New York Pride? Check.
San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Kansas City, Dallas, L.A., Denver, Phoenix, Philly? Double check.
Oklahoma City, Bisbee, Anchorage, Bozeman, Wichita, Boise, Flagstaff? Well, uh....
I know, not exactly the top of the list for most of you. Many of us actively fled rural life to get to urban safety. I get that. I was one of them - for a while, anyway. But I want you to consider going to a gay pride event in an out-of the-way place this summer.
Why? Because we need you.
LGBT people live in rural America. We work here, go to school, own property, pay taxes, raise families, attend churches, shop and donate to charity. We don't have a lot of gay bars, LGBT sports clubs, drag shows and neighborhoods where we can hold hands with our partners. Nonetheless, we live here. We love here. We have friends and families here.
Sometimes we do it all under a great deal of stress.
I work with a lot of LGBT persons who have really good reasons for living in rural America. We also have a lot of pressure to leave. We don't get a lot of support. Far too often, the strongest reason to leave is to find a greater sense of community. Sometimes, that is the only reason - the driving reason - that makes them pack up the car and head to Denver or Seattle or Portland.
Creating community in a small town isn't always easy. There are a lot of obstacles to overcome - fear, shame, stigma - all the old tapes. We don't have the sheer force of numbers present in New York, L.A. or Chicago; it can be scary to stand up with a group of five or six in front of a school board or a state legislature. We don't have a large pool of organizers, and often the same people are the ones organizing every event. Burnout is common. Sometimes we just need some encouragement.
And that's where you come in.
The fight for LGBT Equality is not going to be won in the cities. It's already mostly won there. It's going to be won in small-town America where people need to see gay people as human, normal and neighbors- not just some characters on television. It's going to be won when the lady who runs the local Holiday Inn meets real live lesbians and finds them to be just like any other guests.
When the casual onlooker comes to the parade to see "freaks" and walks away disappointed when he sees families and friends laughing and cheering. When a bi kid is accepted instead of encouraged to "get off the fence". When locals see their gay neighbors in the light of day, paying our own way, as deserving of love, respect and commitment as anyone else. When drag shows and AIDS charity events are just as normal and accepted as karaoke, rodeo and the county fair. When our rural and small-town legislators, see us simply as citizens with the same rights as every other constituent. When kids don't say "gay" as an epithet of scorn and derision.
When we are seen as part of a larger community, that's when full equality will happen.
We need your encouragement to continue the struggle for that equality. It can be pretty lonely out here, sometimes. And I've come to believe that, as important as the work in the cities is, those who work to improve the lives of LGBT persons in rural America are the real heroes.
The drag queens in Butte or Bisbee may not be as glamorous as the Key West queens, but they're certainly just as brave - braver even. The HIV activist in Anchorage has just as many concerns as the activist in Atlanta. We want to know you have our backs when we're working to educate legislators and local politicians and school boards and businesses. We want to know that it's okay to stay here, even when it's hard.
We need you.
So look up a rural Pride event this summer. Go to it. Let us know you support us. Clap at the little parade, dance in a barn, make out with a hot cowboy, cowgirl and/or farmer, encourage a teen, hug a drag queen, listen to an elder, give money to a PFLAG chapter. Just go- we need you.
Because you need us, too.