During Pride Month, Mark Thomas offers a personal reflection about diversity and the agricultural community.
Today, farming is becoming a much more diverse industry. Differences, whether they be ethnicity, disability or sexuality are accepted without raised eyebrows or awkwardness. There’s no need to feel in the shadows or to keep parts of ourselves locked away out of sight.
For many young people embarking on their careers, the hang-ups of the past are seen as bizarre, as non-issues.
Even today though, discussions around sexuality, gender and diversity can still be challenging for families as well as the individual. For some family members, it takes time to accept it. Sadly, some might never come to terms with it. Thankfully societies in many parts of the world are seeing a shift in attitudes, but it hasn’t always been this way. We have been on a journey over the last few decades – not always a comfortable one. And it has a legacy.
For some who grew up in farming or joined the industry in their late teens/early twenties, the culture of the time could make it hard to be different.
The jokey remarks in meetings weren’t meant to hurt of course – the limp wrist references, batting for the other side… it was just banter and it wasn’t personal. We smiled, sometimes laughed along and just moved on. We soaked it up. And in isolation, of course these things don’t affect you…or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.
After work, you go back to your family – they may notice that you don’t have a girlfriend, but it’s easier for them not to enquire. Don’t ask, don’t tell; that’s the best strategy, isn’t it? Your parents are well known in the area – stalwarts in the local community – and the embarrassment for them would be immense if the truth was to ‘come out’ – and so it’s easier, kinder, to let sleeping dogs lie.
When you are alone however, you know you are different. But you can’t make the honest admission, even with yourself, that you are gay or bisexual, or trans. The leap from the hidden to the reality is just too great.
And so it goes on. Sometimes for years, for decades. Sometimes for ever.
Some people may never fully come to terms with the fact they are made differently. In their youth, they may have had no encouragement and assurance that they were loved unconditionally, whoever they were. They had no role models. They didn’t know anyone else who was gay – or at least who admitted it. They just heard stigma. And so the honesty, the personal honesty to yourself, of who you are, was never nurtured and allowed to grow like it was for your ‘normal’ friends. Honesty leads to confidence and confidence lets us live our lives as our whole selves and fulfil our potential.
I was in my forties before I could be honest with myself about my sexuality, let alone to others. For me, accepting that I’m gay wasn’t a ‘coming out’– after all, people don’t feel the need to ‘come out’ as heterosexual. But it was a confidence to answer the occasional cheeky direct question with an honest answer. It was the confidence borne of seeing the happiness of a younger gay colleague in a committed relationship, who with his partner had adopted a child they loved and were living a fulfilling and perfectly normal family life. It was being tired of hiding. It was realising that masking a part of me wasn’t healthy and wasn’t a good example to others. How could I encourage people to be themselves, if I wasn’t doing so myself?
For many, ‘Pride’ is not a time to be ‘proud’, or to parade through their local village with a rainbow flag (though there is of course nothing wrong with that). But it’s an important reminder that we all have a right to be here, to be who we are, regardless of what that is and what other people may think. And it’s an opportunity to reflect that our words and actions can have impacts and meanings for others that we may not always appreciate.
It is never too late to be honest with ourselves and others and to live our lives as our whole selves. And we should no longer need to fear what our farming friends and colleagues may think, because the culture has changed – and if it hasn’t where you live, then we all have a responsibility to do what we can to advocate for greater diversity and inclusivity and help create a more tolerant and accepting society.
A more diverse industry, at the heart of food production, climate change mitigation, renewable energy, biodiversity, leisure and recreation – it’s a wonderful, exciting, challenging time to be in farming.
Grab the opportunity, play your role, be part of this amazing community. You belong here, you are valued – whoever you are.
- Mark Thomas, National Helpline Manager & Regional Director (South East)
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, you can call the FCN helpline open every day, 7am to 11pm – 03000 111 999. Or send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org.