The U.S. Department of Agriculture is holding summits to promote the role of lesbian farmers as a part of its "Rural Pride" campaign.
The agency is working with singer and LGBT activist Cyndi Lauper for a "day of conversation" about the struggles of gay and transgender individuals in rural America. The agency says its wants to change the perception of what it means to be a farmer in America away from the "white, rich male."
The latest summit, first reported by the College Fix, will be held on August 18 at Drake University in Iowa.
"The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, in collaboration with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and The True Colors Fund, will engage with LGBT rural communities across the country to host the LGBT Rural Summit Series," the USDA said. "Each series will offer a unique opportunity for USDA and other federal agencies to share information relating to policies, programs, and services that exist to protect, promote and strengthen LGBT rural communities."
The all-day summit will teach lesbian and transgender hillbillies how to get subsidies from the government like rural housing loans and "community facility grants." Bullying will also be discussed.
The summit will talk about "what life is like for LGBT people in southern and rural American communities" and provide information on programs and services that "exist to strengthen our lives and the lives of our loved ones."
For those unaware of what "rural pride" means, the agency is happy to explain.
"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."
The agency said nearly 10 percent of all same-sex couples in the United States live in rural areas and are "actually more likely to be families of color and raising children."
"The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also issued a report finding that these couples are more likely to be low-income and are almost twice as likely to receive public assistance," the agency said. "The transgender community is particularly vulnerable."
The government said the LGBT community in rural America has "a number of particular needs and vulnerabilities that USDA is excited to target and address."
The purpose of summit is to "elevate the voices of the LGBT community living in rural America."
"#RuralPride is all about increasing visibility of rural LGBT people and families across the country," the USDA said.
The USDA has held at least 13 rural LGBT summits, and has teamed up with the True Colors Fund, a group co-founded by Lauper that works to end homelessness for LGBT teens.
"We applaud the USDA for celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people living in rural communities across the country with this important series of summits," Lauper said. "LGBT youth comprise up to 40 percent of our nation's homeless youth population. Those in rural communities face incredibly unique challenges and are such an important and often overlooked part of this conversation."
During a summit in Jackson, Mississippi last year, the head of the USDA’s rural pride summit Ashlee Davis said the agency is working very hard to change how people think about rural America, away from the "white, rich male."
Davis also said "gender identity" and "gender expression" are part of the USDA’s anti-discrimination policies, the Jackson Free Press reported.
"We are trying very hard to change people’s mindsets," Davis said. "When [people] hear ‘rural America,’ I don’t want them to think that means one type of person: a white, rich male."
Another summit last month in Central Valley California featured the Cultivating Change Foundation, whose co-founder stressed the importance of celebrating gay farmers.
"You do have gay farmers who are growing your food," said Marcus Hollan. "You have lesbian agricultural teachers in your high schools and your colleges teaching youth. It’s time we start recognizing them but also celebrating them."
Hollan said the summit is about sending young people the message of "I don’t have to leave the farm, I can still be a farmer and be my authentic self."