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Drake Law School to co-sponsor Iowa LGBT Rural Summit

August 5, 2016

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack will serve as keynote speaker at the Iowa LGBT Rural Summit, an event co-sponsored by Drake University Law School to foster conversation and share information with LGBT people, families, and the community.

The summit will be held Aug. 18, 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at Parents Hall, Olmsted Center on Drake University’s campus (2875 University Avenue). Registration begins at 8:30 a.m.

The event is free and open to the public. Lunch will be provided. Attendees are asked to RSVP online.

Many LGBT people choose to live, work, and raise their families in rural areas. To highlight the unique needs of this community, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has partnered with Drake Law School, One Iowa, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and True Colors Fund to organize the Iowa LGBT Rural Summit.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Drake University Law School to partner with USDA to celebrate and promote diversity in Iowa’s rural and agricultural communities,” said Matt Russell, resilient agriculture coordinator for the Drake University Agricultural Law Center. "For over 30 years, through the Drake University Agricultural Law Center, the law school has worked to support opportunities for Iowans to become involved with and successful in farming including targeted work with women, veterans, minority, beginning, and small farmers. Diversity is the strength of resiliency, whether that’s a diversity of farm products or a diversity of people living and working in our rural communities."

In addition to Vilsack's keynote speech, the event will also feature a number of local panelists and speakers, including Russell, who farms with his husband in rural Lacona, Iowa. The Agricultural Law Center is helping to facilitate the event.

This event is the 15th summit in the nationwide LGBT Rural Summit Series and #RuralPride Campaign, which aims to elevate the voices of the rural LGBT community, highlight the important federal policy efforts to protect this community, and identify next steps to ensure all rural communities have access to the resources they need.

The Iowa LGBT Rural Summit will share information about programs and services that exist to protect, promote, and strengthen LGBT members of rural communities. Issues related to housing, education, healthcare, youth empowerment, and more will be discussed.

Drake University sophomore Josh Hughes will participate in a panel discussion on youth and the rural LGBT experience. Hughes, a native of New Virginia, Iowa, came out to his family and his community shortly after graduating high school, and while in the midst of running for a seat on the Interstate 35 Community School District’s school board. He beat four other community members for the school board seat.

“Coming out isn’t an easy thing for anybody to do, but it can be especially difficult in a rural area,” Hughes said. “For me, it was never really an issue—people were not discriminatory toward me, and it wasn’t a death knell for my [school board] campaign like it may have been 10 or 15 years ago.”

For Hughes, his election was a symbol of progress toward acceptance of LGBT individuals within the rural community. But there’s still much work to be done.

“For transgender issues, there’s a lot of growth that still needs to happen,” Hughes said. “I know my experience has been one thing, as a white male cisgender individual. If I was a black, trans woman, for example, the challenges would be a lot different."

Learn more about the Iowa Rural LGBT Summit and register online.

For questions, contact Matt Russell at matt.russell@drake.edu or 515-271-4956.