According to a recent report by the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the UCLA School of Law, about 10 percent of California’s LGBT population lives in this farm region between Stockton and Bakersfield. LGBT households in rural areas are twice as likely to live in poverty than those in urban areas.
At least 20 tables were set up to provide resources. These included the Cultivating Change Foundation, an advocacy group for minorities in agriculture.
“You do have gay farmers who are growing your food,” says Marcus Hollan, who co-founded the group. “You have lesbian agricultural teachers in your high schools and your colleges teaching youth. It’s time we start recognizing them but also celebrating them.”
Hollan says there are many unsung heroes in agriculture who lead by example and provide inspiration to young people to say, "I don’t have to leave the farm, I can still be a farmer and be my authentic self."
Justin Kamimoto spoke at the summit as part of the LGBT youth panel. The Fresno State student says the USDA has taken big strides to be LGBT-inclusive in its hiring practices, programming and internships. “They look at areas like the Central Valley that are very agricultural-based,” he says. “They want to bring the best and brightest people to their organization.”
Kamimoto was at the summit sharing information about his online organization, MY LGBT PLUS. It’s a community resource “dedicated to connecting, interacting and supporting our LGBT community,” he says. “We’re here to support our rural pride community. We know that the [people in the] outskirts of the Central Valley are oftentimes the ones forgotten about and we want to make sure resources are available to them.”
Christine Chavez helped arrange the summit. She works for the USDA but she knows a bit about organizing from the late Cesar Chavez.
“My grandfather instilled in us that it wasn’t just about a farmworker issue, it was about poverty, about continuing to do outreach to people who need it the most,” the younger Chavez says. “So that’s what we’re trying to do here.”
She says people face many different issues. Isolation is one theme that comes up frequently, especially for folks in some of the smaller communities like Ridgecrest and Taft.
But there are also practical questions about farm loans, she says. And the perennial subject in the Central Valley: water.