Yes, Lesbian Farmers are Redefining Rural America

lesbian farmers

Earlier this summer, Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund and the Drake Law School united with the USDA to support a subset of the rural population that has often found itself erased: lesbian farmers.

Just one of a series of events designed to reach queer farmers and other LGBT people in rural areas, the event, which took place mid-August, inadvertently drew the nation’s attention to the incredible women working in agriculture today.

The event, for which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was the keynote speaker, originally sought to help LGBT people to sign up for USDA programs like food stamps and housing loans, with “programs and services that exist to protect, promote, and strengthen LGBT members of rural communities,” according to a pamphlet provided by the USDA.

The summit sought to support the members of this subset of the rural community, who are often unaware that they have a right to these services.

“Contrary to widely held myths that the LGBT community is largely living in affluent metropolitan areas, studies show a very different and more realistic picture of the LGBT community,” the USDA said. “For a number of reasons, many people in the LGBT community choose to live, work, and raise their families in the rural communities that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proud to serve.”

When he got wind of the summit, right-wing radio personality Rush Limbaugh came back with a mind-boggling response, calling the program an “attack” on what he has deemed the last conservative bastion: rural America.

“Here comes the Obama regime with a bunch of federal money and they’re waving it around, and all you gotta do to get it is be a lesbian and want to be a farmer and they’ll set you up,” Limbaugh ranted on the air. “I’m like you; I never before in my life knew that lesbians wanted to be farmers. I never knew that lesbians wanted to get behind the horse and the plow and start burrowing. I never knew it. … The objective here is to attack rural states.”

But Limbaugh’s view of rural areas is completely misguided, according to NBC News. Setting aside for a moment that most modern farmers have long since forgone the horse and plow, the USDA is not handing out subsidies to queer farmers, but rather guiding them toward programs already in existence to which they have a right. And to top it all off, no one is encouraging LGBT people to move to rural areas: they are already there.

“We have this perception that LGBT people leave rural areas and I think that’s not actually true,” said Naomi Goldberg, policy director for the Movement Advancement Project and a speaker at the Iowa LGBT Rural Summit. “Breaking the stereotype that LGBT people don’t live outside of cities is really important.”

Her research shows that 96 out of 99 Iowa counties are home to gay couples who are raising children. The largest proportional increase in same-sex couples in the 2000 census occurred in rural areas.

Limbaugh’s narrow view of the truth has set off an assortment of tributes to lesbian farmers, from a musical theater response created by Kathryn Lounsbery to “America Needs Lesbian Farmers” t-shirts.

Inadvertently, his tirade brought increased visibility, not only to this event, but to rural members of the LGBT community, bringing about the very reality that Limbaugh sought to criticize: members of the LGBT community who thought that the door to rural living was closed to them can now see the truth.

“It’s not just about acknowledging LGBT farmers,” Professor Colin R. Johnson, author of “Just Queer Folks: Gender and Sexuality in Rural America,” told NBC. “Its also about communicating to a generation of rural youth … of saying to people who are demonstrably leaving, that you can remain. You can remain and not be boxed into a kind of way of life before you have the opportunity to shape it.”

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Female farmer image via Shutterstock

Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.