Yesterday, the Human Rights Campaign hosted “Bringing Equality Home:  LGBT People in Rural America” a panel discussion with Kathie Hiers, CEO of AIDS Alabama and  Dr. Joe Leonard, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  This event, co-sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, addressed current issues facing the LGBT community and individuals living with HIV/AIDS in rural America.  It also brought attention to newly-proposed regulations that will protect transgender people from discrimination in many USDA programs, including important housing and farming programs that particularly impact rural Americans.      
Kathie Hiers has been working with and representing people living with HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic in the South in the mid-1980s.  She discussed the role that AIDS Alabama plays in the lives of individuals living HIV/AIDS, the face of the Southern epidemic, and the role that the federal government has played in fighting the disease.
Assistant Secretary Leonard discussed the impact and reach of the new proposed rule protecting individuals served by USDA programs.  This rule will prohibit discrimination based on gender identity and political affiliation (the regulation already includes sexual orientation) in all conducted programs including community facility programs and home ownership loan programs.  These federal services promote wealth building in areas where economic opportunity is often otherwise limited.  This rule will ensure that LGBT people will have equal access to these programs and will not be denied assistance merely because of who they are.
It’s critical that as a community we acknowledge and support the lived experience of LGBT communities across the country—including those struggling to thrive in rural areas.  According to recent studies, LGBT people make up a significant portion of the overall population in predominantly rural states, including Vermont, South Dakota, and Kentucky.  Same-sex couples living in the South are also more likely to be raising children than couples living on either coast.   Although the LGBT community has experienced a series of significant victories over the past two years, many LGBT people living in rural areas still face systemic inequality.  Discrimination in health care, housing, and employment often leads to an increased risk for poverty and social isolation for LGBT families, and also creates an additional barrier to accessing critical state and federal social services.   We hope yesterday’s discussion will be the first of many highlighting the needs of members of our community all across the country, including in rural areas.


Find out more about Kathie Hiers in this quarter'sEquality Magazine.

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