Ryan Goodman understands the weight words can carry. He has seen how thoughtful conversations can have a positive impact in a world he believes has become increasingly polarized.
Goodman, who farms cattle in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her partner Aaron, is part of the LGBTQ+ community. And he has long believed that the food and agriculture sector needs to do more to ensure that diverse groups feel there is a place for them.
This Pride month seemed like a good time to try to influence change. Over the past few weeks, Goodman has begun to Facebook, instagram and Twitter to share and celebrate the stories of other members of the queer community who contribute to agriculture. He also used it as an opportunity to engage with Keyboard Warriors and others who oppose his mission.
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Goodman spoke with modern farmer about the campaign and why he generally believes the smallest actions can have the biggest impact. He shares his hopes for the future and offers advice to farmers who might have reservations about fully accepting their sexuality or gender identity.
The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Modern Farmer: Where did this idea for a Pride social media campaign come from?
Ryan Goodman: I’ve had these conversations both formal and informal for a number of years now. It started in 2020 when my employer at the time released a document on culture with no mention of diversity and inclusion. I told him about it and they told me that if I didn’t like it, I had to leave. They weren’t interested in having a conversation about acknowledging diverse people, not just LGBTQ+ people, but race, religion, or gender.
For Pride Month, I really wanted to help raise awareness for LGBTQ+ people in farming and rural communities. I want to spark a productive discussion about the diversity of our communities and what it means to be an ally. I hope I can inspire some our organizations and industry associations to assess their policies, organizational culture and degree of inclusion.
FM: You engage with people who criticize what you do. There are many people who ask ‘why do we need a month for this?‘ Where ‘why can’t we just do our job and put our heads down without making a big deal out of it?’ How do you respond?
RG: I try to address the problem, not the person. A person who comes to argue, I know I’m not going to change my mind in one conversation. That being said, I’ve had people direct message me to follow up and we’ve had productive conversations. It is extremely important for people who feel attacked by negative comments to see that there is support for them, but also a way to respond in a thoughtful way.
For those who say we shouldn’t have a full month: we have celebrations like this all the time that aren’t exclusive. It’s also Milk Month, and we all celebrate it in the food and agriculture sector. But I think there is an important point to be made, knowing that historically LGBTQ+ voices have not been heard or have been minimized. This emphasizes the importance of dedicating a month to having these conversations.
MF: What does it look like to be an ally in agriculture?
RG: It looks different for everyone, but it’s often about small actions. For example, if we are at an event and someone sees a ring on my finger and says, “How is your wife?”, being an ally means being aware of how we ask for things, acknowledging diversity and the fact that not everyone is heterosexual. relationship. Another way to ask the question would be, “How is your spouse or your partner or your family?” »
It is also to be visible. That doesn’t mean you have to walk around with a rainbow on your clothes. It can be as simple as speaking up when you hear someone making a negative comment. Talking among peers can be one of the biggest influences on what is perceived as acceptable and how we view the world.
MF: In what ways could the agriculture industry improve inclusiveness?
RG: We have a lot of different voices in our industry, especially when it comes to the finishing and processing stages. These diverse voices are often not treated fairly or represented in leadership positions within the sector or in our agricultural associations. This can go a long way toward solving our issues of inclusion and equity in our industry.
MF: Is there a person, place or organization that excels in its efforts to create a community for LGBTQ+ people and other diverse groups?
RG: The Ontario Beef Producers in Canada have been very transparent that it is not the most diversity inclusive in their industry. Recently, its board took it upon itself to start having these conversations internally.
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He sought out external resources to help him identify how he could be more inclusive and how he could engage more diverse voices. He has actively stated his goals very publicly. It takes a certain vulnerability to admit that there is work that can be done, but it is important to move forward.
MF: What was your own experience of coming out?
RG: It was not a comfortable process. I was very afraid of the negative consequences of sharing my story, not only personally, but professionally. Growing up and operating in rural, conservative communities, I’ve heard a lot of discriminatory and negative statements about people who are like me.
There are people who have severed their relationship with me after learning who I am, but there are also people who have stepped up and been an ally. I don’t think coming out is a done deal, but knowing that I have allies, I feel confident to be authentically myself.
MF: Do you have any advice for someone in agriculture who might be afraid to come out with their sexuality or gender identity?
RG: Know that you have people in your corner to support you whenever you are ready to tell your full story and be your authentic self. The negative response will come out, but there will always be more people willing to support you, whoever you are, and your journey.
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Not every conversation will change someone’s mind and not everyone will agree. We can always try to focus on our shared experiences. Focusing on the positives can help you get through it.
MF: What are your hopes for the future?
RG: LGBTQ+ rights and visibility are very controversial politically. We tend to push back when we’re uncomfortable or when we disagree, but having productive, thoughtful, and civilized conversations will keep us moving forward.
I hope people can come to recognize that this doesn’t have to be divisive, whether it’s LGBTQ+ issues, diversity, equity, inclusion, or consumer perceptions of our industry and our production practices. The sooner we come to this realization, the sooner we will be better off.