Today I’m talking about diversity here at The Hills, and specifically LGBTQ+ representation and support in rural areas and industries.
Why? Well, let me present you with some facts. In 2017, the Office for National Statistics mapped out the UK’s gay, lesbian and bisexual population for the first time, and the results confirmed some of my expectations. 6 out of 10 of the local authorities with the highest percentage of lesbian, gay and bisexual population are in London, with other hotspots in urban Manchester and Cardiff.
However, in rural North Yorkshire, only 0.4% of people stated that they identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual, “with a lower-end range as low as one in 1,000 people describing themselves to researchers as such”, the Guardian reported. For other counties, such as Buckinghamshire and Suffolk, there was too little data available to produce meaningful estimates.
With a couple of surprising exceptions - the relatively high proportion of gay people in rural Devon, for example - the results were in line with many stereotypes. Gay people are more likely to live in urban areas, and rural areas are less diverse according to several metrics: age, race as well as sexuality. Young people are more likely to identify as gay and, given the more limited opportunities to meet other gay people in the countryside, many head to the city to establish themselves personally and professionally.
An article in Farmers Weekly from 2017 comments on the “isolation” that many country-dwelling LGBTQ individuals experience, with a lack of good broadband services compounding this loneliness in more remote areas. But are there more sinister reasons behind this exodus? It’s difficult to believe that in 2018 homophobic attitudes still persist in some pockets of society, but they do - and the countryside is no exception.
Rural Britain is at a crossroads. As we face Brexit, uncertainty reigns, and many rural enterprises and traditional farm businesses are unsure about what their future will look like. Our mission here at The Hills is to sing the praises of living and working rurally, and rural areas and industries need young blood. For the countryside to retain and attract the brightest and the best minds, it needs to be a welcoming place for everyone.
As such, I was delighted to come across Agrespect recently - a global rural LGBTQ+ network founded in Britain by a group of gay farmers. Their slogan is ‘We believe people live their best lives when they live authentically’ and the organisation promotes messages of inclusivity and celebration. In the few short months since it was established, Agrespect has won the support of huge commercial partners such as Harper Adams University, Barclays, McDonalds and Massey Ferguson, and Michael Gove signed the Agrespect pledge - ‘We stand against prejudice and support rural LGBTQ+ diversity, inclusion and enablement’ - on behalf of Defra in September this year.
And the main tool Agrespect uses to support the rural LGBTQ+ community? Stories. Stories and first-hand experiences of living, working and coming out in the countryside as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans or queer. Stories that are honest, encouraging and heart-warming. Stories that show individuals that living your best, most authentic life can be compatible with living rurally. Stories that build community. And that’s a message The Hills can really get behind.
Want to find out more? Check out the Agrespect website or their instagram/twitter handles @weareagrespect.