Voices of Rural LGBT America: One Dad’s Story of Looking for Work in Montana

Last week, MAP published a comprehensive look at the lives of LGBT people living in rural America. Released in partnership with the Equality Federation, the National Black Justice Coalition, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Where We Call Home: LGBT People in Rural America highlights both the joys and challenges of rural LGBT people in many areas of life.

Integral to understanding – and then advocating for – the lives of rural LGBT people is hearing their stories.

Bert lives with his husband, Dan, in Miles City, Montana, a town with a population of 8,483. Bert’s story highlights the extent to which employment options can be limited, particularly for LGBT people, in rural communities because of discrimination and the lack of employment protections.

After losing his job close to home, Bert applied to a job 70 miles away at St. Labre Indian School, a private Catholic high school serving children from neighboring Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations. As both a Catholic and a Blackfeet Native American, Bert felt this was a natural fit, and that he and Dan would figure out a way to make the long commute work. He excitedly accepted the well-paying job when the school offered it to him.

But when Bert looked for housing at the school, in case bad weather ever meant he needed to stay nearby rather than make the long drive home to his family, he mentioned his husband and children to the St. Labre employee showing him available housing. A few days later, Bert received a call from the school’s administrator, asking him to come speak with the entire school board.

“Are you a practicing homosexual?” the board asked Bert. “Why didn’t you mention this when we asked in your interview if you lived by Catholic values?” they asked. Bert explains what happened next: “I live my life by the morals and values I was taught in Catholic school, so of course I answered truthfully that I live by Catholic values. I didn’t think this was a problem.” The school rescinded the job offer, leaving Bert without a job to provide for his family.  Eventually he found another job, but for considerably less pay than what St. Labre had offered.

LGBT people in rural areas shouldn’t have to choose between living in communities where they have supportive family and friends and deep roots, and providing for themselves and their families.

Yet, because the United States lacks comprehensive, explicit federal protections for LGBT people at work, and because rural states are far less likely to have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws in employment, housing, public accommodations and more, this is a choice that many LGBT people are forced to make, particularly because there may be fewer job opportunities and they may have to travel a farther distance to find work.

Ensuring that all people can live and thrive in the communities big and small requires action by lawmakers and advocacy and support on the part of businesses, communities, and allies. Learn more about LGBT people’s experiences in rural America in this new report from MAP and what can be done to advance equality across the country.