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What About Rural LGBTQ Activism?

I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a family where social activism was highly valued. This was thanks mostly to a brother who was 6 years older, openly gay, and always eager to organize and mobilize the people around him to work towards equality and acceptance. A lot of people are heavily influenced by their parents, but for me, no one played a more vital role in shaping my social and political beliefs than my older brother. In truth, he probably played the most important role in shaping my career goals as well. Because of his work in activism, I developed a desire to use writing as a way to spread awareness about women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, and human rights more generally. Because of my brother, I joined political clubs in high school, attended PFLAG meetings in my hometown, and once in college, became active in campus organizing. Now that I live in New York City, it’s easy to find social activists and politically minded people. But what about other parts of the country, where organizing might not seem so easy? If you’re anything like me, you may sometimes forget to think about those parts of the country.

My brother, Jack Harrison-Quintana, is the director of Grindr for Equality, which is Grindr’s advocacy program created in 2012 to raise awareness for LGBTQ issues and spur action across the globe. Recently, Jack sat down with his friend Jamee Greer, who works for Western States Center and has spent a lot of time organizing in Montana, and the two discussed LGBTQ activism in rural communities.

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According to Greer, organizing can be difficult in rural areas, partially, because of something he refers to as the “gay brain drain.” Many LGBTQ folks leave rural areas looking for a different environment, and this shapes the politics and direction of the movement in rural communities. Greer said that for the first couple years of his work as an LGBTQ organizer in Montana, he was the only dedicated full-time organizer in the entire state. That’s pretty hard to believe, especially for someone living in New York City. According to Greer, “…the state is more than 600 miles wide and 250 miles tall! It's huge. It would often feel isolating, even though I was engaging queer folks from all over because I couldn't find folks to relate to professionally in just the right way. Also being a queer lobbyist in the Montana State Capitol Building took a toll. They just didn't know what to do with me and no matter what they said to keep me away, I just kept coming back!”

I can’t imagine how challenging that would be. Being the only organizer in a state that size could probably make someone feel a little hopeless at times. But the experience gave Greer some insights that I think are important to share about rural LGBTQ activism.

Greer said, “Remember that the experiences of rural LGBTQ people exist; they can tell their own stories and those stories aren't going to be universal. That there are queer and transgender rural folks, that there are LGBTQ people of color, there are queer folks with access to money and some without. Perhaps it's because the stories of rural queers are so rarely shared in the media consumed by people in larger cities, but it often feels like rural queers are either totally ignored, turned into punchlines, or become tales of tragedy. For a bunch of reasons, including the different identities we hold that make some queer people's experiences different than others, the lives of LGBTQ rural folks are experienced in dynamic ways. What I'm saying is, don't assume that all LGBTQ folks living in rural spaces are miserable or in a constant struggle with oppression. But the truth is that rural queer folks have fewer community resources and connections, just fewer queer people, to connect with in places like Montana…Support the groups and organizers on the ground in rural spaces, give to the groups centering the leadership of the communities most effected by oppressions.”

I wanted to share Greer’s words about LGBTQ organizing in rural areas of the country because here at BUST, we’re all about building a supportive community and an important part of that is paying attention to groups that are often left out, forgotten about, or misunderstood.

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It strikes me that organizing around a lot of women’s issues, not just those of LGBTQ women, can be particularly fraught in rural America. We know there are huge swaths of territory where abortion access is virtually nonexistent, and getting culturally competent sex education and reproductive health services may be severely limited. Greer's words helped remind me that while I was fortunate to have always been surrounded by people who are constantly working toward these goals of equality and acceptance, that isn't the case for many Americans. I think that Greer’s exhortation that we must listen to rural LGBTQ folks tell their own stories is also true for us feminists and rural women across lines of sexuality, gender identity, race, and class. And all of this definitely underscores for me the need to think at the intersections and ensure my work is attentive to rural lesbians, rural bi women, and rural trans women. 

Via Grindr - Blog

Images via lgbtqnation and mediad

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Olivia’s first sentence was “No talk, just laugh” and since then, she’s made it her business to find the humorous side of life and share her absurd observations with others. She’s a writer, a lover of all things pop culture, and she can’t fall asleep without having 30 Rock on in the background. If you like looking at pictures of food and random dogs, you should check out Olivia’s Instagram.

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