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What Queer Community Looks Like Beyond Cities

In small towns, mobility plays an essential role in bringing together LGBTQ people and allies

Mobility plays an essential role in strengthening queer communities in small towns.

The truth about rural life for queer people

Logan Casey, a senior policy researcher and advisor at the Movement Advancement Project, estimates that 2.8 to 3.9 million LGBTQ people live in rural parts of the United States, although it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact figure because little public data exist on the subject. Whatever the exact number, the fact remains: while big cities historically boast equitable and inclusive spaces for queer communities, true equity and inclusivity means recognizing the particular needs of people living beyond city limits, too.

Big cities aren’t the only places where queer communities can thrive, but access to transportation is key for small towns.

Transportation’s vital role for rural LGBTQ culture

C.T. Conner, a sociologist at the University of Missouri, studies the differences between rural and urban queer culture. In a recent article about the narratives of rural queer life, he collected data from dozens of interviews with LGBTQ people in small towns on how they develop community. Conner concluded that transportation to nearby cities with established queer neighborhoods plays an important role in many of their lives, in part because rural communities tend to be more dispersed. “A lot of people in these rural environments make an effort to travel a lot, or at least as much as they can, to the nearest gay-friendly city,” he says.

How queer communities are organizing outside of cities

King, a beauty pageant competitor and winner of Miss Trans Illinois, says spending time on the pageant circuit opened her eyes to a “whole treasure trove” of possibilities for an LGBTQ community in her hometown. Traveling didn’t just allow her to experience queer culture in other cities; it inspired her to build a stronger queer community in Galesburg. “As I’m traveling for national pageants, I see things, and I’m like, ‘Wait a second, why can’t we do that? Why the hell do we have to drive hours for a Pride event?’” she says.

Galesburg’s LGBTQ community fought to protect the rights of a trans high school student.
Christina King has played a huge role in building a strong LGBTQ+ community in Galesburg.
After Christina King organized the Galesburg Pride Picnic, it became a community tradition. Drag queen story hour is an especially big hit with kids.

The power of allies and institutions

Hebden Bridge, an idyllic countryside village in northern England, is another case study in how queer communities can organize and thrive outside of cities. Since the 1970s, the former mill town has welcomed LGBTQ people with open arms — it’s informally known as the “lesbian capital of the UK” — and it’s well known for its inclusive atmosphere.

In Hebden Bridge in Northern England, Happy Valley Pride  hosts an annual, weeklong festival to celebrate queer culture.
Kirsty Newton, above, performing at the Happy Valley Pride festival in Hebden Bridge.

Building queer spaces in extremely rural areas

For those living way out in “the middle of nowhere,” like farmer Hannah Breckbill, building queer community calls for a different strategy.

In Decorah, Iowa, farmer Hannah Breckbill started the Queer Farmer Convergence to reflect her agricultural passion.
Breckbill’s farming events keep growing in size, and she’s been recognized by national farming organizations for her work.
Hannah Breckbill (left) turned her organic co-op into the site of the Queer Farmer Convergence, an annual gathering in Decorah, Iowa.

Ways to support rural LGBTQ communities

According to Logan Casey, nondiscrimination laws are an “incredibly important” protection missing from many rural places, in addition to adequate health care and transportation access. These three essential needs intersect in important ways, such as when a trans person lives in an area where the only local doctor is discriminatory. “When you look at rural transgender people, over a quarter of them are driving 75 miles or more to see medical care providers,” he says. “And that number is even higher for rural transgender people of color.”

Urban planners like Dan Reed emphasize the important roles transportation and infrastructure policies play in uplifting queer communities in small towns.



Waze creates community on and off the road. Bringing together drivers, riders, municipalities, first responders and transit authorities, we solve transportation problems, improve mobility and work to end traffic altogether.

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