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National Experts and Local Practitioners Collaborate to Meet the Needs of LGBT People in Rural Environments

By S. Okrey Anderson, Graduate Research Assistant

This October, a special guest panel of LGBT research experts spoke to University of Minnesota Extension professionals about health, well-being, and economic opportunity for LGBT people in rural environments.

Extension Children, Youth, & Family Consortium (CYFC) planned and facilitated the well-attended panel during the 2017 Extension Program Conference that took place in Brooklyn Park on October 11.

CYFC hosted Dr. Jenifer McGuire, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Family Social Science, in their 2016-2017 Scholar in Residence program for the past year and a half. During that time, Dr. McGuire and the CYFC team traveled around Minnesota presenting workshops on meeting the needs of transgender youth. (For a refresher, see CYFC’s Community Discussions on Transgender Issues in Greater Minnesota Exceed Expectations.)

This panel event brought some of that content and more to an Extension audience.

From Traveling in Minnesota to Coordinating Across the Nation

Dr. McGuire is also a part of a nationwide Agricultural Experiment Station coordinating group called Health, Well-being and Economic Opportunity for LGBT People in Rural Environments. Why the focus on rural environments? There is a misconception that LGBT people do not exist in rural communities and that they have all fled to cities in an effort to find a more openly affirming environment. However, the research repeatedly shows that this assumption is false. LGBT individuals live and work and worship and raise families in small and rural communities for a whole range of reasons.

The “Health, Well-being and Economic Opportunity for LGBT People in Rural Environments” coordinating group is committed to focusing on, paying attention to, and making visible the experiences of LGBT people in places beyond large metropolitan cities. This coordinating group meets every year to collaborate, and this year’s meeting was concurrent with Extension Program Conference. In addition to Dr. McGuire, the panelists included experts who spoke on the various topics:
  • Ramona Faith Oswald, Ph.D. — University of Illinois — How communities are organized to meet the needs of rural LGBT-parent families.
  • Courtney Cuthbertson, Ph.D. — Michigan State University Extension — Health and mental health for LGBT persons in rural contexts. 
  • Erika Grafsky, Ph.D. — Virginia Tech — Helping rural families when a youth comes out as LGBT.
  • Andy Reilly, Ph.D. — University of Hawai’i — Appearance issues of LGBT individuals and communities. 

Asking for Feedback — and Using It!

The presentations were brief in order to leave time for questions and discussion. The panelists placed emphasis on the importance of dialogue between researchers and practitioners in the field, and as such solicited attendees for information about what they believe practitioners need the most from researchers.

In the days that followed the panel discussion, the coordinating group members began to implement the feedback from attendees. The group has begun work on a tool to help practitioners, teachers, or even parents measure exactly how LGBT-friendly their communities really are. The tool would make it easier to identify opportunities for improvement that could ultimately turn a tolerant community into an accepting one.

Another exciting outcome of the panel discussion was the connections that were made between people from different parts of Extension. There were many suggestions from attendees who were interested in learning more about how to support transgender youth. Attendees asked for reading lists, curriculum suggestions, terminology sheets, and summaries of past research. All of these things are already available through CYCF in an online resource called The Transgender Toolkit.

Conveniently located at

These resources are now in the hands of many more Extension professionals as a result of this panel. The coordinating group is also working on developing an online presence to help practitioners remain connected to the latest research.

This Scholar in Residence focus will formally end in December 2018, but the coordinating group will continue to help CYFC grow this toolkit with new resources related to LGBT people in rural areas as they are created.

Cari Michaels, Extension educator with CYFC, contributed to this blog post.

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