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Queer in Rural America

THERE IS A FAUX TRUISM in the United States that queer folks do not fare well in the countryside. As Elizabeth Catte says, “Rural spaces are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics.” LGBTQ people could easily be added to that list. This sense of absence is continually reinforced by the media, which only talk about rural queerness in the context of high-profile murders or low-life government officials. Like many of the videos in Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project, this oversight suggests that the route to happiness for gay folks leads inexorably away from the countryside. However, even if every queer person wanted to leave rural life behind, many would not have the option, and any movement that is bedrocked on leaving behind whole swaths of the country does not deserve the name “queer liberation.”

In recent years there has been an explosion in rural queer organizing. In 2014 the National Center for Lesbian Rights—working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture—launched the #RuralPride campaign, which has since convened more than fifteen day-long events for queer people in places such as Lost River, West Virginia, and Wayne, Nebraska. Just this month, The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York City (one of the most prestigious centers for queer theory in the country) awarded its lifetime achievement award to Amber Hollibaugh, a communist sex radical writer and organizer who draws powerfully on her roots in “trailer park California.”

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“Rural spaces,” writes Elizabeth Catte, author of What You Are Getting Wrong About Appalachia, “are often thought of as places absent of things, from people of color to modern amenities to radical politics. The truth, as usual, is more complicated.” With activists, historians, and political scientists as guides, Left Elsewhere explores the radical politics of rural America—its past, its priorities, and its moral commitments—that mainstream progressives overlook. This volume shows how these communities are fighting, and winning, some of the left’s biggest battles. From novel health care initiatives in the face of the opioid crisis to living wages for teachers, these struggles do not fall neatly into the “puny language,” as Rev. William Barber says, of Democrat or Republican. Instead they help us rethink the rural–urban opposition at the heart of U.S. politics. The future of the left, this collection argues, could be found elsewhere. With contributions from William J. Barber II, Lesly-Marie Buer, Elizabeth Catte, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson, Nancy Isenberg, Elaine C. Kamarck, Michael Kazin, Toussaint Losier, Robin McDowell, Bob Moser, Hugh Ryan, Matt Stoller, Ruy Teixeira, Makani Themba, and Jessica Wilkerson.

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