“The resulting representation of social distinctions primarily in terms of race, class, and gender thus masks the extent to which these categories are inflected by place identification. For example, social theorist generally fail to acknowledge that a rural woman’s experience of gender inequality may be quite different from that of an urban woman, or that racial oppression in the city can take a different form in the countryside.”An important reason for studying rural livelihoods in a legal framework, and also a significant personal motivator for myself, is to be able to better understand the ways in which the legal needs of rural communities differ from perhaps my own urban-normative understanding of legal services.
One group Creed and Ching do not explicitly mention is the LGBT community, which has been historically discriminated against in rural areas—arguably facing a distinct set of needs and experiences than the metropolitan LGBT community. While LGBT individuals in urban populations seem to feature most mainstream narratives of identity experience, many LGBT people living in rural areas still face systemic inequality. In rural areas, discrimination in access to health care, housing, and employment often leads to an increased risk for poverty and social isolation for LGBT families. This can be particularly crippling in rural communities where jobs are scarcer, health care providers and housing options are limited, and economic status might already be low. Moreover, discrimination in rural communities also creates an additional barrier to accessing critical state and federal social services.
Effectively addressing the intersection between place and identity becomes crucial in being able to provide legal services that account for the distinct needs of specific minority groups. That is not to say this effort is not being made—many organizations are addressing the legal needs of rural LGBT communities in exciting ways. One such attempt to confront discrimination faced by the rural LGBT community includes, for example, the USDA reaching out to the rural LGBT community. Newly-proposed regulations will protect transgender people from discrimination in many USDA programs, including important housing and farming programs with particularly impacts on rural Americans. Moreover, the Human Rights Campaign has recently expanded offices into the Deep South – Mississippi, Alabama, and Arkansas—to address LGBT rights in more rural parts of the country. Such efforts are important in being able to understand the experiences of the rural LGBT community; to better address the specific, particularized legal needs of its members; and to effectively protect and identify ways to ensure they have access to resources they need to thrive.