Strength in diversity: Holding the rainbow flag the peasant movement moves forward

Brussels, 23 Jul 2021

On 1 July 2021, more than 50 peasant farmers, landless people, rural citizens and activists from  La Via Campesina, gathered online for an international workshop on gender and sexual diversity in rural areas.

If rural life is often hard, then being gay, trans, bi-sexual, or of any other gender or sexual identity beyond the cis-hetero patriarchy makes it even harder. On 28 June 2021, international Pride Day, European Coordination Via Campesina launched its first publication on gender and sexual diversity. Embracing rural diversity: Genders and Sexualities in the peasant movement was designed to create an inclusive space for storytelling, dialogue, self-empowerment, recognition of LGBTQIA+ people’s existence within rural areas and to take a step forward towards their inclusion in agricultural debates. The publication is made up of testimonies and artwork from a dozen farmers from all over Europe and beyond. It offered a chance for each author to deeply reflect on their lives as LGBTQIA+ peasants and rural citizens. The result is a new milestone for the gender debates within the European peasants’ movement.

Taking advantage of the Pride celebrations and the launch of this publication, ECVC invited the LGBTQIA+ community from other LVC regions to an exchange about the creation process of the publication and to establish cross-regional exchanges between LGBTQIA+ actors and allies.

The workshop was meant as an internal space of trust, solidarity and belonging, creating space for personal experiences that share and feed into a political reflection to include diversity in discussions within the peasant movement.

The creative process and opportunity to share experiences with others in the movement was a powerful and touching experience for several participants, and these cathartic feelings and liberating political visions were strongly reflected within the workshop. As one participant highlighted, “What you don’t talk about, you don’t see, so you have to talk about it and you have to tell people about it in order to normalise it.”

Over the course of a few hours, we heard stories of hope and of horror. From celebratory moments of tractors flying the rainbow flag during peasant mobilisations in Spain; the description of a project to cultivate justice bringing together intersectional marginalised communities who are resisting colonial, patriarchal and imperialist food systems in the US; initiatives to build training programs for LGBTQIA+ people in Latin America; and hearing about the process of farms coming out as queer and supporting other farmers and farms to do so; to, on the other hand, heavy stories of persecution and discrimination against LGBTQIA+ members. The workshop was a space to celebrate and commemorate the struggles of not only the individuals within the movement, but also their power and potential as a group.

As Yeva Swart from Toekomstboeren in the Netherlands described: “It’s really incredible to realise your individual story is part of a collective movement and can move towards collective action..”

For many, this empowerment has given a stronger political sense to their personal experiences, with many individuals expressing feelings of liberation, self-reflection and self-realisation. For Jens Köber, from AbL in Germany, “Writing was therapeutic, […] when I was writing my testimony I understood that I had different needs and that I liked to understand myself being a farmer but also living my gay identity.»

For Breda Larkin from the Irish organisation Talamh Beo, some moments of collective joy and exchange took place while preparing her contribution: “The process opened a small group of five or six of us now, who discuss things we never discussed before.” For this group it has become obvious now that they want to “get to the table and open up the conversation of queer farmers and all different ways of thinking.”

Cultural expressions were also part of the workshop. Participants shared original poetry expressing rural diversity, sang live music to denounce discrimination, shared videos and created a collective word mapping truly capturing the energy and feel of the meeting: powerful notions of pride, happiness, exchange, empowerment, inspiration and much more.

The geographical diversity of the struggle was very apparent, with participants from Europe, North America, Latin America and Asia. Their contributions highlighted the multifaceted and diverse ways in which the peasant community is expressing and fighting for gender diversity around the world.

Maggie Cheney, from the queer Rock Steady Farm in the US, who also contributed to the publication, shared about the numerous cooperative farms and collectives that have come out over the last five years in the US. Maggie talked about the great networks they are now building and how it has been supporting the emergence of more and more queer farmers! They want to go further: “We are very out, and we get lots of people who want to work with us. So, we started a new project that is all about training queer and trans farmers. We feel it is the next level of support the queer community needs in our area.”

Alessandro Mariano, from MST in Brazil, was clear: “Our community faces many challenges: patriarchy, racism, capitalism. Besides the fight for land, we have to make this fight for sexual freedom. Because capital does not only take over territory, but also our bodies. Lindolfo, one of our comrades, was burned [on the last May 1st] for being gay.” Therefore, it is very important that peasant organisations accept other ways of loving and ensure the right of LGBTIQA+ people to live in the countryside. This was also echoed by Blanca Ruiz from the Caribbean region, who highlighted the courage of the community and flagged that “We have to come together as CLOC (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo) and make this a joint struggle. It is not enough just to fight for the land.”

Finally, from Asia, Nikar Tsai welcomed both the publication and the collective effort, sharing the experiences from her feminist farm in Taiwan, Land dyke, which aims to create a non-binary, gender diversity friendly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Nikar described how they “have successfully increased visibility and respect for women farmers in Taiwan, cultivating biodiversity and gender diversity at the same time.” She continued, “but we did not do this alone. Over the past two decades, my country has grown into a much more open and vibrant democracy.” The question Nikar now opens is: “How do we position ourselves in agriculture in ways beyond capital and heteronormative kinship ties?”

What comes next?

In order to bring these voices to the table within the movement, different actions were identified during the workshop, starting with getting the publication translated into more languages and sharing it more broadly.

The workshop also showed how important moments of exchange are, in order to inspire each other and to strengthen solidarity between regions. We now have the challenge of identifying and supporting more LGBTQIA+ people within our organisations and regions.

Several participants expressed a sincere desire for further organised actions on sexual and gender diversity at national and regional levels. For the European level, a concrete proposal was made to create a gender diversity articulation inside ECVC.

The importance of building alliances with other LGBTQIA+ groups from rural and urban contexts has been highlighted as an important element in our way forward.

There was also consensus about the need for an organised and articulated process within LVC. In that sense a very concrete proposal was made: As soon as the pandemic allows, a physical international LGBTQIA+ meeting should take place prior to LVC’s 8th conference, so that the LGBTQIA+ community within LVC can exchange and bring concrete proposals to the conference planed to 2023. The participants from Via Campesina Brazil expressed their willingness to host this meeting, at the same time that they intermediately invited the other regions to join two online seminars sessions in July organised by the LGBTI collective of Via Campesina Brazil. This will be an opportunity for further formation and training, exchange of experiences, and development of collective reflections and processes.

All in all, the workshop on 1 July was a step forward in recognising the existence of LGBTQIA+ people within the food sovereignty movement and beyond. Through continued, organised action, we raise our voices, united, to take our place: in fields, on farms, in families, and in rural communities, to fight for food sovereignty with diversity!