Solidarity with LGBTQ+ Students in Rural Communities
For any student or educator who has experienced rural, urban, and suburban school environments, they know that there are unique challenges that LGBTQ+ students might face depending on their school’s location. Check out what two of GLSEN’s 2022-23 National Student Council members had to say about rural LGBTQ+ experiences and how other students and adults can support them.
November 7–11th marks GLSEN’s 2022 National Solidarity Week! Solidarity Week is a week meant to celebrate and learn about how to be a good ally and having solidarity across identities. Solidarity won’t always look the same in every space. Geographical location, culture, and social identities will all impact how your allyship may look. Many will tell you that the general rule of thumb for being a good LGBTQ+ ally is “use people’s names and pronouns,” or “communicate that you are a safe person” but having solidarity is a bit more complicated than that, especially in rural and conservative areas.
Let’s first examine using a person’s correct name and pronouns. While an individual’s identity ought to be respected, the environment around that person may influence who they want their identity to be known to and how they want to go about sharing that information. If you live in an unaccepting environment, it is important to be aware of these circumstances and ask the person where and with whom you can use their name and pronouns and what they would like you to use instead in places that it may be unsafe. It can feel very suffocating to live in an unaccepting environment in a rural town where everyone knows everyone. In these spaces information spreads fast and it’s vital that LGBTQ+ people can control the narrative about their own identities.
One of the most devastating aspects of being LGBTQ+ in rural towns is the lack of resources. While you cannot immediately, radically change an entire community to develop acceptance and resources, one of the greatest resources is safe spaces and people to talk to. Below are a few ways that I recommend for being in greater solidarity with LGBTQ+ students in rural areas:
- Make it known: One way to make your allyship clear is hanging up posters or putting stickers up in your spaces (offices, classroom, inside home, etc).
- Correct others: Work towards being educated about names, pronouns, terminology, and concepts, and kindly correcting others who are not. People who are empowered by their community to learn harmful language often repeat that language, which can be very difficult for LGBTQ+ people. It is important that allies correct gently, but do correct, as to not put the burden onto LGBTQ+ people.
- Listen and learn: When there is not exposure to diversity, many default all of their questions to the only LGBTQ+ people they know, which can be very exhausting. Do not talk over LGBTQ+ people on LGBTQ+ issues but when you can help educate, you should always do so. Being aware of where and what resources are available in your community can help students immensely in their journey.
Overall, the best thing that you can do to help LGBTQ+ people in your community, no matter how big or small, conservative or liberal, urban or rural, is to try and genuinely care for people. In communities where unfortunately, people seldom even get the respect of trying, showing you care can make a difference larger than you may even be able to comprehend. Happy Solidarity Week.
By Mia Moeller
How can we stand in solidarity with each other? What are the root issues which make it difficult to accept and support one another? Why is it that in rural towns, when someone comes out, they are either met with overwhelming support, or overwhelming disapproval- and there seems to be no in between? Although it would be amazing if the majority of LGBTQIA+ youth in rural areas were met with overwhelming support, the reality is that too many are met with overwhelming disapproval.
In such a tight-knit, small community, most people tend to have similar viewpoints on topics. This is one of the factors that contributes to homophobia thriving in many rural areas. Oftentimes, there’s a lack of diversity and experiences, which can create a discriminatory enviroment for people who are “different.” On the contrary, if people in a rural community are accepting of LGBTQIA+ people, there tends to be a lot of support, because the community is so close and share the same values of inclusivity. However, the latter can seldom come by.
In order to change this dynamic, exposure to diversity is necessary. A few things that can help include LGBTQIA+ inclusive education, having a GSA at school, and having LGBTQIA+ affirming resources readily available. Through implementing inclusive education, LGBTQIA+ topics will become less stigmatized. Through having a GSA, a safe space is created for all students. Through having resources readily available, students can take advantage of them to educate themselves or to find community. For many students, these things are pivotal if they have access to them, because only one in three LGBTQIA+ youth have an affirming home, according to The Trevor Project National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health 2021. When a person doesn’t feel accepted in their home, they will look for acceptance and community elsewhere, but in many rural areas, it’s a lot harder to find. However, implementing resources in your area increases the likelihood that people will change their viewpoints and become more accepting of LGBTQIA+ identifying people.
The same dynamics that exist in rural communities are also reflected in rural schools. Another key issue within rural communities that results in many LGBTQIA+ students feeling excluded is the homophobic language they hear from peers. When homophobic slurs are used, or when “gay” is used with a negative connotation, it makes it clear that those people don’t accept LGBTQIA+ people. This makes it difficult for LGBTQIA+ students to learn because they feel like they’re in an unsafe environment. In many schools as well, students find that their reporting system for bullying or harassment is flawed. In many cases, even when discrimination is reported, there isn’t adequate action that is taken to improve the environment that enabled the discrimination to occur. This is why solidarity is so important- by taking action to spread resources in your area, you will be laying the foundation of solidarity in your community. Coming together and rallying for change is the only time when we will see change take place. In order to create unified, inclusive communities in rural areas, a lot of work needs to be done. It may be a slow process at times, but it’s so important to keep challenging people’s viewpoints and fighting for what you believe in.
By Anna Bachenberg