Skip to main content

Joe Rand helps rural LGBT youth to find each other - and themselves

Joe Rand is an Extension Educator in central Minnesota. He uses a portion of his work time to improve conditions for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth living in rural areas. In urban areas, LGBT+ youth have greater access to resources and can meet each other and find programs in which they feel comfortable. In rural areas, those safe spaces are harder to find, which can affect their development and their mental well being.

How is life different for rural LGBT+ youth versus those who live in urban areas?

In rural areas there just aren't a lot of resources, even less than in urban areas. There is a lack of access to role models or safe spaces where youth can ask questions and develop relationships with other people who are like them.

What would help them?

Education! Learning their stories. The more people find out about who a person is at their core, the less important labeling them becomes. Better policies and training in schools would also do a great deal. Advocating for anti-bullying policies that specifically point out LGBT+ youth, equal bathroom policies for trans youth, staff training and education on working with LGBT+ youth, GSA or other support groups that offer peer to peer mentoring, anything that makes their environment safer.

What prevents LGBT+ youth from forming clubs?

While in MN we have laws that allow GSA's to exist, there are other obstacles like the philosophy of administrators regarding LGBT+ youth, pressure from religious groups in communities, lack of access to physical space, and general fear and anxiety about being judged. In other states, policies keep those youth clubs from existing. In some school districts teachers are not allowed to talk about sexual orientation, in others there's a lack of policies against discriminating against or bullying LGBT+ kids.

Apart from your 4-H job, do you support rural LGBT+ youth in other ways?

I'm a supporter and ally to the GSA (Gender Sexuality Alliance) at Becker High School. I also direct the High School Musical and spring play, and I'm the assistant Speech coach. I have a lot of touch points, and do what I can to ensure the spaces in which I work are safe, and that youth can be authentic.

Why is this work important to you?

I didn't have any LGBT+ role models growing up, or receive any education about what being gay meant. I hope that I can provide some context and insight for youth in addition to safe spaces.

Imagine having to pretend to be someone else all day. Would you be able to focus on anything else if you were worried about the judgement of others, or didn't feel comfortable in your own skin. When we consider Social and Emotional needs of youth, the very root is that youth feel safe. LGBT+ youth often don't. They're constantly battling internally -how they're presenting themselves against who they actually are. At a time when they're learning about themselves they're also having to cover up who that is.

That means they're not able to learn or authentically engage with others. Letting those kids have the space to support one another -that's where they can be themselves and learn. It's not just LGBT+ kids who can't learn; it's kids who come to school hungry, and other conditions too. But the point is, are they learning anything if they don't feel authentically themselves?

You can read more about Joe's work here and here.

By Ann Nordby
Online learning & communications

Print Friendly and PDF