Why You Should Attend A Rural Pride Event This Year

A rerun of last year’s column…

New York Pride?
Check.

San Diego, Seattle, Vancouver, Chicago, Atlanta, Miami, San Francisco, Boston, Portland, Kansas City, Dallas, L.A., Denver, Philly?
Double check.

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.

Click for schedule!

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 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 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 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 and loved 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 Bisby 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.

‘Montanans With HIV’ makes the paper

Map of USA with Montana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

The Great Falls Tribune yesterday did a featured story on HIV in Montana with several sidebars on testing and the classification of the disease from AIDS to HIV stages 1-3. Along with Trisha Gardner of the Cascade County Health Department, Dean Wells of the Yellowstone AIDS Project and an anonymous man living with HIV in Great Falls, I was interviewed for the piece, which, among other things, focused on the stigma of persons living with HIV in the state.

Excerpt:

On average, about 20 Montanans are diagnosed with the disease every year, said Trisha Gardner, community health education specialist and HIV case manager at the Cascade City-County Health Department.

“The number of newly diagnosed cases has held pretty steady every year,” Gardner said.

Overall, the number of people in Montana living with HIV is increasing because they are living longer, she said.

While that number is on the rise, most in Montana never publicly disclose they have HIV, Gardner said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “For the most part it’s kept a pretty private issue.”

Many who live with the disease in Montana fear losing their jobs, friends or family, and even becoming a social outcast.

“My view is that the stigma definitely reduced over the years, but it’s still there,” said Dean Wells, executive director of the Yellowstone AIDS Project in Billings. “Many of our clients live in fear of someone finding out about it.”

John, a pseudonym because he fears losing his livelihood, was diagnosed with HIV eight and a half years ago.

Trying to be honest and open after his diagnosis, John told his employer.

“It wasn’t a week later, they asked me to find another job,” he said.

Fear and stigma is still with us but there’s a lot of hope in current HIV treatment and prevention.
The key is to get tested. HIV unsuppressed in the body does damage- sometimes very significant damage- which  cannot be reversed by treatment.