New Democracy Maps

Where We Call Home: LGBT Families in Rural America

Rural America can be a wonderful place built around family and close-knit community; centered around strong social institutions such as churches, schools, and local businesses; deeply connected to place and the environment; and based in a sense of efficacy and self-reliance to make change in their own communities. In April, MAP, in partnership with the Equality Federation, NCLR, and the National Black Justice Coalition, released a report focused on the experiences of LGBT people in rural communities, entitled “Where We Call Home.”  

The role of family is particularly central in rural spaces. Two in five rural residents (42%) said they remained in or returned to their communities in order to be near their family. Research also shows that many families, including LGBT-headed families, are either moving or returning to rural communities to raise their children, given affordability of housing, perceptions of community safety and school quality, and an overall higher quality of life. If they have extended family in these rural communities, that can be additionally beneficial, both logistically and emotionally, for families with children. As a result, the role of one’s immediate and extended family for people living in rural communities is often a core component of social, emotional, and even financial life in rural America. 

For LGBT people and their families, rural communities can be incredibly supportive, affirming places to raise children, and indeed majority-rural states have higher-than-national rates of LGBT people raising children. At the same time, given the lower overall levels of LGBT equality in majority-rural states, coupled with increased visibility as LGBT parents, LGBT families in rural areas are also at increased risk for discrimination. 

LGBT people in rural areas are most likely to be raising children. Research shows that the highest rates of parenting by both same-sex couples and LGBT individuals are in the most rural regions of the country. 

  • Twenty-four out of the 30 states with a higher-than-nationwide rate of same-sex couples raising children are majority-rural states. Of the states with below national rates of same-sex couples raising children, most are majority-urban states.  

  • In the Midwest, Mountain, and Southern regions— which are heavily rural and also where nearly two-thirds of LGBT people currently live—the average number of same-sex couples raising children increases to 20% or more. In Mississippi, for example, nearly 26% of same-sex couples are raising children. 


LGBT parents in rural areas are highly visible. LGBT people living in rural America are often more visible due to the simple fact that there are fewer people in general, and so someone who is different is more likely to stand out. However, LGBT-headed families in rural communities are arguably the most visible of all, particularly when raising children in a family headed by a same-sex couple. That a single person is LGBT may not always be as obvious to others, but if that person has a same-sex partner, and even more so if that couple has children, their LGBT identity becomes more evident. This is especially the case given that parents often attend their children’s school functions, sporting events, or other community activities together. LGBT parents and their children may also experience increased scrutiny, particularly during challenging times such as when conflict arises between parents, when issues arise with a child’s behavior or school performance, or when advocating for themselves or LGBT issues in their community. When LGBT people live their lives openly, including as parents, they may be more fully able to participate in community, but this increased visibility may also mean a heightened risk of discrimination.  

Take the example of Bert and his husband, Dan, who live in Miles City, Montana, a town with a population of 8,483. Bert and Dan have fostered 14 children over the years, and they currently provide a safe, loving home to seven children. Bert was offered a job, but the offer was later rescinded after he mentioned his husband and children. Despite this experience, Bert says, “I love living in Montana. I love Miles City. It’s a good place to raise kids, just big enough to have services… We’ve made quite a few friends.” He and Dan were supported by their friends and family when they married in 2014, as well as when his job offer was rescinded. Community members sometimes call on Bert and Dan to support younger LGBTQ children in the area, and Bert has run for both local and statewide office. “Montanans are fiercely independent people,” Bert says. “Some of the friends you don’t expect are your biggest supporters. …It’s not as daunting as it looks. Here we are.” 

Are you an LGBT family living in a rural community in America?  Does your organization support LGBT families in rural America? Share your story on Twitter using the hashtag #RuralLGBT. Check out the recommendations in the report, including for community organizations, and then hang this flier to share resources with LGBT people in your community. 

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