The Smithsonian Channel’s new docu-series Boomtowners follows the community of Bakken in North Dakota where an oil boom has created a modern-day gold rush situation. People are flocking in from all over, looking for jobs and riches in an area that is now dangerously overpopulated and overpriced. Among those profiled in the show are Larysa Hurst and Haley Mindt, a lesbian couple who own a truck-driving business.
The show premiered last week but Larysa and Haley make their first appearance on the second episode, airing this Sunday. Here’s a clip:
Larysa and Haley live in Sidney, Montana, where Haley’s trucking services are high in demand. Larysa is the bookkeeper while Haley makes money by transporting oil and supplies in her rigs. (She said she’s heard “one too many” jokes about being a lesbian truck-driver.)
Two years ago, there were signs all over town asking for participants in the TV series, and Larysa sent in an email suggesting Haley. They’d only just started dating at the time, and no one in Sidney knew they were together.
“Everyone just really fell in love with Haley. It’s not every day you see a 25-year-old woman working in the oil field and starting her own trucking business,” Larysa said. She ended up coming out to her family and friends when filming first began.
“I know for Haley it was very very difficult when she first came out. We’re a very very small community and where Haley’s originally from—people didn’t want her to be in their church,” Larysa said. “She really struggled with it so by the time people found out Haley were together—people were more shocked that I was with Haley because I mean I have been engaged to a guy before, I dated mean and stuff and so nobody really knew how to take it. But we both grew up in this area and everybody knows us.”
“People have opinions, that’s for sure,” Haley said. “I’ve been on the CV…and I’ve had guys drive by and say I look like a 15-year-old boy. I’m like, ‘Dude, shut the hell up. You don’t know who I am. I own a trucking company, I’m a 25-year-old woman. So keep your damn mouth shut,'” Haley said. “They’re just quiet after that. You gotta fight back Put them in their place. It gets old, picking on people.”
Haley works alongside her dad’s company’s truck drivers so she says she’s never felt unsafe. “You just gotta hold your own and if you don’t, you let them keep doing it and you’re a pushover, you might have problems,” she said. “I don’t have any problems with that.”
Haley came out when she was 20 (“I was away at college and a little under the influence. I called my mom and said ‘I like making out with girls’ and I hung up on her. I didn’t want to her her response. She called me like five times to talk to me and I wouldn’t answer!”) and noticed a huge change in the way people treated her when she came back to the town she grew up in.
“When I moved back, I moved my girlfriend back with me at the time and the whole community in Lambert—everybody changed. They looked at [me] differently,” Haley said. Once the star of her high school basketball team, Haley was a popular person around town. Once she came back from college with a girlfriend, though, she was given dirty looks and the silent treatment. “Some people were saying bringing lesbians to a small town isn’t alright and people are just so empty and closed-minded in small communities. They’re so old-fashioned and it’s rather annoying.”
Even in Sidney, which is now a booming metropolis compared to Lambert with the oil rush, Haley said she still runs into homophobes.
“I still go to the bar to this day and people say very, very unnecessary rude things,” Haley said. “And that’s why I quit going to the bars because I’d fire back and if someone said something, I’d go right up to ’em and freak out on, and if it turned into a fight, I didn’t care. Larysa didn’t like that very much,” she said. “So I don’t do that anymore. I was a little wild when we first met!”
Larysa and Haley are engaged on the show, but ended up getting married when Montana legalized equal marriage this fall. They flew to Mexico with family and friends to celebrate, and say they have considered moving to a larger, more gay-friendly city but Sidney is home.
“I shouldn’t have to flee town because people are too closed-minded. This is where my company’s based out of, this is where I have to work. This is where the oil’s at, and where I make money with my trucks,” Haley said. “My family’s there, her family’s there for the most part. That’s just base right now.”
“We don’t really wanna go anywhere else,” Larysa agreed. “Moving somewhere else where it’s more accepting isn’t really that big of a deal to us.”
Larysa said she doesn’t think her family will watch Boomtowners but says “I don’t think my mom has anything to worry about.”
“It was cool to be able to tell our story, for the most part,” Haley said. “We had a lot of fun with the guys. The crew was really cool. It was a neat experience. I was driving my truck down the road and had Go-Pros attached to my windshield, a guy’s in the back recording, Go-Pros on the front of my truck, the back of my truck. They were always around.”
What will come across the most is the love Larysa and Haley have for one another, and the hard work they put into an industry that is male-dominated and very heterosexual.
“We want the same things as everybody else. Haley busts her butt every single day to provide for her family and she’ll do whatever it takes,” Larysa said. “One thing about working [here]– you’ll hear everybody say is it’s not for everybody. And it’s not a way to just make quick cash and go. This is a lifestyle. You have to have the right mindset and it’s just proving to the world that at any age, no matter who you are, if you have the drive and the willpower you can make it work. And I think Haley has done an excellent job at proving to everybody else, after all the times she’s struggled with people judging her and whatever else, she can make it and she can do whatever she sets her mind to.”
“Boomtowners” airs Sunday nights at 9pm on Smithsonian.