“We Need To Change That Idea That Rural Areas Are Unsafe Because It’s Not True.”

by rachel garringer

My name is Rachel and I’m from Jacox, West Virginia. I grew up on a 100-acre sheep farm about an hour outside of a town of about 3,000 people. I believe it’s the most beautiful spot on the planet.

I left for college, I went to college in Western Massachusetts, and I came out pretty much immediately after getting away from home. But all my peers were either from cities or booking it to New York or San Francisco as soon as we graduated. I ended up moving to Austin, Texas. I sort of bought into this commonly held belief that rural places aren’t safe or welcoming for queer folks and I felt like I couldn’t move home even though I was achingly homesick for the mountains for pretty much 10 years.

I have a really vivid memory of being on the bus. I had a 4-hour a day bus ride and a lot of horrible conversations happened on the bus and one of those was a student behind me in the seat said, “We should put all the faggots on an island and drop a bomb on them.”

And I remember everyone on the bus laughing and I remember just feeling nauseous. I wasn’t out to myself as queer but I had this, “I have to leave, I have to go far away, I have to get out.” And I wanted to in high school, I wanted to leave. I tried everything I could to get out of here before I was a senior and I did, I left for my senior year. I finally did move home in 2011 and I was really worried about it, I definitely didn’t know what it was going to be like, I felt like I was going to be incredibly isolated, maybe not have community, would I ever be able to date here, what’s it like to be here full-time. And I’ve largely found that there are rural queer folks all over the place who are not only surviving but thriving either in the communities where they came from or into chosen communities they’ve moved to, and I think there are unique challenges to being queer in rural places but I also feel like there are really unique joys to it. And I think for some queer folks who grow up in rural places, they care just as much or more about, for example, the mountains where they were raised, or the plains or whatever landscape it was or whatever traditions and histories around farming or different things that are happening in rural places, that as they do about their queerness.

So for me, moving home I found a lot of that within a sort of central Appalachian youth network and found a lot of young people who are sort of fighting that urge of the “brain drain” that happens a lot in Appalachia that sort of just out migration of young people to try to find more opportunities. So I found a network of young people who are really committed to staying and committed to working on what we think needs to change in these mountains, a lot of whom are queer. so we’ve had a lot of conversations about what it’s like to be queer in the mountains, what it’s like coming back to a town where everybody knows you and trying to kind of bring your whole self into that space.

I think it’s really important for young queer folks who come from rural areas to know that staying is an option. Sometimes I think leaving is really important if you can, but some young people don’t have the choice to leave. What are they supposed to do if they live in a place that is incredibly isolating as a queer person, where they never see representations of people in media who are queer like them and super proud to be West Virginian like them? Where are they supposed to find examples of themselves? And I think that actually there are all sorts of rural queer folks who have amazing different types of experiences, whether positive and negative, incredibly diverse queer people all over the United States who are choosing to stay or don’t have the option to leave. And I think our stories really need to be told, I think our faces need to be seen, I think we need to be visible, I think we need to not be silent anymore, so that young people know it’s fine if they want to stay, if they’re queer and maybe want to go to a Pride March sometime, but really just want to take over the family farm.

I had a 16-year-old kid from Canada write me an email last week saying that she lives with both parents who are pastors, her grandmother who makes homophobic comments all the time, but that she loves where she lives, that she cares so much about this rural place where she’s from, and that reading these stories on the Country Queers website makes her feel like she can stay, that she can be queer and she can have the land that she loves so much. And I think more stories like this are really important for queer folks in rural places and also in cities. I think we need to change that idea that rural areas are unsafe because it’s not true.



  1. I find your story excellent, but your use of the word Queer to describe your sexuality, really offensive.

    Maybe its a American cultural attitude approach, but I do not find it a suitable noun to describe yourself.

    Please United States of America.

    Stop using the word Queer as a metaphor for your sexuality, to describe yourself as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or intersex.

    Please stop using this the word Queer, it devalues a person it makes them less of a human being.

    Again your story archive is excellent.

    No one may read this, but at least I am trying to get my point across.

    Please America stop using the word Queer to describe your sexuality.

    As a minority community, which I am closeted member of I find this word cringe worthy.

    Please people stop using the word Queer.

    You are better than that surely, as a nation.

    I find this word really offensive, we are smarter if not equal to heterosexual people.
    On a personal level, I am equal to any straight man.

    Nobody may read this, but at least I am trying to give feedback.

    • Queer is an academic word and deeply rooted in theory. Until the theory is understood you may not be able to understand the use of the word. It is not pejorative.

    • The term queer is used as an umbrella term for sexual/gender minorities, and as someone who does not quite identify as straight, gay, trans, cis, bi, intersex, pansexual, asexual, etc. the term is useful for my own identity.

      I identify as queer, and I ask you to please not tell people how to self-label. There is no shame, devaluing, or hurt in that term when I use it for myself. I am proudly queer, happily different, and in charge of my own identity. I am confident in my intelligence, aptitude, and humanity.

      Your post hurts because it seems to imply that I should be ashamed, that queer is exclusively a pejorative term. Well it is not, and I will not be. It may have roots as a slur, but it can be reclaimed for our own use, to celebrate our difference from oppressive norms. To tell someone how to identify themselves is to oppress their expressions of gender and sexuality, and that is just horrid.

  2. My mistake the word QUEER is an adjective.

    Apparently its a word that members of the LGBTI like to use.

    Why cant it change, please, say the word to yourself a few times.

    Maybe young gay teens may reconsider its use.

    Please people just reflect on the word a few times.

    Goodnight all, its 13 minutes past 10 in Europe.

  3. Just one more point.

    The use of the word QUEER, really upsets me.

    I live in a rural area, you would need a GPS tracking satellite to find it.

    Although its really beautiful, its not New York City.

    That,s all. Goodnight LGBTI community.

    There is so many letters nowdays, i need a rogers thesaurus to decifer them.

  4. I am as gay as anyone could be, married to a man, out, open and glad to be me. I’m here, I’m gay, (in a VERY rural area where everyone knows everything about everyone else), we’re used to it. Most of the straight guys in town would defend us to the death! And I’m not a bit queer! Great article, though! :-)

  5. Pingback: Rachel Garringer Speaks | : : Southern Strategies : :

  6. Bill in Oakland, CA


    About 40 years ago when I first started getting involved as a “young, gay activist” on a college campus, I, too, found the word bothersome since it had such negative connotations. As it was explained to me by a lesbian I much admired, by claiming the word, using it to refer to ourselves, the word loses its power to be negative. If someone calls you queer and you don’t find it offensive, it loses the power to hurt. It becomes a case of someone calling you queer and you responding that they are straight. So what? Who cares? It just becomes another word, nothing more.
    Hopefully that give a little insight into why the GLBTI uses the word.

    • Bill I respect the explanation you are giving, from your own experience, but I have encountered severe homophobia, the word Queer, can be used as a weapon of hatred, towards members of the (LGBTI) community.

      But I still do not agree with you.

      Every person around the world has a different experience.

      It really depends on a person,s geographical location.

      I still do not agree with it’s use, but i respect your choice to use the word.

  7. This past September I resigned from my job and embarked on a journey to leave my rural life in Jamaica to pursue my life as an out of the closet gay man in the US. I have lived for 24 years in my rural community (I am now 31) and in 2013 I had just reached a breaking point, the isolation was killing. I felt like I was suffocating and not being able to truly express this secret I have hidden for so long. In March of this year, I got in touch with an LGBT activist who fled Jamaica many years ago, I spoke to him about my wish to come to the US and file for asylum. Yes, I did experience emotional abuse in my early years growing, especially in high school. My fears were exacerbated by the fact that I am a grown man in my community, single, never seen with a woman, don’t have children just not meeting the traditional standards of that heteronormative construct.

    So I left, but it turned out to be the worst mistake. I ended up in the company of a guy (the LGBT activist) that I thought could help me, only to find out he only wanted to make sexual advances and had me engage in sexual activity in his home. One situation that ended up pushing me to leave and come back home, he forced me into having unprotected sex with a guy he invited into his home from a hookup site. When I explained to him I did not like what I did and would like to find out about PEP he went on the offensive claiming I need to deal with that my self.

    I ended up coming home, back home living with my mother, unemployed, worst off. It was the worst decision and I let my desire to be who I really wanted to be get the better of me. Yes, I had reached that stage in my life where I was looking for love and companionship, to truly express this part of me in peace and safety. Turns out that I should have just looked in the mirror and said it to myself without embarking on what was a dangerous journey to express myself.

    Now I look at it, I think I am living in rural Jamaica for a reason that even I can’t explain. If given another chance to leave under better circumstances, would I? I don’t think so.

    • Paul I feel bad for you, but you made the right decision, but unfortunately you ending up meeting the wrong person. You will eventually meet the right life partner, you have to believe it, I do. Hope is all you need, that someday your life will change and you will meet someone who truly loves you, for who you are I believe this, no matter what age you are, 31 is still very young.

      At least you had the street smarts to know about post exposure prophylaxis treatment for possible exposure to Human Immunodeficiency Virus, due to unprotected sex. The drugs available in North America and Europe are excellent today.

      People can contract Acquired Immunity Diagnosis Syndrome and can live an excellent quality of life, without interference in the duration of their lives.

      Hope you find the life you are looking for.

  8. People in the large cities often have no idea how much work needs to be done in the rest of the world as far as gay rights.

    I live in a small town. I have always been open about being gay. But many of the gay people here are closeted, or at least reticent to be open about their lives.

    This is changing drastically thought since the invention of the Iphone. Young people just don’t care that much about who’s gay, because to the it’s normal.

    I love being in nature. I love the quiet of a small town. But it can be a challenge because of the social isolation. But I am finding that if you just stay and make your social life happen, people around you are just waiting for the opportunity to make these changes.

    We now have LGBT groups at the campus and the high school. There are LGBT movies, plays, musical events and other activities going on.

    The whole idea that because I am gay I MUST live in the city bothers me. If I am truly out of the closet, then I will live wherever the hell I want. And then make the changes happen to make my life better.

    Sometimes the best conversations happen not by protesting, (which I support, ) but by talking to someone who knows you live in the same small town and knows you are a respectable person. When people have to live with you every day, it can change their minds about homosexuality.

    I still find the religious intolerance in small towns to be horrible, but that too is changing. (But you can find this in cities too.) The churches are not as popular as they once were, and for that very reason. People don’t want that intolerance in their lives. It hinders their opportunities in life. They don’t want to submit to dogmatic authority because that lessens their chances for education and economic advancement.

    Great video. Thanks for saying this, it needs to be discussed.

    Great video.

  9. This was touching. Being from a rural community myself I can relate. I also tend to do everything I can to try to escape from this everyday mundane prison where unemployment, negative attitudes, no goals and nothing to look forward to equals life.

    I had the opportunity to live in a big city and absolutely loved every minute of it. Everyday was a brand new day. It was fresh and new and exciting and unpredictable. You never knew what to expect. You meet so many amazing people and are afforded so much amazing opportunity that was never possible growing up in the middle of nowhere.

    That’s just something that you could never replicate in a rural town where nothing ever changes. Same crap, different day is the norm and it isn’t uncommon to hear people use that phrase. Living in a rural community isn’t for everyone.

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