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Rural queer studies scholars have argued that the approaches of national (urban based) LGBTQ rights organizations do not work in non-metropolitan locations (Gray et al. 2016). They have largely made these claims by examining the lives of LGBTQ people in rural places in relation to the strategies and goals of mainstream national gay rights organizations (Gray 2009; Thomsen 2015).

Put more directly, scholars have made arguments about how gay rights groups conceptualize rural place by considering the ideas implicit in movement discourses, strategies, and actions (or lack thereof). This is for a simple reason: until very recently, national gay rights organizations had ignored rural areas completely, and as such, rurality was not something they discussed, making analyzing discourses of—rather than implicit ideas about — rurality among gay rights activists essentially impossible. This is changing, for better and for worse. Here, we analyze the ideas that circulated about two recent rural LGBTQ campaigns organized by national gay rights groups: LGBT Rural Summits, “Project One America.” Although these campaigns represent an exciting new moment in LGBTQ rights activism, they also, ironically, further the production and circulation of metronormative ideas.  

This section examines the ways that conservatives and liberals alike talked about the  LGBT Rural summit held on August 18, 2016 in Des Moines, Iowa. The summit was organized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in collaboration with the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the True Colors Fund (Cyndi Lauper’s organization that focuses on homelessness among LGBT youth). Although the USDA and company had organized fourteen similar summits since its inaugural event on June 6, 2014 in Greensboro, North Carolina, this was the first summit to garner national attention.

Just six weeks prior to the first LGBT Rural Summit, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the self-proclaimed largest LGBT civil rights organization in the United States, unveiled “Project One America.” An HRC report accompanying the April 26, 2014 press release for the campaign launch stated:

Project One America is necessary because, after last year’s historic U.S. Supreme Court rulings, this country is divided into Two Americas when it comes to equality. In one America, mostly on the coasts, LGBT people enjoy nearly complete legal equality. But in the other America, in the Midwest, the Great Plains, the Mountain West, and particularly in the South, even the most basic protections of the law are nonexistent.” [Emphasis added]

This new campaign sought to “dramatically expand LGBT equality” in Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, one of the areas of the country the HRC describes as “the other America.” This “other America” includes those places that ostensibly lack “nearly complete” LGBTQ equality, which, for the HRC, is the defining feature of this “other America.”

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