Sunday, September 1, 2019

Farm Living; Is It the Life for Us?

While my sixth novel Now I'm Here focuses on Joshua, a piano-playing prodigy and Queen fan, it also includes almost equal focus on his boyfriend David who is raised on a farm in southern Ohio in the 1970s to 1980s. While the town of Serene is fictional in my book, it's based on my own farming experience, and that of real gay farmers.

This Labor Day weekend, I'm thinking about the joys and struggles of contemporary LGBT people in rural areas, and the current insane political environment's effect on their livelihood.

According to a recent USA Today feature, nearly 4 million LGBT people live on U.S. farms and rural communities. This and other recent articles reflect the finding of a groundbreaking study by the Movement Advancement Project, Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America.

“The report by the Movement Advancement Project puts a spotlight for the first time on a sizable segment of the 19 million LGBTQ people in the USA – or 4.5% of all adults and 10% of youths – who don’t congregate on the coasts or in major cities.

“Rarely do we see images of LGBTQ people in rural areas, and when we do, they are portrayed as the only one there and stick out like a sore thumb or a target of violence,” said Logan Casey, author of the report by MAP, a think tank that researches LGBTQ issues. “It’s a stereotype that’s not the case.”

The report's opening statements include this focus: “Among other challenges, rural LGBT people are less likely to have explicit nondiscrimination protections, are more likely to live in areas with religious exemption laws that may allow service providers to discriminate, and have fewer alternatives when facing discrimination, as detailed in a new report released today. Although LGBT people in rural areas face many of the same challenges as their neighbors, they experience different consequences, and the many structural challenges of living in rural communities can often amplify LGBT people’s experiences of both acceptance and rejection.”

You can read and download the report here.

Most fictional and nonfiction media stories continue to focus on urban LGBT people. This is despite the fact that more than half – or 55% – of U.S. LGBTQ people live in the Midwest or the South, regions populated by rural communities. The South takes the biggest draw, the MAP report shows. The USA Today article includes interviews with lesbians and trans people as well, like Wynston Sanders, who “knows the bumps along the road to equality in the South firsthand.”

“It’s happening all over in Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina,” he said. “We are making the South a new place where LGBTQ people can thrive. When people look at you as a person – besides your LGBTQ status – that’s what it’s about.”

A quick glance at the Instagram results for #gayfarmers shows some happy people living successful rural lives, raising livestock and produce.

But it's not all bucolic and happy. This article focuses on an anti-gay neighbors harassing and shooting at a gay couple in rural Ohio.

“We heard the bullets going by our head,” said Nathan Paris. “It was terrifying. We didn't know what to do. We jumped down on the ground. We were hiding. We called the police as soon as it happened.”

I wrote of a similar situation in Now I'm Here, because such events do happen.

But even LGBTQ people of color are finding happiness in rural areas, according to this feature in The Advocate.

“The reality is that millions of people of color — including Black, Latinx, Native, Asian, Middle Eastern, and multiracial people — live in rural United States, and many of them are LGBTQ.”

“Unfortunately, as the report also shows, rural areas are far less likely to have vital nondiscrimination protections across a variety of areas of life, including health care, employment, housing, public places and services, education, lending, and more. This means that the millions of people of color, LGBTQ/SGL people, and people living with HIV in rural areas are left at heightened risk of discrimination, and are less able to respond to its harmful, sometimes even life-threatening effects”

That sad fact was even more truthful during the time when I set my novel, Now I'm Here. You'll have to read it to see how my characters endured.

Trump dumps farmers
On the current political and economic side, farmers who voted for Trump have found themselves disappointed and betrayed.

CNN reports that Trump's China trade war is America's farmers are on the losing end of the stick," said one farmer. Bankruptcies have doubled in the past few years.

Even farmers in Ohio, where I grew up, are getting wise to Trump's lies and failing trade policy, as written in this Columbus Dispatch opinion column.

Business Insider tells of farmers and truckers, upon whom farms depend for transporting their produce and livestock, who have soured on Republican duplicity.

He has not affected our business in a positive way, one truck driver, who asked for anonymity to protect their small business, "He's killing our business. If consumers aren't buying, then there is no demand. This really isn't about my political leanings — it's pure business.

#gayfarmers on Instagram
Unfortunately, it is about political 'leanings.' Voting for a swindling serial liar with no concern for rural businesses has led to a disastrous situation, similar to the 1980s farm crisis. I dramatized that a bit in Now I'm Here, where, in 1986, farmer David grumbles as they watch the telecast of the historic Farm Aid concert. 

How's any of that gonna help us? he wonders.

In Wisconsin, the center of our nation's dairy farms, economic woes are forcing closure of entire farms, according to the New York Times.

The milk makers who gave the state its moniker are vanishing, falling prey to a variety of impediments, including President Trump and his global trade war.

Over the past two years, nearly 1,200 of the state’s dairy farms have stopped milking cows and so far this year, another 212 have disappeared, with many shifting production to beef or vegetables. The total number of herds in Wisconsin is now below 8,000 — about half as many as 15 years ago. In 2018, 49 Wisconsin farms filed for bankruptcy — the highest of any state in the country, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Despite billions on bailouts, farms are suffering, according to Bloomberg:

Trump’s budget cuts would lower federal subsidies for crop insurance and small growers. The spending plan for 2020 he submitted for Congress would reduce subsidies for crop insurance premiums to 48 percent from 62 percent and limit current subsidies for growers who make less than $500,000 annually.

Even prior to the trade disputes, U.S. producers were struggling with lower commodity prices. The financial impact has spread across rural America as farmers cut back on purchases from local tractor dealers and other suppliers.

Newsweek published a feature about farmers who've vowed not to again vote for Trump, who appears to lack a basic understanding of how tariffs actually work, insisting that China is paying the additional taxes. Economists and even current and former members of his administration have pointed out that U.S. businesses and consumers actually pay the tariffs the president has implemented. Although China may face economic fallout from its products being made significantly more expensive in the U.S. market, and therefore less competitive, the Chinese do not pay the tariffs.

And this from Forbes: American farmers—who were a key demographic in electing Trump—are increasingly losing confidence in the administration as the agriculture industry bears the brunt of the tariffs.

From CNBC: Trump is ruining our markets.

“It’s really, really getting bad out here,” Bob Kuylen, a farmer of 35 years in North Dakota, told CNBC. “There’s no incentive to keep farming, except that I’ve invested everything I have in farming, and it’s hard to walk away.”

So, what does the future hold? More foreign-owned farms, as NPR reports. American soil is being bought up by non-U.S. billionaires, which seems to all be part of a treacherous scheme the coincides with Trump's many other offenses.

Angela Huffman is a sixth-generation farmer in Wyandot County, which, along with Paulding County, has more than 41,000 acres of foreign-owned farmland. Huffman says she's worried about the effects of foreign land ownership on her rural community — which she describes as similar to Walmart pushing local businesses out of the market.

Right out my back door here, Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, the largest pork producer in the world, has recently bought out a couple grain elevators, Huffman says, pointing across the field behind her house, "basically extracting the wealth out of the community.

To scrape the barrel of the worst of Republican apathy toward farmers' plight, let's quote ShareBlue's article which shares the snide opinions of sociopath and general creep,  Arkansas GOP Senator Tom Cotten, who 'uses soldiers as political props, and trivializes the suffering of farmers' when he claimed that farmers look at the sacrifices soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines make around the world, and they're willing to bear some of the sacrifices in the short term, to hopefully in the long term ensure our long-term prosperity and security.” Queen say what?

Crop rotation 
So, what are the options? Civil Eats shares Democratic candidates' plans for helping rural communities and businesses, along with Republican bloviating. You can check out their multiple and differing goals. rhetoric? Perhaps, but at this point, anything would be better than what's going on now.

I can't leave you with so much doom and gloom, however. Back in Ohio, despite possible financial woes, one young farm boy provides a ray of hope. 

As USA Today reports, Diesel Pippert, a seventh grader from Huron County, Ohio, will donate every penny of his auction proceeds to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.  One of his hogs at an Ohio livestock auction fetched $15,000. This  after heard about some other young farm boys in Medina who raised $11,000 auctioning of their own pig.

“Our hearts are full of joy,” said the boy's mother. “He’s a remarkable young man.”

 Read more about my own remarkable farm boy, David Koenig, in Now I'm Here.

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