission is to connect academics and advocates to advance LGBTQ equity through research and education focused on the American South,” Roemerman says. The effort works a lot like a highly detailed census for gay Southern life. It will inform, and hopefully inspire, more funding for three main areas of concern: education and employment, public health and wellness, and criminal justice and safety.

As the report notes, there’s been at least one large generational shift: Younger respondents appear more self-aware and open about their sexual orientation and gender identity at an earlier age than older folks have been in the past. At the same time, discrimination remains rampant: More than 25% of all respondents report having been the target of jokes and slurs within the last years. Other forms of bigotry include being rejected by a friend or family member (17%), feeling unwelcome at a place of worship (14%), and receiving poor service at a restaurant or other kind of business because of their sexual orientation (13%). In many cases, those rates are nearly twice as high among transgender people.

 



Another troubling trend is the role that sexuality and race continue to play in many communities. For instance, 77% of black lesbian, gay, or bisexual respondents report having been threatened or physically attacked at some point in their life, the report notes. “There’s a disproportion amount of folks who are being harassed because of their gender identity and also the interplay between your race and ethnicity as well as your gender identity,” adds Roemerman. Equally disturbing: 33% of transgender people report some discrimination when trying to access health care, with nearly half of those just deciding to avoid treatment.

According to the survey, LGBTQ people living in the south overwhelmingly want to see companies stay in their states and continue fighting for rights and equity while providing jobs, instead of avoiding the area or relocating. “I mentioned earlier, we are under attack most often,” he adds. “We are on the receiving end of a lot of these, these anti–LGBTQ pieces of legislation. We definitely want to make sure that the companies that are in the South are willing to stay and support us, not flee and leave. For the folks who are creating these kinds of campaigns, you wonder whether or not they really talked to people in the South.”

Either way, Southern companies can’t really afford not to take a stand anymore: More than 70% or respondents are willing to support companies with values that support the LGBTQ community, while about 75% will boycott those opposed.

[Source: Ben Paynter, Senior Writer, Fast Company, Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, New York Times]

 

 

Advocate: Champions of Pride from the South

Queering the Redneck Riviera

Being LGBTQ in Rural Spaces

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

Being Gay and Lesbian in Appalachia

Matt and Blue: Gay Family Living in a Small Town

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Country People: Gay Short Film

Building a More LGBTQ Inclusive South

Small Town Gay Pride Parade

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Conversation with Gay Fly Fisherman

Better This Way: Country Song by Doug Strahm

Josh Burford: Chronicler of Southern LGBTQ History

In the Face of Discrimination: LGBTQ Farmers are Hopeful

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Being Queer in the Country

Small Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Dancing in the Living Room: Country Song by Cameron Hawthorn

 

Trials and Triumph: LGBTQ Raised in Rural Settings

Researchers at the Psychology Department of Ferrum College, in Virginia interviewed Kelly, Brian, Kyle, Mark, Zeus, Erica and Steve about their personal experiences as LGBTQ youth being raised in a rural, Appalachian context.


Rural Context


Brian, who identified as homosexual and having been raised in a town of less than 2500 people, described the area in which he was raised as a “very isolated place not around a lot of other people” with “a lot of farms, older people, and mostly white” individuals. Similarly, Mark, a gay man who identified being raised in a town of less than 4000 individuals, described his context as “mostly white” and a “hub for the Ku Klux Klan.” Kyle, a gay man who was raised in a small town of less than 6000 individuals, described his town as one where “everyone knew everyone” and “did all activities together”. Zeus, a gay man who identified as having been raised in a small town of less than 4000 people, described his town “cows outnumbered people in some areas, fairly small town, not a lot of major development, one stop light in the entire city.” Both Erica, a cisgender lesbian raised in a town of less than 3000 individuals and Steve, a self-identified homosexual man raised in a town of less than 10,000 people, described their rural contexts as politically and religiously conservative. Erica shared “it was a small town, everybody knew everybody, and everybody was in everybody’s business. If you weren’t in this religion you were wrong, and if you didn’t feel this way and marry this person you were wrong. It was really the size of the small town that effected the way I felt and how I felt safe.” Finally, Kelly spent much of her developmental years living in the rural countryside. However, during late adolescence she moved to an urban context, and provided reflections on the disparity between the rural and urban context and the impact on her development.

 

Religious Context | Trials
 

A major conflict emerged as participants described their own struggles coming out in the rural context involved the trials they experienced religiously. Many rural contexts have strong, religious values; many religious groups have historically condemned or disapproved of same-sex attractions and/or sexual behavior. Erica described the relationship between the rural context and religious context saying, “religion is for a lot of people, especially in this small town where I grew up, it’s their moral zone. Everything they did was governed by what the Bible said.” Similarly, Kyle shared, “you know, in the South, religion is a big deal. If you aren’t a member of the church then you are an outcast, especially in a small town.” Six of the participants shared negative experiences within the religious community in relation to their lesbian or gay identity. Due to the pervasiveness of the religious culture within the rural context, the participants described the religious influences as synonymous with the rural culture.
One participant, Mark, a gay man whose family members were devoutly Baptist, recalled, “to my religion and family values, being gay, you would be frowned upon, so for most of the time, I grew to force myself not to believe that identifying as gay could possibly be true for myself.” Steve, who grew up in a very traditional Christian household stated, “I was raised in a church that had sermons where they just talked about how homosexuality was a sin and how awful it was.” Several participants noted that many religious community members held traditional, and occasionally ignorant ideas regarding sexual minority identities, including the idea that being lesbian or gay is a “choice” and can be “fixed” with prayer and repression of feelings. Steve recalled his coming out to his family, “I remember my dad was sitting on the couch with like a Bible on his lap, and I guess he was expecting to use that somehow, to make me straight.” Four participants described their experience was consistent with the old adage of “praying the gay away”. Kyle shared, “people knew something was different about me…and I think those people thought that they could change that over time if I stayed in the church.”

 



Interpersonal Relationships | Trials
 

Another conflict that emerged involved the trials faced by the participants within their relationships with friends and family. The reactions by friends and family members to the participants’ self-disclosure while varied, was often negative. Kyle stated, “the community I was raised in as a whole never really accepted me, and still hasn’t really accepted me to this day.” Each of the participants described the reactions of those to whom they were close to as being disappointed, rejecting, unsupportive and in an overall state of denial. In addition, many of the participants feared peer rejection upon disclosure of their sexual identity due to the stigma surrounding LGBTQ identities in their rural context. One participant, Erica, who first labeled herself as a lesbian in high school, stated, “at my high school people started commenting about it and trying to taunt me about it. I just kind of ignored it but, after coming out, I definitely learned that I can fight back with words, and not put up with peoples struggles, with their issues.”
Erica coped with the harassment by taking a direct approach, though not all participants were able to do so. Mark recalled his high school experience, “when it came to students, they definitely frowned upon publicly identifying as gay. Those who were seen, and seemed to be out, acted in stereotypical manners, they were bullied pretty harshly.” Zeus described his context by saying, “it wasn’t necessarily the blatantly homophobic atmosphere but there was subtle intolerance. There were maybe one or two openly gay individuals in the school and they were pretty much ostracized. They got pushed around, the typical rural reaction.” Peer rejection was quite common among the participants throughout their high school years.

 



Participants also shared their struggles coming out to their families. Nearly each participant that had self-disclosed to their parents faced some initial level of disapproval. Steve shared he first came out as gay online before coming out to a friend as a way of increasing his self-confidence before telling his family. He began the process of disclosing to his family with his sister. He recalled her reaction, “She is crying her eyes out and the first words she says are ‘how could you do this to our family?’” Many of the participants, when describing their coming out to family members, shared their fathers had more negative reactions. Kyle recalled his coming out to his father, “my dad especially was not happy with me, and he thought that he could change the way I was by sending me to therapy (family counselor) to de-homosexualize me and needless to say, that didn’t work out very well.” Denial from family members was a common reaction experienced by the participants; participants described their parents as questioning the truth of their feelings. When Erica told her mother she was a lesbian her mother responded, “are you sure you’re gay? Like are you covering for somebody? Is this how you really feel? Um, are you sure?” Erica recalled her mother asking several times a day for weeks if she was “sure” she was a lesbian. Up to the point of the interview, Erica shared she felt her mother never really accepted her identity as a lesbian. While Zeus’ parents were more accepting of his sexual identity, his mom was concerned for his safety given the rural, conservative context in which Zeus resided, “they were on the brink of passing legislation fueled by religious dogmatism and right-winged conservatism. She was more concerned, not so much about her son not being straight, but being an identified minority that has a history of violence against them.”

 



Information and Structural Support | Trials


Another trial that emerged was the lack of information and structural support regarding LGBTQ identities available due in part to the rural context. Mark described this, saying “I can’t recall ever knowing anyone who was gay until I was in college and met people. It wasn’t a topic very widely discussed there especially with influences such as the KKK still active.” Kyle shared that being gay “was not talked about in my community at all. I mean, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a gay person. I didn’t know you could have an attraction towards someone of the same sex. It wasn’t ever discussed.” Erica shared that her peers tried to start a gay-straight alliance to increase information about sexual minority issues in her high school; their group was ultimately unsuccessful and they were told “no by the principal because he didn’t want to deal with the phone calls or the paper work, or the outcry from the Christian club on campus who found out about it and pitched a royal fit”.
 

While 5 of the 7 participants turned to the Internet for support given the lack of information in their communities, Zeus stated that even access to the Internet was difficult, “I grew up with dial-up which basically means that the Internet is inaccessible because you can’t upload anything.” As a result, Zeus shared that the relied on television shows such as “Will and Grace” for information on what it means to be gay since there was a dearth of information in his rural community. Kelly, reflecting on being raised in a rural countryside noted the disparity between the rural area she spent most of her childhood and early adolescence, compared to the urban context she moved to during late adolescence. She shared by seeing a larger number of people who self-labeled as gay or lesbian in the urban context she gained information LGBTQ identities. As such, she stated she was able to “admit” to herself that she was lesbian and ultimately accept her emerging sense of identity, attesting to the power of both role models and information.

 

Intrapersonal Processes | Trials
 

Finally, yet another trial that emerged when examining the trials faced, occurred internally, as the participants dealt with a variety of intrapersonal reactions while coming out. The participants described feeling a strong sense of internalized homophobia, turning a sense of disgust and hatred upon themselves in relation to their sexual minority identity. Steve shared, “gay was this alien creature. You didn’t want to talk about it. It wasn’t okay.” Zeus labeled his feelings as “inappropriate and not normative” as a result of the stigma he experienced in his context. When discussing this, Steve shared, “it was scary, because growing up through middle school, I felt like something wasn’t right. Something wasn’t fitting together. I was fearful of saying anything that might even remotely point me out as being different or odd. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself.” Brian recalled his feelings of attraction as a child towards a famous male actor and associated feelings of shame. Specifically he stated, “my greatest fear was this is not right, something is really wrong. I had a big struggle dealing with it all.” He shared his internal reaction was directly related to the conservative, rural context which he believed drove him to doubt, and even dread his own thoughts and feelings. This interpersonal process of coming to terms with their emerging sense of self was perhaps the most difficult trial participants described.
 

Trials and Triumphs: LGBTQ Youth Raised in a Rural Context

Small Town Gay Pride Parade

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Better This Way: Country Song by Doug Strahm

Wild West: Much Gayer Than You Think

Small Town in South Dakota: Champion for Its LGBTQ Neighbors

Pride Source: Real Gay Cowboys

Dancing in the Living Room: Country Song by Cameron Hawthorn

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys

 

 

Interpersonal Relationships | Triumphs


A major positive theme emerged as participants described their coming out in the rural context involved the triumph related to their interpersonal relationships, occurring both in-person and over the Internet. Participants described feeling accepted and supported by some of their friends and acquaintances when coming out. Five of the seven participants used the Internet to first come out and explore their emerging sense of sexual identity; it felt relatively safe in contrast to their rural contexts. Brian shared it also increased his understanding of what it means to have same-sex attractions, “I found out I wasn’t the only gay person alive because through the Internet I found I wasn’t obviously the only one alive.” After using the internet as an initial “stage” to come out, Steve came out to one of his close friends, “the first person I told in person is the person I’m with now, the guy I’m with now. I told him. He didn’t push me out at all, but he gave me confidence in being more comfortable with it I guess, comfortable with it for myself.”
 

Likewise, several participants found their initial disclosure to a person who also identified as a sexual minority to be helpful. Zeus first disclosed to an openly gay classmate by first asking questions of his classmate regarding his own process of self-identifying as gay. Zeus gradually came out to this classmate after realizing he felt similar to his classmate. Other peers, though not LGBTQ themselves, were unconditionally supportive. Brian shared he experienced “nothing but support from my peers”. Notably, each participant found peer support after graduating high school and leaving their hometowns. Erica recalled her first interaction with a college peer, “one of the first things my RA ever told me was that we didn’t discriminate here, based on gender or sexual orientation or anything like that and that she wouldn’t tolerate any kind of bullying.” Mark stated at college, “there were so many new ideas that were introduced, so I felt like I was less ignorant, and more willing to accept myself as gay because I learned I wasn’t quite as sinful or morally wrong as I had previously believed without research.” Though the majority of participants in the research study stated that their parents were somewhat ignorant of their sexual identity, one participant, Kyle, said that his parents have gradually grown to realize that his sexual identity is simply one facet of his identity. When talking about his parents’ current attitude he stated, “they’ve gotten over it, and they’ve realized that being gay is only a small part of who I am as a person, and that all the other good parts of me are still there; they haven’t gone anywhere because I’m gay, that’s just a small piece of the puzzle.” Kelly, an openly lesbian woman, struggled to reveal her sexual identity to her parents because her siblings had both self-identified as bisexual and her parents did not approve. However, when Kelly finally disclosed her sexual orientation to her parents she stated “it turned out my parents were okay with being gay, they weren’t okay with bi, and that was the issue with my siblings.”

 


Intrapersonal Processes | Triumphs


Another major triumph that emerged was related to the intrapersonal processes of the participants. Participants described an awareness of their “true” sense of self, and process by which through reflection, they reached a point of self-acceptance, overcoming some of the pressures and stigma they experienced. After initial conflict within the self, several of the participants felt more at ease with themselves after self-identifying. Mark stated, “I feel like I’ve been able to identify myself better as a person. I just know myself more than I ever did before. I feel like a lot of things in life became more clear afterwards and it definitely got rid of a piece of the puzzle that was perplexing me for quite a few years.” Similarly, Zeus, when asked about the positive experiences when coming out stated, “I mean, being open in general is a level of self-acceptance. You call yourself a gay man and it’s a kind of final acceptance of who you are. And it’s not a resistance against it, or a denial of it. So in that sense you are finally at peace with who you are. It’s almost like the acknowledgment that you can be proud of who you are and not have to hide it or be fearful of it.”
Similarly, Kelly stated, “I struggled with same sex attraction. Now, I don’t really necessarily think it’s something to struggle with. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it." Each of the seven participants described similar processes of self-acceptance. The resiliency of these LGBTQ young adults was evident in their ability to accept their emerging sense of self amidst the stigma of their rural context.
 

[Source: Angie L. Dahl, Rachel K. Scott, Zachalee Peace, Psychology Department, Ferrum College, Ferrum, VA, 2015, Participants: Kelly, Brian, Kyle, Mark, Zeus, Erica, Steve]

 

Trials and Triumphs: LGBTQ Youth Raised in a Rural Context

Invisible Histories Project: Gay Southern History

Pride Source: Rural Americans Are LGBTQ Too

Country Queers: Joy and Pain of Rural LGBTQ Life

PFLAG: Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Small Rural Towns

Time: Country Song by Steve Grand

Being LGBTQ in the Deep South

Gay Rodeo History

LGBTQ Institute: Southern Survey

Research on Rural LGBTQ People of Color

 

 

Fancy Book Learnin'

Queering the Countryside: New Frontiers in Rural Queer Studies

by Mary L. Gray, Colin R. Johnson, Brian J. Gilley (Editors)
 

Lesbian Land

By Joyce Cheney (Editor)

 

Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America
by Colin R. Johnson

 

Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America
by Mary L. Gray

 

Coming Out of the Magnolia Closet: Same Sex Couples in Mississippi

by John Marszalek

 

Real Queer America

by Samantha Allen

Wild Mares: My Lesbian Back-to-the-Land Life

by Dianna Hunter

 

Gay Cowboys and Wild Outlaws

by Logan Stone

 

The Lesbian South: Southern Feminists and the Queer Literary Canon

by Jamie Harker

 

Prairie Silence: A Rural Expatriate's Journey to Reconcile Love, Home, and Faith
by Melanie Hoffert

 

Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music
by Nadine Hubbs

 

Another Country: Queer Anti-Urbanism
by Scott Herring

 

Coming Out and Coming Back: Rural Gay Migration and the City

by Meredith Redlin, Alexis Annes

 

Gay Faulkner

by Pip Gordon

 

Men Like That: A Southern Queer History

by John Howard

 

Queering the Redneck Riviera: Sexuality and the Rise of Florida Tourism

by Jerry Watkins III

Queer, Rural, American
by Sarah Anne Strickley

 

 

Top Ten Queer Rural Books

Redneck Lesbo by Jennifer Corday

NBC News Report: Gay in Rural America

Matt and Blue: Southern Boys

LGBTQ Community is Transforming the South

Huff Post: Lesbian Farmers: Growing Rural America

Leslie Jordan: Southern Gay

Pridefest: Birmingham Alabama

Ki Ya Yah Yippee Ki Yay: Thirst-Trapping Gay Cowboys
GLAAD Stories: LGBTQ Life in the South

LGBTQ Nation: Rural Pride Events

All American Boy: Country Song by Steve Grand

MAP Report: LGBTQ People in Rural America

Gay Prom in Birmingham

Not As Bad You You Think: LGBTQ People in Rural America

PFLAG: Experiences of LGBTQ Students in Small Rural Towns

LGBTQ and Rurality

Fabulous Beekman Boys: Gay Green Acres

Black and Gay in Birmingham

 

HOME

 


QUEER CAFE │ LGBTQ Information Network │ Established 2017