Rural Pride Summit Biggest Yet, Says USDA


Visalia’s #RuralPride Summit, the fourteenth in the program, was the biggest yet, according to USDA representatives.  With about 250 attendees, the event drew participants from the Central Valley, Bakersfield, Fresno, and as far away as Tacoma, Washington.  The program’s first summit was held in Greensboro, North Carolina in June of 2014.  Previous events have focused on the south and midwest.

This summit was the first in California, the nation’s breadbasket.  Attendees were told it only made sense to hold the event in Visalia, since Tulare County is consistently #1 in agricultural production in the United States.  Tulare County also has high rates of poverty and unemployment, and addressing those issues is a mission of the USDA.  This event helps bring into focus the often unrecognized and unmet needs of the LGBT community.

Bringing together local, state, and federal agencies, the summit also hosted a wide range of non-profit organizations who tabled in the hallways of the Visalia Convention Center.

Just some of the organizations who set up tables: theSOURCE LGBT+ Center,  PFLAG Tulare-Kings Counties, Visalia Pride Lions, the Trevor Project, Turning PointMy LGBT Plus, and Tulare and Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force. There were many others, as well.  Two hallways were packed with groups providing information to attendees.

Panel discussions and breakout sessions covered immigration issues, access to health care, transgender youth (and adult) programs, homelessness, access to services, discrimination law, coming out to family and friends, and local stories about being LGBTQ in Tulare County.

By the end of the day, connections were made, needs assessed, friendships formed and renewed, and information disseminated.  Attendees will continue their work to make the Central Valley, Tulare County, and Visalia a better place for everyone to live.

Many thanks to USDA, NCLR, and the True Colors Fund for bringing this important event to Visalia.  The LGBTQ community appreciates the attention and effort involved, and we look forward to continuing to work towards equality and access for all the populations of this region.

Rural Pride Summit connects LGBT community, government

This article appeared on the Visalia Times Delta’s webpage, and was in the printed edition, Inspire section, 7/16/2016.

Such concepts may be difficult to grasp for many, let alone accept as a possibility, especially here inTulare County, the nation’s No. 1 Ag producer. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), however, knows they are a reality.

They also know members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community who live in rural areas are often invisible to the wider community, and underserved by the government at all levels.

On Thursday, July 21, USDA, in association with the NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights) and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund, will host the latest in a series of regional summits, called RuralPride. Visalia will be the first community to host the gathering in the western United States.

The USDA serves a wide variety of populations as it carries out its duties. The RuralPride campaign is dedicated to ensuring the resources of the Federal government are available to the LGBT community that might not be aware of them.

After all, you can’t access programs if you don’t know they exist. RuralPride Summits are designed to bring together agencies and the public to discuss housing loans, facility grants, and anti-bullying campaigns, to name just a few of the services available.

Underserved populations

USDA has been a leader in the Federal government in outreach to underserved populations across the country. As they’ve been made aware of our, shall we say “interesting” history, it became clear that more attention needed to be directed here.

A few years ago, a group of us were enjoying after-dinner coffee and conversation at the Marriott Hotel’s lounge. We met two young gay men who were members of a group doing contract survey work in the San Joaquin Valley for the CDC. They joined us, and during the conversation complimented Visalia on its welcoming and friendly atmosphere. They were especially impressed with how open they could be, and how well they were treated.

The old timers in our group looked at each other with confusion, and had to ask them, “are you talking about THIS Visalia?” We grew up here, and our default image of Visalia and its relationship to the LGBT community was very different.

Growing up in Visalia in the late 1960s and into the ’70s, I was unaware of the LGBT community. It was invisible to me. The only examples I had of gay people were from television and the movies, where the depictions were always negative.

Of course, in school and the community, the absolute worst thing you could call someone was “gay” (or rather, one of the unfortunate terms for a gay man or a lesbian). Any conversations about the subject were derogatory, hateful, and threatening. There were no positive role models that I could see. It would take 40 years for me to find out that two of the six of us that went to Senior Prom together were gay. (well, one gay, one lesbian)

In the ’80s, AIDS ravaged the gay community. As it gained prominence in the news, it drove me much deeper into the closet, as the hysteria was deep and widespread. The inaction of the federal government to the level of White House staff laughing with reporters when asked about it added to the stigma and fear. And still, the LGBT community in Tulare County was invisible to me.

Fighting back

In other places, the LGBT community was fighting back. In Dallas in 1981, a Federal Court ruled against a case brought by Steve “Slade” Childers and the ACLU. In his suit, Childers sued the City of Dallas and its police department for discrimination. Despite getting the highest scores of anyone taking the civil service tests for the job of police evidence technician, the police department refused to hire Childers, already a city employee with excellent performance reviews, due to his being openly gay. The court ruled it was acceptable for the police department to refuse his employment. It was illegal for a person to have sexual relations with a member of their sex, making him an admitted law-breaker, and that it was unreasonable to expect other police department employees to behave in a professional manner around him.

Childers has been a Visalia resident for close to 40 years now, with his partner Ralph. He is a USDA employee and suggested that Visalia be one of the locations for a Rural Pride Summit in California.

In the 1990s, local members of the LGBT community were holding dances, picnics, and charity fundraisers. Still invisible to me, I was unaware of the community all around me. It didn’t help that I wasn’t out to myself at the time. I’m convinced the invention of the Internet, and its rapid inclusion into our lives changed the LGBT community forever. Suddenly, the community became visible. It was an eye-opener, to say the least. Some things didn’t change so fast, however.

In 2002, a student at Golden West High School won a lawsuit against the Visalia Unified School District. George Loomis had suffered ongoing anti-gay harassment at Golden West and sued. As much as things were changing in the nation, there was still a lot of animus directed at the LGBT community. Especially in rural areas like Tulare County.

In 2012, Visalia became the first city in the Valley to issue a proclamation recognizing June as LGBT Pride month. They did it again in 2013. Those proclamations raised hardly a ripple in the community.

Bigotry in Porterville

Porterville, however, was a different matter. In 2013, the mayor issued a similar proclamation, and the backlash was swift, severe, and incredibly hostile. People from Porterville stood before the council in public comments periods, waving Bibles, and expressing their feelings that, as it said in those Bibles, gays were “worthy of death.”

The controversy resulted in the Mayor and Vice Mayor being removed from their ceremonial posts on the council, the proclamation being rescinded, and a tepid resolution of “goodwill to all” was passed to replace it. The rules were then changed to require a vote of the entire council to issue a proclamation.

Comments made by city council members since those incidents indicate that not much has changed there. Bullied children are advised to “grow a pair” by the Mayor. The council has refused to recognize any requests for proclamations or resolutions made by the LGBT community.

In the 2010 census, an interesting fact emerged. Per capita, Tulare County has one of the highest rates of gay couples raising children in the nation. Along with our position as the nation’s number one ag producer, we’re also one of California’s poorest counties. Many of those families are living in or near poverty. The Rural Pride Summit looks to address those issues, to bring resources to bear in an attempt to improve access to services that exist.

In a series of panel sessions and discussions at the day-long event, the state of services to the LGBT community will be examined, with guest speakers from government and the community discussing the resources available, how to improve access to existing programs, and to identify needs not currently being met.

USDA staff will interact with the general public, as well as leaders and members of the LGBT community. Individuals from theSOURCE LGBT+ Center, PFLAG, Visalia Pride Lions, regional activists from Fresno and Bakersfield, local government officials, GayVisalia, GayPorterville, and others, will all work to bring the resources of the Federal government to the Central Valley’s underserved and often unrecognized LGBT community.

Jim Reeves blogs about LGBT issues at

How to attend

What: USDA #RuralPride Summit

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, July 21. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.

Where: Visalia Convention Center

Cost: Free. Lunch will be provided.


USDA to host #RuralPride LGBT Summit in Visalia


On Thursday, July 21, 2016, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) will host the California LGBT Rural Summit at Visalia’s Convention Center. The latest in a series of such summits, “The Office of the Assistant Secretary of Civil Rights, in collaboration with the National Center for Lesbian Rights and The True Colors Fund, will engage with LGBT rural communities across the country to host the LGBT Rural Summit Series. Each series will offer a unique opportunity for USDA and other federal agencies to share information relating to policies, programs, and services that exist to protect, promote and strengthen LGBT rural communities. Issues ranging from rural housing loans, community facility grants and bullying will be discussed. Each series will also include a strong presence from local nonprofit organizations, sharing USDA’s dedication to serving LGBT rural America.”  (USDA Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights website.)

Previous summits have been held in

  • Greensboro, NC
  • Lost River, WV
  • Wayne, NE
  • Dallas, TX
  • Baton Rouge, LA
  • Nashville TN
  • Lexington, KY
  • Jackson, MS
  • Huntsville, AL
  • Asheville, NC

As the #1 agricultural producing county in the United States, as well as an area with one of the largest number of gay couples raising children, per capita, the USDA has chosen Visalia as the latest community in which to hold a #RuralPride Summit.

The centerpiece of the #RuralPride campaign is a series of day-long summits hosted by USDA, NCLR, the True Colors Fund, and a number of local partners based in rural communities across the country. These summits will give us a chance to focus on the unique needs of the rural LGBT community, highlight the important federal policy efforts underway to protect this community, and identify next steps to ensure all rural communities have access to the resources they need to thrive.” – NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights)

What is “#RuralPride?”

The USDA serves a wide variety of populations as it carries out it’s duties.  Whether you are a LGBT farmer, farm worker, ag related vendor or employee, consumer, urban or rural resident, USDA is dedicated to insuring the resources of the Federal government are available to all equally, and transparently.  You can’t access programs if you don’t know they exist.  #RuralPride Summits are designed to bring together agencies and the public, to insure access.  The summits target the LGBT community, who are often under-served in rural areas.

Contrary to widely held myths that the LGBT community is largely living in affluent metropolitan areas, studies show a very different and more realistic picture of the LGBT community. For a number of reasons, many people in the LGBT community choose to live, work, and raise their families in the rural communities that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is proud to serve.

In fact, according to the Williams Institute, “almost 10% of all same-sex couples in the country live in rural America” and these couples are actually more likely to be families of color and raising children. The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force also issued a report finding that these couples are more likely to be low-income and are almost twice as likely to receive public assistance. The transgender community is particularly vulnerable.

Transgender people, especially transgender people of color, experience disturbingly high rates of poverty across the country. Additional research conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and National Center for Transgender Equality shows that they are four times as likely to have a household income under $10,000 and twice as likely to be unemployed as non-transgender people. The LGBT community in rural America has a number of particular needs and vulnerabilities that USDA is excited to target and address.

In an effort to elevate the voices of the LGBT community living in rural America, USDA and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, is proud to launch the #RuralPride campaign. The centerpiece of this campaign is a series of day-long summits hosted by USDA, NCLR, and a number of local partners based in rural communities across the country.

These summits will give us a chance to focus on the unique needs of the rural LGBT community, highlight the important federal policy efforts underway to protect this community, and identify next steps to ensure all rural communities have access to the resources they need to thrive.

“We applaud the USDA for celebrating lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people living in rural communities across the country with this important series of summits,” said Cyndi Lauper, co-founder of the True Colors Fund. “LGBT youth comprise up to 40 percent of our nation’s homeless youth population. Those in rural communities face incredibly unique challenges and are such an important and often overlooked part of this conversation. The True Colors Fund is proud to partner with the USDA and NCLR to highlight their stories as a part of the many experiences that LGBT people face in rural America.” USDA

The Summit will be 9:30 am – 5 pm, and the public is invited.  This event is free, and lunch will be provided. Please register at:

Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia Ave, Visalia

For questions contact:

(202) 720-3808