Humans of Agriculture-Eileen’s Story.

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This week’s Humans of Agriculture posts are sponsored by Cargill. I thank them for their support of my blog and their work towards diversity in the workplace. To read more about Cargill’s commitment to diversity check out their website HERE.

“I love my job and love that I get to help farmers make the best quality milk they can, I like that I get to do something different every day and that I don’t work in a cubicle somewhere.

Generally, I feel accepted by the ag community. I hesitate because I think a lot of people don’t know in the first place. I’ve not been quiet about it on social media or in person, but I also don’t take out ads in Hoard’s Dairyman about being queer. People that know me well have generally been cool about it, and I will admit some have been way more positive and accepting than I thought they would be!

But at work, of the 70-ish producers that I work with, probably only two or three know that I’m married, and only a handful more know that I’m queer at all.  To put it bluntly, it is not safe for me to be out to everyone. I am a young woman working by myself in rural areas – I can never predict how someone would react to learning that I’m a queer woman married to another woman, and so often it’s safer to not say anything. If it comes up, I don’t lie, but it’s not information that I volunteer.

Some of you will read that response and say “Good, it doesn’t matter anyway, it’s none of my business what her sexuality is.” You’re right, to a point – but consider how much it sucks to have to hide something really important to you. I couldn’t tell some of my farmers – people that I work with on a weekly basis, a lot of the time – that I was taking time off work for my wedding, because I had no idea how they would react. Would they want me to work with them anymore? Would they still look me in the eye? Would they tell me to get the hell off their farm and not come back? Would it be even worse than that? I have no way of knowing. Imagine not being able to tell your friends or family or coworkers about your spouse because you’re afraid they will hate you or think that you’re going to hell because your spouse is the same gender as you. It’s not about whether or not it’s your business to know – it’s about having to hide important parts of my life from people that I work with because they might not want to work with me anymore.

I take my wedding band off before I go on some of my farms. I hate doing it, I hate hiding it, but right now it is not safe for me to be out to everyone.

As it turns out, there are a lot of LGBTQ+ people in agriculture – we just all have to be pretty quiet about it, for fear of backlash. I have made a lot of new friends and met other LGBTQ+ farmers. A lot of them can’t risk coming out because they might lose their jobs or alienate their family.

It brings me a lot of happiness knowing that by being out as queer, I am helping pave the way for others like me. I have heard from a lot of people that they have gotten courage from seeing me be out and successful. I have heard from some who will never be able to come out publicly but who live vicariously through me in that way. I know that there were other LGBT people in agriculture who made it safer for me to be who I am, authentically, and I really like knowing that I am helping make it just a little easier for someone else.

My sexuality isn’t something that I should have to hide in order to make other people feel comfortable. There is a general feeling that “it doesn’t matter” or that “it’s none of anyone’s business who you sleep with,” but that’s dehumanizing. Of course it’s important. It’s important to me, it’s important to who I am. Imagine how you would feel if you couldn’t tell your boss about you and your spouse’s weekend trip because he doesn’t know you’re married, because you can’t tell him because he might fire you for it. That is a REAL RISK.

Ohio is among many states that don’t yet have LGBTQ+ people as a protected class – I could be fired from my job for no other reason than because I am queer. Not because I’m bad at my job or did something wrong, but because someone just didn’t like that part of me. I could get kicked out of my apartment lease or be denied healthcare because of part of my identity that I can’t change – and I’d have no legal recourse. If you think my identity doesn’t matter outside of my bedroom, you’re dead wrong. It matters because some people would rather I was dead than gay. It matters because there are people everywhere – probably someone you know – who can’t tell anyone they’re gay because they risk losing their job, their housing, their access to healthcare. There are people disowned by their parents, murdered by strangers, hurt by loved ones over their identities – and nobody should ever have to fear suffering in that way.

If this sounds a little too real for you, and it makes you feel uncomfortable inside – good. It should. There have been at least 22 transgender people murdered in the US since the start of 2018. That number goes up if you include other LGBT people. It is still legally defensible to murder a trans person in several states because you were surprised that they were trans – it’s called the “trans panic defense.” Nobody should ever have to die at the hands of hatred again, but it is a fear that LGBT people live with every day. You cannot imagine how terrifying that is.

I put myself and my job at risk answering these questions and having Carrie post them online. Many people are much more at risk than me – queer people of color, and especially trans people, have it worse than I do. I choose to be open and outspoken about this issue, because I want to do whatever I can to protect others and make it easier for other LGBTQ+ people, especially those in agriculture, to be out and safe and authentically themselves.

Donate to the Trevor Project, the Transgender Law Center, and the Human Rights Campaign to help LGBTQ+ activism and support. Make your acceptance and allyship known, not just for performative reasons but because you want to show others that you truly care. Tell your kids it’s okay if they’re gay. Tell them you love them.

In addition to her on farm roll Eileen owns and operates an apparel and design company focusing on colored dairy breed artwork, awards and apparel. You can find her store at http://www.GrandChampionDesigns.com.

2 Comments on Humans of Agriculture-Eileen’s Story.

  1. Jackie
    March 26, 2019 at 8:11 pm (5 months ago)

    It is sad to hear in this day and age there is no protection in your state. Who you are should NOT be a safety issue

  2. Joni
    April 4, 2019 at 11:05 am (5 months ago)

    Thank you for telling your story. I pray for a time when no one has to worry that telling the truth about who they are might not be safe.