A.g.r.e.s.p.e.c.t - find out what it means to us. We're proud to say that we support Agrespect, a rural LGBTQ+ network. At Abel & Cole, we've signed their pledge to "stand against prejudice and support rural LGBTQ+ diversity, inclusion and enablement." Matthew, one of their members, tells us more about what it all means.
Can you imagine a world where everyone was exactly the same? Where we all wore the same clothes, lived in houses that looked the same, went to the same hairdresser, had identical duvet covers and ate exactly the same food at every mealtime.
That sounds properly, properly boring to me.
If we didn’t have diversity, how would we know that we were actually alive? I’m not one for a cliché – it sort of goes against the point that I’m trying to make here - but variety really IS the spice of life.
Yet in the farming world, lots of people are the same. They dress the same, drive the same cars and grow the same crops. This is a pity. The more diversity we have, the more vibrant and imaginative our thought processes become, the more it drives progress. The British countryside is crying out for some of this.
Our cuisine in the UK is dominated by international influences, this is because people from all around the world have chosen to live here and make a career in the food industry. We don’t see many of these people working in British agriculture, though. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that so many of the fruit and vegetables we eat here are now produced overseas. Wouldn’t it be great if we could persuade BAME people from urban backgrounds to consider working as farmers and growing the food that they love. Then the whole country could eat like an Abel and Cole customer.
At Agrespect, we are particularly interested in representing all of the LGBTQ+ people working in farming and rural industries. There are thousands of them. Up until now, no one has really talked about this. Some of them are out and proud, living with partners as part of the fabric of their rural community; we bloomin’ love these people. Some other farmers are more circumspect. They might quietly whistle along to Gloria Gaynor in the tractor when no one is listening but feel that they need to supress their sexual orientation as it wouldn’t be accepted in their village. We think this is unfair. The one thing that we know is true is that people live their best lives when they are able to be themselves. So we are going to sort this out. But we are going to do it in a nice way.
The conversation about gender identity is in its infancy - times are changing. Young people are much less willing to accept the rules and gender roles that society placed on us in the past. This means that increasingly parents are going to have their expectations challenged when their children grow up. We feel compassionate about that. It isn’t easy growing up queer but it isn’t exactly a luxury picnic for those well-meaning, formerly-homophobic dads trying to make sense of meeting their daughter’s girlfriend for the first time. Societal rules have changed a lot in their lifetime. So we want to do something about that too. Also in a nice way.
If you go to our website you can read stories from LGBTQ+ people working in British agriculture and rural careers. Through their experiences, you can see that there are lots of different people working in the countryside. And they are lovely people; working hard, trying to find or maintain a loving relationship, aiming to succeed in a job that they care about, doing their best. They are the proof that when it comes down to it, you don’t have to wear a Barbour jacket and drive a green Land Rover to be a farmer: you just have to grow stuff.
So have a look at the website and enjoy the stories. You might have a story of your own – we would love to hear it. You don’t need to label yourself, we don’t have boxes or quotas. We just want stories which celebrate difference and which we can unite around.
In the future, Agrespect is hoping to get out and about at Pride events and also within the farming industry to introduce these two amazing communities to one another. If you can help us, go to the website and get in touch. And if we have our way, everyone in Britain will soon be able to eat the rainbow.