The federal government launches a campaign Friday to reach out to a specific group of America’s rural poor: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The Rural Pride summit series will travel across the country this summer, and its first stop is in Greensboro, North Carolina.
The campaign comes on the tail of a proposed rule that bans discrimination against transgender people who apply for Department of Agriculture programs, programs that include single-family housing and SNAP benefits. Tomorrow in Greensboro, USDA officials will meet with gay rights advocates and rural LGBT people to find out how the department can be more LGBT inclusive.
Joseph Leonard Jr., USDA’s assistant secretary of civil rights, say USDA is partnering with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the Rural Pride summit series.
“It’s one thing when you go to shake someone’s hand,” Leonard says, “It’s another thing when someone walks up to you and shakes your hand. And that’s what USDA is trying to do.”
This is the first time USDA is specifically reaching out the LGBT community. In past years, Leonard says people have been denied access to programs based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Many of the USDA’s programs are in more conservative areas of the country,” he says, “and that’s why it was that much more important to make sure that persons are covered under this regulation.”
The department will use feedback from the summits to shape future policies and programs. Leonard says the department may even create a working group that specifically oversees LGBT rural issues.