• Lily Caton

Being an LGBTQ+ Youth In Today's Rural America

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

Imagine yourself sitting inside a glass box. There are hundreds of people outside asking you questions all at once. These are people that you know well. You have grown up around them. They are people you have seen frequently; your local gas station clerk, a hairdresser you have gone to most of your life, even your next-door neighbor. They have always shown you love and compassion, you were like kin to them. They have been a sort of family to you without being related by blood. These questions are not typical friendly banter though, they are malicious questions of self-identity. They are questions fueled by hate and prejudice. These people are no longer your friends, they are your worst enemy. Why would the people who have shown you love and compassion for so long turn against you? What changed? Well for me and many other LGBTQ+ teens living in rural America, all we did to fuel the fire of hate was come out of the closet and accept ourselves.

Growing up, I lived in Aurora, Colorado. It was a beautiful and diverse place. I lived in harmony with many different cultures, ethnic groups, and sexualities. I lived in a Catholic home, but I had close friends of all religions, and although I lived in a stereotypical, white household with a straight mother and father, my mom’s best friend was a biracial, lesbian. Where I was living, I felt safe. I knew that even though I was young and not yet out as a lesbian when I was ready, I would have a support system, even though my parents were fairly homophobic and traditional.

I moved to rural Illinois when I turned eleven. It was a huge culture shock. I went from a diverse and predominantly non-white, liberal environment to an almost completely white, Christian, conservative community. There was only one Person Of Color in my entire school in my sixth-grade year. I was astounded by the racism, sexism, and homophobia that I saw being taught and practiced. Children as young as six and seven already knew their gender-specific roles in society. They already looked down on POC and the LGBTQ+ community. It saddened me deeply to know that this is what people learn from their teachers, directly or indirectly. If they did not learn it from their teachers they learned it from their parents. No one seemed to think that it might be wrong.

When I came out as a lesbian to my community, I was met with so much hate. People who I loved called me slurs. I got death threats. No one would help me. My neighbors still hate me because of who I love. My teachers still give me dirty looks when I walk the hallways holding hands with a girl, although they cannot stop it according to my school’s handbook. When I came out, I was dehumanized. My friends stopped talking to me. People from around town stopped listening to me. The sad thing is that over time, this has not changed for me. I have spoken to other LGBTQ+ youth in my town, area, and even some from other rural areas in different states, and this hate is a trend. My story is not the worst of it. Children are getting abused for the way they love. Children are getting physically and mentally tortured for their gender identity. The police of these small towns are looking past it because they feel the same way about queer people. This is a problem that no one cares enough to solve.

To other LGBTQ+ youth, living in a rural town or not, I want you to know that you will find the people who love you. Love is such a precious thing. I view love as a beautiful painting by the most famous painter. You would not want to hide that painting in a closet, you would want to show it off. You would be so proud of the painting that you would display it openly. Love is too beautiful to be hidden in a closet. That being said, you would not want to display that painting if you knew it was going to be unsafe, or you knew that it was going to get stolen. If you are unsafe, wait to come out until you are safe. You will see the day where your sexuality or gender identity will be celebrated, I promise. Keep yourself safe, but do not live your entire life in fear. Remember that you are loved.