A Small-Town LGBTQ Ally Speaks
Originally Published: June 26, 2020
Revised: June 26, 2020
I grew up in a pretty conservative, rural, stuck-in-its-ways small town. It’s a town of crops and cattle where church parking lots are full on Sundays and the gravel dirt roads are paved by trucks with flat decks. Its residents are hunters, fishers and farmers. When I was ten years old, I chose the third option and started working on a farm just down the street from my house. Working there taught me more than how to bail hay or fix a fence or hold a rooster; it also taught me when to bite my tongue. When politics came up, I learned to turn up the radio. The farm would be the first place of many where I would be surrounded by people who didn’t have the same opinions as me.
As for my high school, if camo could be our school colors, it would be.
As for my high school, if camo could be our school colors, it would be. It’s not uncommon to see cowboy boots, a Make America Great Again hat or stained Wrangler jeans in the hallways. A lot of the teachers are the same ones who taught our parents.
My school does have a GSA (gay straight alliance). We’re not allowed to officially call it that, though, for fear of push back from the school administration. So, we’re known as “Diversity Club,” despite the fact that our club’s sole focus is LGBTQ issues. It’s a small club but we have a great advisor who supports our efforts to expand our impact. Just this year, we created a LGBTQ Awareness Week where we shared information about a different LGBTQ identity every day as well as tips for coming out and resources on how to be an ally.
Diversity Club is where I met my friend Kayleigh, 18. She identifies as lesbian and is out to our school. She has found LGBTQ safe spaces at school, like the Diversity Club and the theater program, but her experience being out at our high school hasn’t been without its difficulties. Many people, some of whom she would even call her friends, have negative attitudes and beliefs about LGBTQ people, and those are just the ones who are willing to acknowledge that she’s a lesbian. Others go so far as to doubt the validity of her sexual orientation all together.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy when I told everyone, but I also knew that I wasn’t alone,” Kayleigh says. “I have a really great community of allies and friends who love me unconditionally.” But Kayleigh also says that there are still people that refuse to acknowledge her sexual orientation beyond making disgusting jokes and comments or using derogatory slurs. Most of the time she attributes their homophobia to ignorance and is able to brush it off, but that is not always the case. When the words start to get to her, she surrounds herself with inclusive, affirming people who she knows love and support her.
“Never feel like you have to come out, especially if it’s not safe,” Kayleigh offers as advice for those questioning their sexual orientation. “Find your people, the ones you know will love and support you, no matter what…. Many people in my life still struggle to accept the idea of me being a lesbian or are no longer a part of my life because of my sexual orientation, but I know I have people who love and respect me for who I am and I have people rooting for me.”
I have hope that my hometown and its residents are capable of change. With every generation, this town grows. I see it when I compare my parents to my siblings, my teachers to my classmates and my boss to my coworkers. A lot of us have more liberal attitudes and an openness that many of our older counterparts do not.
There are still plenty of people who are not onboard; there is still much work to be done. If we can spread awareness of key social and political issues, whether that means using our social media platforms to provide people with resources to inform themselves and help others or having those difficult face-to-face conversations with people in our lives about bias, we can help to chip away at the ignorance and misunderstanding responsible for a lot of the prejudice that exists today.
Share an Alternative Perspective
Looking back, by biting my tongue at the farm I was avoiding uncomfortable conversations but perhaps also missing the chance to share an alternative perspective with my coworkers. Advocacy means going beyond having conversations with people who already agree with you, it’s about sitting down and having open, nonjudgmental conversations with the people who don’t. That’s how we create the change we’re hoping for.
There are still a thousand conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity that need to be had before there is a pride parade in my town, but for now I’ll focus on making tolerance expand into support.
I want to believe that my town will become an accepting and loving environment where everyone, regardless of how they identify, feels safe to be themselves. I hope I am right.
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