Sunday, September 8, 2013

LGBT folks get comfortable in rural Missouri

John Eligon reports today for the New York Times in a story under the heading "Ozarks Journal" and the headline, "A Hideaway Where 'Out in the Ozarks' Has Multiple Meanings."  Eligon writes of a clothing-optional campground, Cactus Canyon, that caters to gay men.  In its 15th season, the place is so popular that the owners are currently expanding its capacity for both RVs and tents, and adding a second pool.
These rolling woods of the Ozarks — where a billboard along a major highway proclaims that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, where a “Jesus Saves” sign and other Christian symbols decorate front lawns — seem an unlikely place for gay people to feel comfortable being out and open. 
But tucked in the backcountry here is a place where gay men are unabashedly celebratory and self-deprecating about their lives: Cactus Canyon Campground, a 700-acre, clothing optional, all-male hideaway. 
* * * 
Most surprising, perhaps, is the way local residents generally react to the camp nowadays: with a shrug, or maybe an awkward grin. Once the target of notable harassment — gunshots, vandalism and runoff from a strategically placed hog farm — Cactus Canyon now enjoys a much more peaceful existence.
For details on the legal wrangling over the hog farm, read the story in its entirety.  I note that the campground owners were the ones who initiated litigation--and won.  They suggest that standing up for themselves in that way has led to greater acceptance in the community because "opponents finally got the message that they would stand up for themselves."

Eligon quotes one the campground's owners, Chaz Franzke, regarding the current state of affairs:  
For a place that, before, people used to hide and and not be out, it’s now a community.  The gays and lesbians are out in the community and proud of it.  We've come a long ways. 
The caption for one of the photos in the multi-media show accompanying the story mentions the Hawk Hill Community Land Trust, a women's only retreat, though the story about Cactus Canyon doesn't mention Hawk Hill.  I like this quote from Denslow Brown, a resident of Hawk Hill:
One of the things about rural life that is true beyond our circumstance is that you aren’t as anonymous as you are in more populated areas. 
Cactus Canyon Campground and Hawk Hill Land Trust are both near Ava, Missouri, population 2,993, and the county seat of nonmetropolitan Douglas County, population 13,684, in south central Missouri.  The poverty rate in Douglas County is 21.1%

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