D Gregory Smith

Why You Should Do A Rural Pride Event This Year

Filed By D Gregory Smith | May 27, 2011 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: Anchorage, Bisbee, bisexuals, Boise, Bozeman, cowgirls, Flagstaff, LGBT, little parades, Oklahoma City, out of the way places, Rural Pride, transgender, Wichita

New York Pride? Check.

MTPRIDE.pngSan 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.

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I'll be at the Bellingham, WA. pride festival on July 10th which is in the most northwestern county in WA. state, and is largely rural.

HURRAY for reclaiming public space!

I'll be at Pride in Madison!: http://www.wisconsincapitolpride.org/

Amen. I am currently attempting to start an LGBT group in Yuba-Sutter area (north of Sacramento) - a very anti-gay area in CA. I also hope to make a documentary about it. In 2003, I started the first visible LGBT group in the. In 2004, we pulled off a modest Pride Day. We were helped by our friends in Sacramento. However, to get the attention of Sacto, I worked hard to get it. It would be nice if the big city LGBT folk were more proactive in bettering LGBT community socially and politically in some of these more difficult areas. If you’d like to help me in my efforts, please send me a message. Thanks friends.

tobyhannabill | May 28, 2011 10:28 AM

In 2007 I left NYC to visit the idea of going back to school in Northeastern Pennsylvania. I very quickly realized that there was a lack of visibility for the GLBT population here. So I sought out others and helped organize the NEPA Pridefest 2008.
We expected 200 people, 600 showed up with protesters and the media was horrible, only focusing on the protests.
In 2009 we came back expecting 1,000. 1,500 showed up with the protesters but the media was really kind to us this time around. In 2010 we shot for 2,010 and by 3 pm we had 2,500 attendees and the protesters went home early.
Well it's now 2011 and on August 14th we will be hosting over 3,000 people with 2 rock groups in Kirby Park in Wilkes-Barre, PA.
What I learned is to never give up and that some journeys take longer than others. I will continue to do this as long as I am here.
The pay off was the thank you from the 14 year old kid that thanked me last year. He was being bullied in school and told me he has now found friends and feels that he is not alone.

Amazing stories- I know there are many more like them.
Keep on sharing!

The gay pride event I've heard of taking place in the smallest town to hold such an event might be Spencer, Indiana -- population about 500.

Spencer is one county over from Bloomington, an LGBT stronghold in the Hoosier State, so maybe this isn't quite as amazing as it sounds.

But it's still pretty amazing.

Greetings from a transguy in small town Ohio. Findlay, OH (population of about 50,000) is having a pride picnic at Litzenberg Park on June 25. Sure it's not a march and it's not in a busy location, but it's open to one and all. I went last year and had a great time. Findlay is a very conservative town, but it has a gay church. The Findlay Courier even did a big article about the church in time for the pride picnic. Some people thought I was nuts to transition in an even smaller town than Findlay, but it's worked out very well.

Love that! It's ALL pretty amazing...

I think this article raises a very important point about the state of LGBT organizing and points to a strategy for advancing the movement beyond the "we can't do anything until after more democrats get elected" roadblock we have. It's a simple fact that, for most of its history, the American LGBT liberation movement has been largely urban-oriented. There are historical reasons for this. Urban areas have historically brought large numbers of individuals together apart from the nuclear family and created spaces for people who are homosexually-oriented to establish communities and identities based on sexuality. The Second World War also brought many "gay" men together in port areas such as San Fransisco and Seattle, planting the seeds for future gayborhoods (see John d'Emilio, Capitalism and Gay Identity). The first organizations arose in urban metropolises (Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco). The Stonewall Rebellion, the Compton Cafeteria Riots, the trans riots in the Tenderloin District of SF: all urban areas. The fact that the queer political movement grew out of these urban areas meant that strategies, tactics, and even goals for queers were oriented by the spaces in which these movements arose. All well and good in 1969, but we're 42 years down the road now.

Today, with queers out in 99% of US counties, according to the US census, the orientation of the movement clearly does not reflect the needs and interests of the same "community" we all claim to be a part of. The unevenness and varied experience and organization across the national "community" is a huge problem. To cite an example, I'm from Bakersfield CA and I now live in Seattle WA. What we organize for and how we organize in each of these places is very different and mutually exclusive. I think that is a huge weakness. The movement as a whole is stronger the more connected, the more networked, the more linked all of our struggles are. I can imagine that for some folks out there, it makes no sense to fight for marriage equality in a town of 2500 people if being out at all invites threats of violence. Even within Seattle, the levels of experience and organizing can be varied. We have queer youth at some local campuses organizing for gender-neutral bathrooms and queer youth spaces and yet on other campuses, groups are just beginning to go from secret meetings to open, public meetings with political movie showings.

Gay Inc's orientation towards rural areas is horrible. I can tell you from my own experience and from word of mouth of former employees that my state's chapter of Gay Inc, Equal Rights Washington, sees the outlying areas as nothing more than voter registration slots and GayTMs. They care nothing for the needs of people in Spokane, Yakima, Aberdeen and only visit them when they need to collect funds. The LGBT movement in Washington scored a huge victory recently with the defeat of Referendum 71, which would have repealed the state's domestic partnership law. In its usual fashion, ERW came up with its plan for how to organize the No on 71 campaign with no community input, either in Seattle or in the rest of the state. Taking the entire No on 8 playbook from Equality California, they created a campaign based on what they, out of touch with the community and completely ignorant of how rural queers themselves can best organize, thought would work. In fact, their strategy (and Gay Inc's more broadly) is based less on what queers ourselves think than what some random person, who may be queer or may be a rabid homophone, says in polls. We defeated Referendum 71, not so much because of ERW's "brilliant strategy", I would argue, as through the simple awareness of the results and the shortcomings of the No on 8 campaign, as well as the activist air created by the National Equality March.

This brings me to another point about referendums and initiatives: they suck for us. That's why the right loves to push them. As a movement we are strongest in urban areas (where there are lots of us and allies) and weakest in rural areas. Check the votes in urban areas vs. rural areas on any state vote of gay rights.

I think that instead of the cities pushing our agenda and dragging rural areas along with us, we should be pushing our agenda AS WELL AS lending our support and solidarity to rural areas to help raise the level of their own organizing and advance goals that are particular to their conditions.

I won't pretend to know how this must be done, but I can offer some examples of what I, as an organizer, have done. Because Washington is so far away from DC, local activists organize a solidarity march here in Seattle to coincide with the National Equality March. I consciously played up the point that queers around the country were all organizing around the same issues. In publicity, I made sure to invite people from across Washington to come to Seattle to participate and if they couldn't, suggested they organize a rally or some other event in their community. We worked with folks at the other end of the state to organize solidarity rallies and spread word about what was happening around the country and state.

This does a lot to break through the sense of isolation and pessimism that smaller areas can feel or the feeling of being "left behind" by the big cities.

We tried to organize a conference in the spring after the March. Because it was intended to be a regional conference, I made sure to reach out to groups outside of your typical "gay centers" and the participation and response from places like Bozeman, Bellingham, and Eugene were huge compared to the interest from folks in Seattle. We ended up cancelling the conference because, while those non-Seattle folks were organizing, the folks in Seattle weren't. That's another point: today, more and more folks in rural areas want to push ahead (Robin McGehee of GetEqual is a CA Central Valley neighbor of mine) while the urban folks tend to be more complacent. Those with the most at stake tend to fight the hardest while those of us in more privileged places tend to grow complacent. It's time to start thinking of ourselves as a community and paying attention to all the diversity that includes because equalty for just a few of us will never be equality for all.