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Program Aims to Support Rural LGBTQ Virginians


Thursday, July 21, 2022   

New research out of the University of Minnesota reveals rural LGBTQ folks face unique, and often unmet, mental- and physical-health needs.

The Minnesota research, published last month, indicates social cohesion can play a major role in the health and well-being of LGBTQ people, and it documents how some organizations are trying to meet that need.

Marianna Tuttle, a research and communications fellow at the University of Minnesota's Rural Health Research Center, said community organizations can play a major role in supporting that sense of belonging.

"So the organizations we spoke with were doing a range of work," said Tuttle, "including support groups and relationship-building activities that may fall under the social and emotional support needs, to anti-bullying efforts and education for their entire community that could more broadly impact the environment folks live in."

One of the groups profiled in Tuttle's research is the Virginia Rural Health Association, which aims to improve health access and quality of care for the commonwealth's rural communities.

That association offers LGBTQ-specific programs through its Pride of Rural Virginia initiative, which has its next in-person program scheduled for August 6 at the Edinburg branch of the Shenandoah County Public Library.

Tuttle said prior research revealed rural LGBTQ folks saw a significant decrease in their social and emotional support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said Pride events, and other community gatherings, can provide an important mental-health boost by increasing visibility and providing a sense of belonging.

"They're not the end-all, be-all, but they're a really important and positive start," said Tuttle. "Having the entire town or the entire region come together to celebrate LGBTQ+ folks' presence, their membership in the community, is a really good place to start."

Nearly half of all LGBTQ youths in rural areas say their community is unaccepting of LGBTQ people, according to a 2021 Trevor Project report. Similarly, those same kids reported higher rates of discrimination against LGBTQ folks.

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