Back around 2008, Phil Schroeder and his wife learned that their son was coming out as gay.
Schroeder said founding a local Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, organization in their rural community in Minnesota helped them to find support.
“PFLAG is geared for parents and family members and allies, but our group was kind of more than that,” he added.
The group encompasses family and friends, but also members of the LGBTQ+ community, police officers, therapists, and others who want to educate themselves on the issues facing the community.
The East Central Minnesota PFLAG group, based in Cambridge, Minnesota, is one of a handful of case studies in a new report examining rural school and community-based programs for LGBTQ+ youth.
“They all spoke to some of the challenges that they have in their communities with some adversity and kind of pushback on LGBTQ+ issues,” Madeleine Pick, research fellow at the Rural Health Research Center and one of the authors of the report, told the Daily Yonder.
“But they also spoke to a lot of support that they have for their programs from their administration in the case of schools, as well as their community members. And the same thing for that community based program as well.”
Schroeder said that the PFLAG group helps connect people to another human, giving a sense of connection.
“We talk, and if it’s some resources we can provide – we’ve got quite an extensive resource library and a lot of materials and pretty large network we can tap people into – but it’s just nice to have human communication with somebody that’s in a rural area,” he said.
One of the issues they are hearing a lot about now is around transgender kids, Schroeder said.
“I would say. probably, maybe 90% of the last contacts we’ve had in the last three to four years have been about trans kids,” he said. “I think parents of gay kids, there are a lot of resources, there’s a lot of information around, people are a lot more open. But the trans thing is really confusing to parents. And of course, the outside issues, obviously, is this trend towards hate towards trans and drag and so that just puts extra pressure on both the kids and especially their parents.”
To help educate family, friends and community members, the PFLAG group held a workshop about pronouns related to nonbinary individuals.
“That was well received,” he said.
Pick said all the organizations were doing commendable work, but she said one that caught her eye was at Southwest Minnesota State University, which has an LGBTQ+ center.
“One of the coolest things that they did was they held a queer prom at their school for college students, college-age students in the community. And it was also open to high school students,” she said. “It sounded like a really successful event. They had a lot of support from community members. I think they had to turn down some chaperones, because they had so many people who were interested in helping out. And the kids, the young adults, I think, had a great time.”
Pick added that many of the programs featured in the report were student-driven. They also highlight the fact that rural America is not one size fits all.
“I think people – like it or not – but they tend to think of rural communities as being kind of homogenous,” she added. “And I think this is just one example that that’s not true. And there are rural, LGBTQ+ people in every corner of our country.”