Emily Brown

Harper Adams Agriculture Undergraduate

I grew up on a mixed family farm (cattle, pigs, turkeys and arable) in Bedfordshire

I have loved helping out for as long as I can remember. Nowadays most of my holidays are spent balancing uni work, exercising and helping out on the farm and in our farm shop. I have been lucky enough to have driven the combine for the past three years, which is a role I absolutely love being able to go back to each summer.

As soon as I turned 10, I signed up to Young Farmers and have been hooked ever since, getting stuck into as much as possible, including showing our Shorthorn cattle, flower arranging, stock judging, public speaking, tug of war and various other competitions.

From around the age of 14 I started to have feelings that I might not be as interested in boys like the rest of my peerswere. Having grown up in the rural community and attending rural schools, I had never met a gay person until I was 15. The rise of LGBTQ+ representation on TV and on social media has helped me to realise that it is okay to like girls. I suppose the first memorable moment from a TV show when the ‘lightbulb’ went in my head was when Heather Peace played Nikki Boston in Waterloo Road. However, at this point I was still struggling to relate to the stereotypes of gay people and was trying to understand all the feelings that were going on in my head.

Sport has always been a passion of mine and at Upper School I was scouted by a local rowing club. Rowing, in conjunction with Young Farmers and the increasing workload from GCSEs and subsequent A-Levels, kept me very busy throughout those years, serving as a good distraction – I didn’t have time for a relationship anyway. Although it must be noted that during this period I was starting to accept my feelings, thanks to a couple of school/rowing friends I told;both of whom were very supportive and accepting.

Then came along the next chapter…

When looking at universities I was struggling to choose between Newcastle and Harper Adams. At Newcastle I felt I could be myself more easily with students coming from all walks of life and also get stuck into their rowing team, but ultimately the draw of a compulsory year on placement and smaller community (similar to that of Young Farmers) convinced me to choose the latter to study BSc Agriculture with Farm Business Management.

I spent the first year at uni fully living the Harper life – within the first two weeks I’d unfortunately had a trip to A&E after breaking my foot from one too many mosh pits. Regardless of all the fun I was having on the social side, I felt the pressure to hide my sexuality, i.e. get married and have children with a guy from the farming community. I was worried about being rejected by family and the new friends from Harper. As hard as I tried to forget about these feelings and act ‘straight’ in a heteronormative society, this unsurprisingly didn’t work and was starting to have a detrimental impact on my mental health.

Going into second year, I told uni friends after a few glasses of gin. All have been accepting, although it has taken some a while to get their heads round it, especially those who have come from more traditional farming backgrounds and had never met a gay person in real life. It wasn’t until placement year when I was really struggling with mental health issues (partly from hiding who I was), I came out to my parents and twin brother. Jack (my twin) has been an absolute rock to me and helped me build up the courage to come out to my parents. Dad was very accepting and supportive; however, it has taken mum considerably longer to understand and process it all. I have definitely felt a lot of relief now I don’t need to hide it from my parents and can be myself. Jack and I have joked about it saying the difference between mum and dad and their understanding is like farmers implementing different cultivation/establishment systems, using the holistic approach versus farmers not wanting to change and sticking with the traditional ploughing methods.

Harper Adams has been fantastic at offering support and someone to talk to when needed. I think it’s fair to say that in comparison to the majority of universities, there is still a largestigma attached to being part of the LGBTQ+ community, especially as an Agric. However, attitudes are slowly changing with more visible representation in rural communities. I do believe that the majority of homophobia at university and in farming is from a lack of education and understanding.

When did you first realise you were LGBT?

I first got an inkling at 14, although I’d say it wasn’t until I was 16 I started to understand it a bit more.

Who did you tell first and what happened?

I told a close school friend at 17, which felt like a small weight was lifted off my shoulders the fact I had managed to tell someone out loud and they were supportive.

How did you start making contact with other LGBT people? Through friends and social media.

How did you feel when you first came out and how do you

feel now? Relieved! I felt like it was such a big part of me that I had hidden for years, just generally feel a lot happier.

What would your advice be to someone in a rural area who is pondering their own sexuality?

As hard as it might be at first, be true to yourself and do what you believe is going to make you happier in the long run. From my experience, hiding who I really was significantly affected my mental health.

Matthew NaylorEmily Brown