Friday, September 25, 2020

Rural queer communities connect via oral history project

Rae Garringer
(National Geographic photo by Annie Flanagan)
Rae Garringer grew up on a sheep farm in West Virginia, but felt isolated as a queer person in Appalachia. So Garringer, who uses nonbinary them/them pronouns, set off on a cross-country trip in the summer of 2014 to interview other rural LGBTQ+ rural residents, a la StoryCorps. They interviewed 30 people in 30 days, recording more than 45 hours of tape. That became the seed of an oral history project called Country Queers, which has recently begun a podcast sharing those interviews and more, Nicole Blackwood reports for National Geographic.

The new podcast, which includes a 2018 interview with author Silas House, seeks to amplify "often unheard stories of rural queer experiences across intersecting layers of identity including race, class, gender identity, age, religion, and occupation," according to the website. The website also includes written transcripts and photos from over a dozen more interviews. 

Garringer and other project collaborators want the project to help preserve rural queer histories, show the broader world that rural Americans are not all straight and white, push back against the popular narrative that queer people only thrive in cities, and help queer rural residents to feel connected and build community even though many are geographically isolated.

But, "Even as the project grows, the goal remains the same: figuring out what the future can look like," Blackwood reports.

"As much as this project has been about amplifying people’s stories and raising our visibility, there is such a personal piece for me ... like, how do we do this?" Garringer told Blackwood. "How do we thrive in these places?"

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