CONTINUING COVERAGE: FLOODS OF 2016

Rural Summit Looks for Ways to Keep Gay Community From Leaving

DES MOINES, Iowa -- More likely to make less money, be more isolated and less confident in their health care choices are all challenges for members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community who live in rural Iowa. Those challenges surfaced during discussions at the Rural Summit at Drake University in Des Moines Thursday.

The Williams Institute lays out struggles of LGBT people in rural America.

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(Bryan Huff left rural Iowa for a more comfortable lifestyle in Des Moines.)

"There weren't gay people that you knew of," Bryan Huff recalled of his days growing up in Madison County, "In fact, you didn't know what 'gay' was. You just think, well, you have feelings. You just think all these people have feelings. Obviously, you're not supposed to express them, because no one else does."

Huff left the rural family farm where he grew up and after living in Chicago, moved to Des Moines, where he sees more opportunities. "To me, that's not really living if you can't really have a group of people that you socialize with," Huff said, "I would find that kind of life difficult."

He said he has seen marginal progress in rural communities since he left. But it's still too minimal. "It's more of a don't ask, we won't talk about it," Huff added, "We know you're gay. As long as you don't bother us, we won't bother you."

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(Former two-term Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has been an outspoken advocate for LGBT equality for several decades.)

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at the summit, part of his agency's work on improving life in rural America. "I have learned that, despite the fact that we all may speak the same English language, we don't necessarily know how to communicate with one another," Vilsack lamented to the audience.

"We all come from different experiences. Those experiences shape what we say, how we say it and how we understand it," Vilsack said, "It's incredibly important for the future of the country that we create methods and opportunities for communities."

Vilsack's appearance is part of a series of summits his agency leads across the country.