A tight-knit community feel for all? LGBTQ+ experiences in small towns & villages

Stereotypically, despite often being places of vast liberal political growth and development among the youth in recent decades, homophobia and anti-gay hate in small towns and villages is still widespread. Unlike, for example, the capital city of London – where being gay doesn’t make you feel like a stand out spectacle among the rest of your peers – or even Newcastle, where it feels safer to proudly and openly be gay, walking the streets hand in hand with your partner; in smaller towns and cities across England, it certainly feels like there is a lack of safety and security for queer people growing up, and, for me, I more often feel on edge as an openly gay woman in such areas than I feel comfortable and respected by others, and I’m sure many can relate.


Perhaps it is the stereotypes of small towns and their people that exacerbate these feelings for LGBTQ+ youth. Scenes of drunken men spitting abuse at queer-presenting people in the middle of the street are certainly a universal experience for many of us, with shouting and violence a common occurrence. This sort of abuse appears to receive more praise and acceptance in such areas, with repercussions for perpetrators rarely seen and others being too intimidated to step in. However, it is often not the most obvious homophobia such as this that affects queer youth the most; slurs being used as commonplace insults in school, disapproving stares from older women, children being whispered to by their heterosexual parents as a gay couple passes by – these are the things that perhaps affect us the most. Of course, these sorts of things occur anywhere and everywhere, however, the confined and cut off feelings that small towns and villages exude mean that it often feels as if there is no escaping the uncomfortable feeling of being openly queer, and, alongside the stereotypically patriarchal and heterosexual attitude of these much less diverse and inclusive areas, growing up in places like this feels isolating, segregating, and, sometimes, quite scary.


Of course, schools, councils and youth groups try to help support LGBTQ+ youth by providing services such as welfare, pride parades, clubs, and LGBTQ+ specific events, as well as displaying rainbows and slogans on every form of public transport, leaflets, and sandwich wrappers, however these half-hearted attempts to resonate with the queer community more often than not fall short of actually, sincerely trying to support them. The lack of education surrounding the legitimate history of the queer community in small areas is startling, and simply waving rainbow flags in every direction is not going to improve the situation or offer any more support or visibility to queer youth. The stereotypically conservative middle-aged and elderly generations in villages and small towns are going to remain prejudiced towards the LGBTQ+ community, and will continue to spread their bigoted hate and animosity within their communities, thus maintaining the hostility between queer youth and their elders, and reinforcing a message to them that says, ‘you are not welcome here’. 


Moving to bigger cities is often an outlet for queer youth, and many do this by going to university. The idea of escaping the restraints of a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, and heading off to a big city full of vibrance, new types of people, and encountering a much, much larger queer community is an idea that appeals to many LGBTQ+ youth who feel insecure in their hometowns. These sorts of feelings are, of course, universal for many young people who want to escape to the big city as they grow up, however that idea of escapism is something that really resonates among the queer community. Whether it’s their peers at school, community attitude, or even their own family; LGBTQ+ youth are often left left to simply hide away and learn to conform at home, and are only able to fully express themselves and live their lives authentically away from home. 


Universities and student life in larger cities and towns offer much more entertainment and support for the queer community, such as gay nightclubs and bars, queer-centred societies and events, and just in general a much more accepting community; with many similar-aged queer people in search of the same essence of freedom. Queer youth seem to thrive in a student-based environment – not just through the idea of escaping home, but also meeting and mixing with fellow queer students. New ideas, perspectives and knowledge are able to be shared in the experiences had at university for the LGBTQ+ youth, and, for many, it is the first time away from extreme animosity and intolerance in which they can learn so much about themselves and live in a way that is genuine to themselves. Still, a student environment, in which people’s backgrounds and opinions are so vastly different, can pose even greater challenges for some, with anti-LGBTQ+ hate still being spread, albeit on a most often smaller scale. 


It may seem like an endless battle for queer youth against the intolerances shown towards them in all walks of life, and the feeling of not belonging and feeling inferior to your peers is extremely unpleasant. However, the transition between living at home and becoming fully independent, especially when you come from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, or a town on the outskirts that nobody’s heard of, can be extremely rewarding. Not being overshadowed by your family in anything you do, not having to worry about the opinions of others, not being afraid to show your true self; university brings a sense of a fresh start, a time where you can develop yourself in any way you want, into anyone you want to be, with less judgement and more acceptance. For LGBTQ+ youth who feel imprisoned in their hometowns, although it is not the only way, it is certainly a remarkably rewarding period of time during which the most wonderful growth is made.


Image by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

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