If you haven’t experienced rural living in your lifetime, I suppose it’s easy to adopt the many stereotypes that are often associated with life in a small town. If you are queer in a small town, you have probably grown up thinking the big city is where it’s at, Big Gay Mecca if you will. While there may be a level of justification to the gay fear of small towns, a new book by professor, writer and queer activist Mary Gray hopes to inspire and inform skeptics about the plight of LGBTQ youth in rural communities.
Gray, an out lesbian who hails from a small town in California, worked as a queer youth activist in the 90s, and is currently a professor at Indiana State University in Bloomington. Her activist work, including lobbying for harassment protection for queer youth in the California public schools, led her to write a book about the needs of LGBTQ youth in rural areas, titled Out In The Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America.
The book challenges the theory that city life is the only life for gay citizens, and hopes to educate readers about ways they can get involved with other queer activists in nearby towns and make a difference.
“We need to re-examine our assumption that rural places are endemically hostile to queer folks,” Gray told WireTap. “The frequency of hate crimes in cities should signal to us that rural and urban spaces are differently [but] not more or less violent to queer people. Without rural communities and their LGBTQ constituents, national and statewide advocacy groups will be unable to advance basic civil rights issues on a national scale.”
Moira/Max from “The L Word” was from small town, Illinois
Interviewer Mandy Van Deven, a big fan of Gray’s book, admitted in a blog post for Bitch that growing up in Athens, Georgia made her long for city life, but when she moved she realized it “was not the activist paradise I’d imagined it would be.”
Gray, a self-proclaimed “political junkie” who specializes in the “relationship between media and queer social action,” picked a good time to write this book. As gays struggle for basic equal rights that should be granted to every citizen in this country, the queer community and our allies in every city and small town should be working toward small goals that can make a big difference overall.
On her blog, Gray wrote:
While we’ve attended to Harvey Milk’s credo “move to the nearest city” we haven’t given as much attention to the importance of Milk’s other political legacy: a deep commitment to finding common cause and prioritizing coalitions to advance an issue that encompasses — rather than narrowly targets — our own.
A scene from “Boys Don’t Cry”
As a lifelong Chicagoan, I understand the value in having a place to call home. Gray’s book hopes to remind folks that there are ways to make a difference in the small towns that they love—and that no one should be forced or expected to flee because of their sexual orientation.
For more on Gray’s book, and to share your story about queer life in rural America, visit the author’s blog, Queer Country.
What are your thoughts about queer visibility in rural America?