Country Queers is an ongoing multimedia oral history project documenting the diverse experiences of rural, small town, and country LGBTQ+ folks in the U.S. – across intersecting layers of identity such as race, class, age, ability, gender identity, and religion.
I founded this project in 2013 out of an intense frustration with the lack of rural queer visibility, and the extreme sense of isolation I felt as a queer person living back home in Southeastern West Virginia. Since then I’ve interviewed over 60 amazing Country Queers in 15 States, launched instagram takeovers where rural queer folks can tell their stories in their own images and words, and led oral history workshops and presentations across the U.S.
This project wouldn’t exist without the support of so many people including volunteer transcriptionists: Montanna Mills, Kayden Moore, Jocelyn Jessop, Izzy Broomfield, & Riley Cockrell, and the extended political family of the Stay Together Appalachian Youth Project (STAY). The project was inspired by many conversations and experiences, including a small town huddle at Southerners on New Ground (SONG) Gaycation in 2013 where an intergenerational multiracial group of Southerners shared stories of the rural places we love, hate and return to.
To learn a little more about me, here’s an interview I did for Cordella Magazine in 2018. And for a bit more history about the motivations for this project continue reading for a statement of purpose from the early days:
There is a widely held belief in the U.S. that in order to be queer you have to live in a city. That being queer and being country cannot coexist. That the country is not safe for queer folks, and that those of us who live in rural areas will never be able to survive, much less thrive. That we are crazy for trying.
As someone who grew up on a farm in rural West Virginia, came out during college in liberal Western Massachusetts, spent 4 years in Austin, Texas buying into the belief that it was not safe for me to move home, (but who finally did it anyway because the city was eating away at me and the mountains would not let me be) I am searching for other country queers. People who cannot separate their countryness from their queerness, and for whom moving to New York or San Francisco is not an option. People whose identities are so tied up in being rural, in farming, in small town life, that they are facing the challenges of being queer in the country, because the country is as important to them as their queerness is. Because they don’t know who they are without the country. Because leaving isn’t an option.
I want to hear their stories. I want to know how they struggle, and what they want to change in their communities. I want to find older role models for myself and other young queers living in the country. I want to hear about the radical and brave work that young queers are doing in their communities and schools. I want to hear the painful stories, the awful stories, to acknowledge that it is not always safe, that being queer in this country sometimes comes with threats, with violence, with death. I want to know if there are joys and struggles that all rural and small town LGBTQ folks share. I want to know about how experiences of being queer and being rural differ based on race, class, gender identity, nationality, language, ability, and other parts of our identities. I want isolated queer folks living in rural places to know that there are others out there, all over this country. I want to know what country queers think needs to change, so that the option of being queer and staying in the country could become easier. I want proof that country queers can survive. That we can thrive.
– Rachel Garringer