Amie Burke

AHDB, Skills Manager

Agriculture is different to other industries, but it’s an industry that I feel a deep love for and, just like my sexuality, once I discovered it – I knew it was right for me. Unfortunately I still don’t always feel comfortable being openly gay within my profession.

Born and raised in the city of Birmingham provided me with lots of opportunities growing up but I always felt slightly out of place. I wasn’t sure what was missing until I found my agricultural university. At the time agriculture meant nothing to me; I was focusing on my poor A level results and where would accept me. I knew that I wanted to be out of Birmingham though and as soon as I set eyes on the rural setting of Harper Adams, I was sold.
If I thought I was out of place in Birmingham, I was about to get a huge wake-up call starting freshers’ week. I can honestly say I was the only person who didn’t own a single item of tweed or walk around in very expensive wellies. But within no time, I was welcomed by my new rural friends and my eyes were opened wider than before to this fascinating new world. I had a sense of new spirit, I was continuously learning about the rural community and culture – much to the amusement of my city friends during half term. Throughout my 4 year degree, I learnt to be more comfortable with my new passion and came to the realisation that this was me; I love farming and I was a tractor geek!
I was 22 and recently graduated when I felt a similar feeling to the one when I was looking for a university. I felt a sense of dissatisfaction with where I was in life. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it but I knew I wasn’t comfortable with my social life.
Unsure what to expect, I decided to join my cousin on one of her regular “gay nights” and exactly the same thing happened as freshers’ week. This time everyone was wearing chinos, trainers and vests and, just like when I started Harper Adams, I felt quite out of place. But sure enough, after a couple more nights out I realised that this was me and I was gay. This was just the start of a very tough journey to be comfortable within myself. I was extremely fortunate that my family were supportive, in fact they didn’t treat it any differently whether I brought a new boyfriend home or a new girlfriend
When I was at university, there weren’t any openly gay people and I was incredibly nervous about how my friends were going to react. Slowly I talked to each of my friends and realised there were no problems; lots of questions (and we all know the usual questions) but I quite enjoyed peoples curiosity and interest.
In my career though; it has been a little harder. Not only am I female in a male-dominated industry; I’m from the city and a non-farming background. Unfortunately, that brings enough judgement on its own without adding the gay card. I have worked hard to prove myself to farming audiences and gaining their respect is very important to me.
The agriculture industry is slightly behind the curve though, it is often uncomfortable to talk about my sexuality. I sometimes find myself avoiding conversations about my personal life because of awkward conversations in the past. I don’t think it is necessarily that these people are homophobic – it is just that they don’t understand. Rural communities need to get better at talking about the “soft stuff.” I hope that the more of us who stand up and say who we are, the easier it will be for future generations to come out and get the support they need.
The past 18 months for me have seen some quite dramatic changes. I changed my job role, moved home and got divorced from my wife. This has made me stronger – the most important change has been within me. It has given me the confidence to be more open about being gay. Our sexuality is an important part of our true identities and we shouldn’t have to hide it to please other people. I am happy to be judged on my work but not on who I love.
Farming can be a remote and lonely place to work and it needs initiatives to support people and bring them together. I am delighted to be a part of Agrespect. The growing support and understanding that is receiving from the farming industry makes the future look happier, hopeful and more inclusive!

Matthew NaylorAmie Burke