-by Naomi Ullian-
When the rain let up and a balmy spring day offered gusty breezes and fresh sun, I wandered over to Guilford, VT, to visit with farmers Justin Nye and Amy Frost of Circle Mountain Farm about the upcoming Earth Gay Vermont! celebration that they will be co-hosting with Green Mountain Crossroads on May 21st.
The event's third year at Circle Mountain, the farmers expressed the hope that folks will come out to celebrate local food systems and queer-run agriculture whether or not participants are excited or able to help with whatever work projects will be happening.
"If you don't want to work, or can't, just come hang out and be part of the crew," says Amy.
In past years, projects have included making big compost piles and fertilizing the hoophouse tomatoes.
"Part of what I love about this partnership is that I never know what exactly it is that we'll be doing!" says GMC executive director HB Lozito. "I trust Amy & Justin to come up with the projects knowing that they'll find a magic combination between what needs to get done on the farm and what will be fun for a big group."
Kneeling in the dirt rows as I helped to harvest the tender spinach, Amy and Justin weighed in on the subjects of queerness, farming, land stewardship, and how to build queer rural community.
In considering what it meant to be queer and farmers in this rural community, Amy and Justin agreed that "the queer community has been really supportive of us as farmers, and it feels good to provide food for other queer people that we maybe share experiences with."
Work projects such as the event at Earth Gay is one way that queer people can build relationships in rural areas, where geography, the economy, and small populations can make it feel hard to connect. Some of our longest friendships, we all agreed, have ignited while doing work -- setting out tasks, accomplishing goals, and building together.
"Its pretty empowering to get shit done together," observes Amy. In rural areas, Amy notes, it’s especially important to prioritize connection, and working together and feeding each other is fundamentally a rural value that queers can get down with.
Farming and the production of food is one way that queer folks are often able to connect to their bodies, to invest and build confidence and care in their physical capacities in a world that often encouraged everyone and especially queer people to dissociate or feel alienated from their bodies, desires, and genders.
HB notes about Earth Gay, "There is a personal sustainability piece around using our bodies together to do good work. So often as LGBTQ people we feel alienated from our bodies. I find for myself that getting outside and having a positive experience accomplishing physical tasks together as a group with other LGBTQ folks and allies helps me reconnect to my own body and what it is capable of. "
In the labors of farming, the body becomes a hard-working participant along with microbes and chickens and brassicas, and many folks who farm find power, agency, and peacefulness in choosing work that allows them to show up as themselves, to accomplish tasks that provide for their community, and to find the quiet and realness and sanity that comes from working with your hands.
"Earth Gay is one of the times during the year that we dig in (ha) to what environmental justice, food access, sustainability, and community organizing look like in our rural community," says HB. "We know that climate change will increasingly affect us, and that one way to build powerful, resilient communities is to support local farms and farmers."
Farmers serve as intermediaries between human communities and the plant and animal worlds. By choosing small-scale and sustainable cultivation practices, farmers both help humans meet needs for nourishment as well as steward the land and protect it from degradation. Many queer individuals and communities challenge and embody subversion of the binary or dualistic perspectives which capitalism thrives on. Interacting with land through a queer lens can help farmers to challenge the way that monocropping and agribusiness objectify the land as a non-living entity that exists solely for human benefit and disposal. The experience of land stewardship through sustainable agriculture puts queer farmers and participants in sustainable food ways at a political opportunity to protect land from binary extractive relationships with human communities, and queer farmers can serve to lead the interventions and disruption of the capitalist relationship humans have developed with farmland, instead encouraging human communities to understand the collaboration with the many moving and sentient beings -- animals, plants, fungi, minerals -- that join forces to produce food that humans can gratefully benefit from.
Farming, queers understand, is about relationships, and tending to them.
Amy and Justin say, of Circle Mountain Farm, that they also hope for the farm to feel like a refuge or retreat, a place folks can come to recharge and feel safe.
Even in small liberal towns, farming can feel dominated by hetero and cisgender family units, rendering less visible the hardworking LGBTQ folks growing food for rural communities. Says HB, "Especially in a state like Vermont that projects a strong agricultural history and future, we are saying, ‘LGBTQ people are, and have always been, a part of the strong ag traditions and future here in our state’."
-By Naomi Ullian-
Rural homos, we're calling you! Whatever our reclusive tendencies and however lukewarm we may at times feel about Facebook, sometimes the social media really benefits us. Like when Green Mountain Crossroads executive director came across the Facebook page of the documentary MAJOR!, which is now coming to a theater near you.
The "Major to the People" campaign has been offering queer and especially POC-led queer organizations an opportunity to screen this glorious documentary in their communities for free.. When HB pounced on the opportunity via a short application, the warm communications from the film's director/producers included, "We are so excited for you to bring the film to rural Vermont!" In the tradition of Miss Major herself, the screening of this film in Brattleboro will be a collaboration between Green Mountain Crossroads and Lost River Racial Justice (LRRJ) as part of LRRJ’s racial justice film series.
Here are just a few reasons you should join us for a free screening of this highly acclaimed film on April 29th at 4:00 pm at the Latchis theater in downtown Brattleboro.
In 2016 MAJOR! was screened at over 60 film festivals globally and won 19 awards for best documentary. A story of resilience, community, and liberation, MAJOR! chronicles the life and organizing of the fierce queer elder Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a Black transgender woman and veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion who served for many years as the executive director of the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), a Bay Area grassroots organization led by trans women of color advocating for the rights and wellbeing of trans women of color inside and outside of prison.
In the face of national headlines which often feel like a reduction of queer struggles and triumphs to mainstream gay rights and marriage equality, GMC is so happy for the opportunity to support and help make more visible the work and victories of marginalized members of queer communities. We understand this documentation of Miss Major's life not only as one person's individual journey but as community history and the transformative and revolutionary imperatives of caring for one another.
In partnership with LRRJ, the screening of MAJOR! is a part of a racial justice film series which includes the recent screening of a documentary about the life and work of the Black Civil Rights Movement leader Bayard Rustin, whose queerness is often left out of history books, not to mention the obscuring of his life and work in dominant narratives of Civil Rights in many school curricula. For rural queers people, whose lives often exist at many margins, making LGBTQ organizing visibile is necessary acknowledgement and inspiration in moving us toward collective and collaborative liberation.
As queer elders move away from income-generating work and health needs increase, the work of queer communities is to create networks of care and gratitude, which support the comfort of elders as well as their capacity to continue to contribute their experiences and knowledge to younger generations and organizers. At the screening, GMC will be collecting donations to be shared with Miss Major’s Circle of Care as well as Green Mountain Crossroads, and The Root Social Justice Center.
Official trailer and more information at missmajorfilm.com.
MAJOR! April 29 | 4PM | At The Latchis Theater, Brattleboro | FREE!
Approximately 75-100 people joined Green Mountain Crossroads on the steps of the Brattleboro Municipal Center for a rally last week, in response to the Trump Administration's rollback of guidance in support of trans students. It was inspiring to gather such a large and diverse crowd having only put the word out a few hours before we rallied.
Full coverage was on the front page of last week's Commons newspaper. Read the online version of their story here.
Below are some of chants we spoke together last week (some written by HB) and a couple other good ones that didn't quite make it into the rotation. Unfortunately, I'm sure we'll have many more reasons to be voicing public support for trans people in the coming years. So perhaps these chants will be of use to other folks too. Feel free to use and/or adapt as you need and/or add your own in the comments! See you in the streets!
When trans people are under attack, what do we do? STAND UP, FIGHT BACK!
Hey Betsy, what do ya say? Trans kids were born this way!
Hey Jeff what do ya say? Trans people are here to stay!
What do we want?
When do we want it?
We’re here, we’re queer
We’re fabulous, don’t mess with us!
Trans rights are human rights!
No hate, no fear! Trans students are welcome here!
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho
Transphobia has got to go!
Dear Betsy, this won’t fly! Title Nine still applies!
Out of the closets and into the streets!
Out of the classrooms, and into the streets!
Back up! Back up! (fast tempo!)
We want freedom! freedom!
Tell the transphobes
We don't need 'em, need 'em!
Hey hey hey there DeVos! (repeat)
We got our eye on you! (repeat)
And what we like most of all (repeat)
is liberation for all! (repeat)
- HB Lozito
GMC Executive Director
On December second Green Mountain Crossroads’ executive director, HB Lozito; board member, Emily Marker; and local community member and filmmaker, Jonah Mossberg, participated in a White House Rural Policy Council convening on advancing the progress of LGBT people in rural America.
The nature of our rural-focused work often means that we are geographically isolated from others working in rural LGBTQ communities. A large part of the work of GMC is building those connections among LGBTQ people in rural areas and small towns—we are doing this all the time in our own home region through activities like our Out in the Open Summit, Earth Gay Vermont, Pride Family Picnic, Trans Book Group, and our other regular programming. It was exciting to be in a room 60 other people from all over the U.S. who are also working with rural LGBTQ folks in their own home communities.
At the start of the convening, we were informed that the meeting was to be off the record including names of who was attending, direct quotes, as well as photos with out specific permission. While honoring this request, we wanted to share some details about the gathering.
The day started off with a conversation between StoryCorps, and the Human Rights Campaign. Folks discussed the power of oral history and storytelling for LGBT communities. A question came up in the Q+A session about if the person from StoryCorps knew of any rural communities conducting oral history projects. I didn’t have a chance to mention our Andrew’s Inn oral history project during the session but I did follow the speaker into the hallway after the session in order to share with him about our project (we currently have over 30 hours of interviews recorded! Anyone want to help us transcribe?)
Next up was a panel on civil rights and legal issues featuring an Assistant to the President; a representative from the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division; as well as from the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law. The folks on this panel drew a distinction between federal appointees and career lawyers working in the Department. The expressed perspective was that while we will collectively be facing many challenges these next few years, only a small percentage of the people working in the federal government are appointees who will be replaced with the new incoming administration.
The last panel of the afternoon was looking at innovation and tech tools we can use (and that are already being used) for organizing in rural LGBT communities. Moderated by a representative from BiNet. Featured panelists included people from Human Dignity Coalition, LGBT Technology Partnership and Institute; Fairness Campaign, and California Rural Legal Assistance. Folks from Fairness Campaign shared about how they achieved LGBT campaign wins throughout Kentucky over time often by showing up to small community gatherings and events giving the example that “every small community has a strawberry or blueberry festival!” I thought fondly of our local Camp Destiny Radical Faeries who serve pie each fall at the Dummerston Apple Pie Festival.
After the panels, we had the opportunity to join brief break-out sessions. I attended a session about economic opportunities and barriers for rural LGBT communities. In the break-out, I shared about how I see great potential for our work here at GMC as economic development. I hear from people all the time that they were thinking of moving to the area but had concerns about being isolated and wondering what if any queer community would exist in this rural area. When they discover GMC, it makes LGBTQ life in this rural region seem possible.
Before wrapping up the gathering with some networking, a person from USDA leadership spoke about their agency’s charge to develop and strengthen rural communities from housing to support for those facing addictions.
We made great connections with folks working on rural LGBTQ issues throughout the U.S. including Creating Change Foundation, ACLU of Kentucky, National Center for Lesbian Rights, True Colors Fund, and the Trevor Foundation among others. I’m excited to see what we can make of these new and on-going connections to help us continue building power of rural LGBTQ people here in Southern Vermont!