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Queer in the country

Local farm hosts ‘Earth Gay’ to celebrate LGBTQ life in rural Vermont

Earth Gay, sponsored by Green Mountain Crossroads and OUT For Sustainability, takes place Sunday, May 3, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Circle Mountain Farm on Lee Road in Guilford. For directions to the farm, visit circlemountainfarm.weebly.com/contact-us.html. For free event registration, visit out4s.org/serve/earth-gay-vermont.

GUILFORD—On the first Sunday in May, Circle Mountain Farm on Lee Road will host Earth Gay, an event where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) volunteers “will get dirty and have fun planting organic potatoes,” according the event’s press release.

Earth Gay — an event celebrating the intersection of Queer activism and Earth-based consciousness — is a collaboration between the farm, Brattleboro’s Green Mountain Crossroads (GMC), and Seattle’s OUT For Sustainability (OUT4S).

GMC Executive Director HB Lozito, met Gerod Rody, OUT4S’s co-founder and president, through the Environmental Leadership Program, an organization that “support[s] visionary, action-oriented, and diverse leadership for a just and sustainable future” by working with “emerging environmental and social change leaders,” according to its mission statement.

A partnership between GMC and OUT4S was an easy fit. The latter “mobilizes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community for social and environmental action,” and GMC “supports rural LGBTQ communities in becoming stronger, healthier, and more visible."

Whereas previous Earth Gay events took place in Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, and other west-coast cities, Lozito says “this is the first time Earth Gay is happening in Vermont, on the East Coast,” and in a rural location.

Combating rural queer isolation

The following quote by Rachel Garringer appears on the website Country Queers: “There is a widely held belief in the U.S. that in order to be queer you have to live in a city. That being queer and being country cannot coexist. That the country is not safe for queer folks, and that those of us who live in rural areas will never be able to survive, much less thrive. That we are crazy for trying.”

“I grew up in rural, central-northern Maine,” Lozito says, noting pretty much all their friends “turned out Queer” as adults, but as a young person, Lozito felt alone in their identity.

“Isolation and invisibility are big issues” for LGBTQ-identified people no matter where they live, Lozito says. But, with the relatively low population-density in the country, many rural Queers might not realize “you don’t have to live in a city, [and] you don’t have to return to your hometowns” to find community, Lozito says, noting a Queer person’s “identity can emerge in a new small town."

Lozito reflects on numerous conversations with city friends who long to leave their urban homes, but are scared. “’Oh, are there rural Queer people?’ they ask,” Lozito says.

“I see conversations about rural Queer issues emerging in the national Queer organizing world,” Lozito says, noting a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture campaign called Rural Pride.

The USDA’s May 13, 2014 press release announcing the launch of the campaign says it seeks to “elevate and address the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people living in rural communities across the country."

Its goals are to “challenge the stereotype that LGBT people live only in metropolitan areas [and] ... raise awareness of the particular issues faced by LGBT rural communities including increased rates of economic insecurity, lack of family protections, lack of nondiscrimination protections, and the heightened challenges facing rural LGBT youth and rural LGBT people of color."

When they first discovered the USDA’s emerging recognition of rural Queers, Lozito was hoping the movement “could be led by rural Queers.” Instead, Lozito says, “they’re not listening to rural Queers,” and it seems like the USDA is simply “trying to get rural Queers to go to their programs."

Lozito worries Rural Pride is another “historically urban, mainstream gay, capitalist opportunity” for someone to make money off the Queer community.

There are a few other groups and projects focusing on — and led by — rural Queers, says Lozito. They mention SONG (Southerners On New Ground); Out Here, a full-length documentary film, directed by Jonah Mossberg, about Queer farmers across the country; and Country Queers, a multi-media oral history project documenting the diverse experiences of rural, small town, and country LGBTQ people.

But, other than these and GMC, Lozito says that’s about it for rural Queers.

In exploring ways for GMC to combine environmental sustainability and social change in Windham County for an Earth Gay event, “my idea was, in AmeriCorp-speak, to have a ’day of service,’” says Lozito, a former AmeriCorps volunteer.

“I wanted it to be close to Earth Day,” explains Lozito, “where LGBTQ folks could do stuff to celebrate our fabulous planet, where Queers could get out into the world.”

One of their initial projects was gathering volunteers to pull up Japanese knotweed, the invasive, prolific plant that disrupts the ecosystem in the area. But, the opportunity to work on an actual Queer-owned farm sounded like more fun, so Lozito reached out to Amy Frost and Justin Nye at Circle Mountain Farm.

“They said, ‘Totally!’” Lozito reports.

“We’re excited to host his event, open up our beautiful farm, and collaborate with other Queer and gender non-conforming people by farming together,” say Frost and Nye.

Spring is an especially active time for a farm in this part of the country, and having volunteers help with big projects such as planting potatoes, transplanting crops, and getting the land ready for planting, will make a huge difference for a little farm.

“There are things [Frost and Nye] can do with large numbers of people they can’t do with two or three people,” adds Lozito.

All are welcome

“The space is for everyone,” including “kids accompanied by an older person,” Lozito says.

You also do not have to bring your Queer cred. Lozito assures allies of any orientation they are welcome.

“We encourage registration,” for free, at out4s.org/serve/earth-gay-vermont, “so we can plan for enough water and snacks, but people don’t need to do that, you can just show up,” Lozito says.

Not all of the activities are high-impact. Lozito reminds attendees that the event is outdoors, and it’s farm work, but “come in knowing your own physical limits, and we’ll try to find things you can do.”

“You can just come and hang out,” Lozito explains. “It’s not a “you must work’ party. Come and be together and enjoy the day.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #303 (Wednesday, April 29, 2015). This story appeared on page A3.

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