LGBTQ+ Youth and 4-H

July 14, 2017

Let’s dispel the myth that there are no members of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer/Questioning) community in the Ag sector.

“It is absolutely false,” says Dr. Jeff Howard. Social media has brought many communities together and “out,” revealing that many agricultural officials and leaders are part of the LGBTQ+ community on line.  Nonetheless, many LGBTQ+ identifiers still feel the need to “hide in plain sight,” and preconceptions and prejudice are a reality we have to address in 4-H.

Some day we may not feel the need to have a session like today’s at a Global 4-H Network Summit to discuss LGBTQ+ issues. But it is extremely relevant today, and 4-H can celebrate that it truly is an inclusive organization that provides safe, healthy opportunities for all youth, regardless of sexual orientation.

“It’s the ethical and right thing to do because the essential elements of 4-H must be available to all youth,” Jeff says. “We need to be more deliberate and understanding in our approach to all human rights and inclusivity issues. However, the reality is that LGBTQ+ acceptance has complex resistance at many levels in our society.”

Jeff grew up in the 4-H program in Texas and has made it a lifelong career. His passion for international programming and his mission to develop greater compassion and understanding of LGBTQ+ youth drives him. He was keen to catalyze discussion of LGBTQ+ issues and implications for any global organization, but especially 4-H.

“Within weeks of joining 4-H I became a different child,” he says proudly.  Previously an ostracized introvert who had trouble fitting in, Jeff found 4-H to be “the most nurturing, welcoming environment I had ever been in. That, and experiences since then have driven me to be an advocate for how 4-H can play a key role in nurturing all children” regardless of race, creed, background or sexual orientation.

4-H has a solid history of programs where LGBTQ+ youth can learn and grow in a safe and accepting environment.  But the issue does present issues for international travel, exchanges, and attendance at forums such as future Global 4-H Network Summits.  Openly LGBTQ+ 4-H youth seeking to participate in international 4-H programming and travel to countries may encounter laws, policies and cultures that don’t support them or prohibits them from participation, with severe implications in many cases.

The LGBTQ+ community’s issues are also an important element of today’s Healthy Living theme.  There are real health aspects to these issues, particularly when lack of inclusion and acceptance impacts physical and mental well-being. Fortunately, 4-H will continue to offer safe, inclusive programming for all children.

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