My Blog

Richard Milburn

Richard Milburn

Rural Chartered Surveyor

I didn’t want to be gay in Louth and in any case I didn’t even think it was an option.

I grew up in a small market town in rural Lincolnshire. When I started to realise I might be gay I flitted between two ideas of how my life would pan out; either this would be a phase, and I would settle down with a wife and kids, or I would move away to a big city disappear into a gay scene of London or Manchester.

During my teenage years I realised that this wasn’t a phase and thought that university would start my journey to coming out. I moved to Leicester University with high hopes. I didn’t settle into city life and was disappointed when I didn’t find a gay community waiting for me to join. I spent a lot of my university weekends and holidays back in the town I thought I needed to escape and I then realised that what I needed was the support of my friends and family to come out.

Coming out was an overwhelmingly positive experience and when I reflect back I only wish I had done it sooner. After university I had to choose my career; I decided to undertake a post graduate degree in property and building surveying. Closeted me would have been too scared to go down this path worried it would be to masculine or that my sexuality would be questioned on building sites, but I found I had a new confidence from being my authentic self.

After this I worked for a few years at Gelder, a Lincoln based builders, before moving to Savills and becoming a qualified surveyor. I am fortunate that my company has an LBGT group which I joined so I could network with gay people at other offices. I have always felt fully supported in the office to talk openly about my relationships. Many companies are starting to recognise the advantages of having a diverse work force. It helps better reflect the customers, stakeholders and businesses we work with. I also think being gay gives me a different perspective at work. I have never wanted to be an alpha male and this has allowed me to learn and grow in my career. I am not afraid of asking lots of questions for fear of looking weak; I never feel the need to pretend that I know it all.

I feel it important to share my story so that other young LGBTQ+ people, living in the countryside, understand that you don’t have to move miles from where you grew up to be happy. You can get a job which you are passionate about, make gay mates and date the same sex while still living in a rural area.

I project manage building maintenance works on rural estates in and around the community I grew up in which has allowed me to keep close ties to my family and friends who’s support I will always rely on.

I did have to go back to Leicester to find a boyfriend though, I have been with Pete two years, hopefully one day I’ll get him to move back to my home patch of Lincolnshire.

Matthew NaylorRichard Milburn
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Fabien Cubizolles

Fabien Cubizolles

Farm worker, Norfolk

I’m Fabien, 27 years old, general farm worker on a dairy farm in Norfolk, England. Born and bred in France, I grew up on a small dairy farm in the mountains, with mum and dad, and my two older sisters.

I found out i was gay when i was about 10. And I guess, like every gay kid, going through the process of coming out is hard and long, but so satisfying once you’re done with it.

My parents are quite conservative, and homophobic (let’s use the right words and be honest) in the way that they wanted to have a son to run the farm, marry a girl, have kids, and keep the family name safe.

I’ve never told my parents face to face I liked guys, I’ve never had the guts to do it. So instead, at age 22, I wrote a letter, to tell them everything. To tell them I loved them, and tell them I wasn’t different, after all. Spoiler alert; their reaction was full of rejection and fear. They are still not talking about it, we barely speak to each other. I’m fine with that.

Let’s talk about farming shall we ? I studied agriculture and animal production, as it was the only thing I kinda knew and was interested in. Then I applied for an insemination technician job in southern France. The job consisted of doing AI on cows where ever needed. Which means every time the company needed someone in the Alps or in Aquitaine (south west), or anywhere, I had to go there. I absolutely loved it! As i could travel everywhere for free and was getting paid for that. What a deal!

I was shy though, really shy. Also insecure about my sexuality and my life in general, and I still didn’t really know what to do with my own damn life. One day, I had enough, I needed a change. I applied for a visa for New Zealand, sold my car, flew there, got a job on a dairy farm and started a new life. I didn’t know the country, the language (my English was so crap at that time), what  would I actually do on this farm..?

Turned out the bosses were from France and the whole team was french.
I was milking cows, moving the ladies paddock to paddock, was helping for the calving season (we had 1900 cows. Don’t go to the gym, just work on a farm, you’ll be alright).

I still needed to be more confident and wanted to explore the world. I then left the farm, drove across the country, met a few people… things started to finally get better. A friend of mine was doing an internship for a farming company in England. He told me i should apply for a job there, as the company was getting bigger and they needed staff to run the farms the had everywhere in the country. I applied by mail at 7pm, got the job the same day, at 9pm… (were they desperate for people? Lucky me!).

And here we go again, I flew from New Zealand to England, started a job as a second in charge on a dairy farm in Norfolk. The farm was brand new. The milking parlour was almost ready to be used. My manager and I had to do and set up everything: fences, tracks, daily routine…

At the same time i was dating a Canadian lad. He was working on a cruise ship and he wanted me to come with him, on the ship. I made the decision to leave the UK and go on the ship. We went to Canada, the US, the Caribbean, a few countries in Europe… him and I did that for almost 18 months. We then broke up, and I flew back to the UK, and worked again for the same company.

In 2020, the pandemic did hit us hard. I made the decision to leave the country and come back to France. I started a new job… as an insemination technician (AGAIN) between Lyon and Geneva. It was great and I learnt a lot! But I missed the UK so much that I drove back to England, and started this new job, for the same company I was working for back in the day. I’m working and helping for the calving seasons, the AI, and scanning as well, and I basically have 2 to 3 months off a year.

I still don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life, but I’m enjoying working with cows, being in England and being able to have a lot of time off and travel.

I’m now confident with my life and my sexuality, I try to be optimistic and positive as much as i can and I’m not afraid to show people who I am.

Elizabeth ElcoateFabien Cubizolles
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Jim Stotzka

Jim Stotzka

Soil and Plant Health Specialist

I think it would be fair to say that my life so far has been one of transitions and new beginnings.

I spent a number of years working as a professional Dressage rider, have tried my hand at being a musician and I have studied for two different degrees, in Animal Science and Commercial Horticulture. I have worked in crop production related research and microbiology and been involved in arable agriculture for 8 years now. I work for Frontier Agriculture as a Soil and Plant Health Specialist and am leading our work on sustainable crop production. I love working with farmers and agronomists and my work gives me a great balance between science and looking at how to actually make things work on farm.

I grew up in Northern Germany with my mom and stepfather. My dad lived in Spain and later Berlin, which equated to a fair bit of travel for me to see him from when I was very young, but also meant I got to spend some pretty wild times as a teenager in the Berlin of the early 90s… I left Germany when I was 19 and have lived in California and the UK since.

I believe one of the reasons for moving around and trying my hand at so many things was the feeling of being at odds or out of step with myself for as long as I can think. About a year ago I finally found some words for this feeling and came out to myself as transgender. Once I realised that this was my real narrative, I fairly quickly decided that I needed to embark on a more social, professional and physical transition in order to live in harmony with myself.

The first people I came out to were my dad and my best friends Emma and Ian, who were completely laid back and accepting. My dad simply told me that he hoped this would help me find my core and to ground myself. He has been a massive support. Emma and Ian have given me more love and help than I can describe. It feels like their patience and the way they held me through this journey made all of it possible. Encouraged by their reaction, I started telling more friends and family and again found that most people were completely accepting and positive. Looking back at it now, I think their acceptance was quicker than my own. Of course not all has been plain sailing and some of my family have been and are struggling but I am optimistic that in the end we will find a way back to one another.

Coming out at work was a hugely intimidating prospect. I have a fairly public profile due to the work I do and am involved with hundreds of people inside and outside of our organisation. I chose to speak to HR and my line manager first of all and again, I was blown away by their positive and pragmatic attitude. We developed a plan to put out internal and external messages and Frontier have been incredibly supportive in implementing those plans in every way. One of our company core values is ‘Integrity’ and I feel that this, alongside an enormous social conscience, is exactly what Frontier have demonstrated in their backing of my personal journey. There is a true drive to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. It is my hope that as an industry leader in so many other aspects, by publicly demonstrating their support of me, Frontier will help to pave the way for a paradigm shift in what is – let’s be honest – a pretty conservative industry.

Speaking of finding words for how I felt – I believe labels and names for who we are can be helpful in allowing others to understand us and also to allow the LGBTQ+ community to make political and social headway. On a personal level though, I believe these labels to be arbitrary. Sure, I was assigned female at birth but have always felt male. I also happen to be a guy who likes other guys, wear size 8 shoes and have brown eyes.

It is my hope that one day we will be able to look at one another and simply see who we are due to the many experiences and traits that we each carry and that none of those traits will mean we have to ‘come out’ about them. Until that day comes, however, it is a huge pleasure and a privilege to be part of the Agrespect community and to help to promote the message of equality and normalcy to the world.

Matthew NaylorJim Stotzka
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Pip Blaylock

Pippa Blaylock

Potato Agronomist

Finding a starting point to begin my story is difficult… it’s a bit circular really

but now I have finally found my true authentic self, albeit pretty much late in life. A real slow burn for sure!

We are all defined by external forces and by the people we know, love, work with, have just met and even by those that we don’t know.

When people ask you “What do you do?” their enquiries are often unknowingly gendered and loaded with stereotypical preconceptions. This reinforces our own behaviour of being whatever people expect you to be. That was very true for me.

For most of my life I didn’t feel authentic living as a man but I successfully met the expectations of the male gender role. I was a keen motorcyclist, riding trials, motocross, sprint and hillclimb. I am a first wave ex-triathlete and have swum cycled and run in some very varied venues in the UK and completed my final sprint triathlon at sixty years old.

I am an agronomist and have worked primarily in that role for many years now, almost too many to think about?

I have been working for a large independent potato merchant and packer, supplying the major UK retailers. Being the only agronomist in a department of one has suited me very well having worked independently for the majority of my life in many crop protection roles from contracted services, sales, technical advisory capacity for global companies. I have had a focus on development trials, compliance, testing, and pesticide use advice, primarily for new product development and compliance purposes.

It is only two years since I came out but I am already much further down my male to female transition road than I could have ever imagined. That was a very liberating moment and it felt a like a natural, matter of fact event.

Now, having been out full time for year as Pippa and with HRT, things are so very good. Not easy, but very good nonetheless. I have found genuine happiness and, having built a very large network of open minded people from every aspect of the LGBTQ+ world, the world is a much better place for me now.

Life continues pretty much the same in my agricultural world but one event I will never forget was attending the PCN Symposium in September last year at Harper Adams University. I was asked to present and then help sum up day one before the close with a crowded lecture theatre with specialists from around the world. It was very special moment for me.

I had only just come out full time at work and so I arrived the night before with an option to either attend the symposium as Pip or “otherwise”. The next day, I was late arriving, it was a wet blustery day and I had no time to change…so Pippa it was and I made my entrance in ‘The Welly”

Many people who had known me for years didn’t recognise me, only my voice gave me away. This gave me the great feeling that I could ‘pass’ and the rest is history.

Since then I have received such wonderful support from so many people from so many different parts of the world.

You wouldn’t believe the questions that get asked of me though! Yes, actually about me. For some, it seems acceptable to ask direct and personal questions that they wouldn’t dream of asking anybody else of either gender. It’s truly breathtaking!

Now that I am empowered by true authenticity, I take a very open and straightforward approach and I can easily take control of the conversation.

The classic question often is :

‘So when did you know….’ ?

‘Know what’? I say

‘You know when…when…’

It’s so much more fun!

The spectrum of difference in the gender/orientation/biological sex – continuum means that we all have an individual journey, with different time frames and pace. No two trans* people are alike – we are all individuals.

However, from speaking to lots of other people in similar situations, common themes emerge.

For me, I always felt a duality within myself. Pippa had a ‘secret’ voice from my very earliest memories but this was a ‘fatal secret’ in the time and the agriculture community in which I grew up.

Things are changing now of course but there is a long battle ahead, I think, particularly with the current trans* backlash by high profile people. They should know better and also should be far better informed.

That has further crystallised my commitment to share my story with Agrespect to help in that sharing and understanding for wider audiences. We must not underestimate how big the LGBTQ+ community is and how much it contributes.

My ‘fatal secret’ took a long time to emerge. Although Pippa was hidden, she was always there – not as a complete and defined person, only partially-formed – but still very much part of me and who I was. From the youngest age, I simply knew I was different.

I couldn’t articulate it as a matter of gender or as ‘I want to be girl’ because I also had a very strong attraction to girls – an attraction which remains strong. However, from my early teens this was something that I could express in the way I dressed – conveniently the 70s!

It was later that I discovered that I was born with a DSD (now defined as an intersex condition). This explained so much and I understand that this also shapes many aspects of my character. With very conservative parents and a taboo world I was never told about this, it was much later when this confirmed. Thankfully things are now much better understood than back in 1958. The operation that I underwent as a baby wouldn’t  take place now.

However there had been clues all through my life about my truth. I found a letter from my mother to my grandmother where I was actually named as “Pippa” and I was always called Pip all the way through my teenage years until I was advised to adopt my given name when going into the world of work. Occasionally I get some email or some post from my home town area that still refers to me as Pip.

So, yes, a very circular life. After a first life where it felt like everything was on hold, I feel so very lucky to have been given a second life chance.

Best wishes to all, keep the faith!

Matthew NaylorPip Blaylock
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Steve Penberthy

Steve Penberthy

Sheep Farmer

I grew up in deepest rural Cornwall, in a family known to the majority of the local farms, where my dad and both grandfathers were engineers (one taught engineering at the local technical college) and so I thought that coming out as gay just wasn’t an option for me.

I can remember, as a teenager, watching Queer As Folk on the TV in my bedroom with the volume turned down so I could barely here it and feeling almost ashamed of the feelings I had and what it all meant.

All the way through my school life I was never academic and really struggled, leaving school with only two GCSEs of note – Design and Technology and Motor Vehicle Studies. My dream of joining the ambulance service as a paramedic went down in flames.

Two years in sixth form college and I was still a lost soul. But two summers working on the local college arable farm where a friend of the family was farm manager had sparked my interest in agriculture and really appealed to my practical side. I enrolled with Duchy College on a three-year Foundation course in Agriculture.

I can remember the first day turning up at the college’s farm seeing the group of laddish young farmers all from farming backgrounds and thinking this could be a challenge. At this point in my life I wasn’t out to anyone other than one very close friend who I confided in. I always seemed to avoid the awkward conversations about girls and girlfriends with the guys at college and even in social situations with friends

When I was 20, I was confronted by my dad one evening after a long day’s work on the farm. He told me that “he knew what I was, and it was never going to happen under his roof.”

This caused my world to crash down around me. I went off the rails to say the least and left the house that night not to return for a few days. This forced my hand somewhat and, before I knew it, everyone at the farm knew and so did my college friends.

The hardest part about it all wasn’t the farm crew or my college friends knowing, it turned out they all fully supported me and nothing changed apart from a bit of laddish banter and I quite liked that. It was the fact that my dad and grandfather had stopped talking to me or acknowledging me. This absolutely destroyed me inside. These were the two people I looked up to the most and they had cut me off. It took 12-18 months of work to build those relationships back up. To this day I haven’t actually said to my parents “Mum, Dad, I’m Gay”. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, or if I even need to.

I definitely don’t hide my sexuality from anyone and I’m proud to have the rainbow flag flying at the farm alongside the Cornish flag.

Roll on 15 years and I’m now farming a tenant farm on the south coast of Cornwall running 250 sheep, and lambing twice a year. I feel fully accepted in the local farming community and feel like the other estate farms have taken me under their wing. I out-winter my sheep on a couple of local farms and I’m treated no differently to anyone else.

As I’m sat here trying to put my story down on paper, it got me thinking about how LGBTQ+ people connect and how meeting like-minded people face-to-face has become more and more difficult. This has been made even harder by the pandemic and lockdown restictions. I have been following the stories from other Agrespect contributors for the past 12-or-so months and comparing their experiences to mine.

Recently I found myself running the farm on my own and wondered how being gay, the farm commitments, and having a full-time job as well would fit in with meeting new people – it can feel like you are fishing in a very small pond. But already the friendships that I have made through chatting with other people who have connected with Agrespect has made me appreciate the value of it and I can see the power of connecting people in rural communities who feel isolated by their sexuality.

I personally cannot wait for the world to return to some sort of normality and am looking forward to get with amazing,like-minded individuals and also attending my first ever Pride event

I hope that putting my story out there will help other people in a similar situation to find the courage to be whoever they want to be and to be proud of that and I send them a very warm welcome to the LGBTQ community. You will be amazed how welcoming and compassionate people can be and you have a fellow friendly face here in Cornwall, assured discretion, a listening ear, and the kettle is always on. Instagram @the.salty.shepherd

Matthew NaylorSteve Penberthy
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Julia Romagnoli

Julia Romagnoli

Agricultural Sales & Marketing

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

As a 9-year-old, I commenced in the field of work and agriculture through doing Saturday morning chores on a local dairy farm. It was here that I gained a respect and passion for agriculture and hard work. After my first year exposed to the dairy industry, I joined the local 4-H Dairy Calf Club. From giving reasons for a cow class placement in front of my peers to inquisitions about the Holstein breed, I became more confident addressing and speaking to a group of fellow peers. In the years to follow, I ran and succeeded in leadership positions in my 4-H Club and for the province as a 4-H Ontario Ambassador. 4-H taught me that whether its teamwork in a group, club, community or country, teamwork and reaching synergy is only possible if a group supports and encourages one another along the way.

Growing up I was very focused on academia and extra-curriculars. I never had anything to contribute when the girls were discussing their latest crush and boy-interests. I told myself I was too busy for that and had other priorities. I started at the University of Guelph with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture (Animal Science). I continued my community involvement at University of Guelph through holding various leadership roles and participating in extra-curriculars. Unlike in high school, my social life was in full bloom and I started to try my hand at intimate relationships. I was well into my university Ag degree when I came to terms with being a lesbian. I grew up believing that being gay was a sin and coming out to my parents was no Hallmark moment. This is not to say that I didn’t have the support of my amazing friends and siblings.

When it came time for full-time work in the Ag industry, I felt bold. I believed that I could put everything out on the table. My belief quickly became that I needed prove myself first, be myself later. Before I took my first field assignment, I was told it would be an uphill battle as I was under 25, female and having relocated, my existing Ag experience was not relevant. Did I want to add gay to the list? So I focused on the work. This is how I would earn my place, win people over and gradually come out to those who I felt I could trust. I was fortunate that this resulted in allies though some who I looked up to told me if I was going to be successful in the industry that I needed to keep it to myself. So I did and kept my professional and personal lives separated. The problem with this is there is always work to do and with work being my focus, it ate away at my self-identity. In the last year I have been discovering balance, reclaiming activities that I love outside of work both in and out of Ag and being my most authentic self. It has been extraordinary.

Being LGBTQ+ in Ag can seem lonely and impossible at times. For me, the visibility and presence of this community in agriculture seems non-existent and it is my goal is to help change that. I recently started @prideinag_ on Instagram to help connect, share and celebrate LGBTQ+ voices in agriculture. My hope is that through sharing my story, others will have the courage to share theirs. You are not alone. #PrideInAg

Elizabeth ElcoateJulia Romagnoli
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Emily Brown

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
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Gareth Taylor

Gareth Taylor

Rural Surveyor

I grew up in rural Herefordshire and being an enthusiastic young farmer I was keen to go into farming

Not being from a farm, I knew that I’d have to pursue another career avenue. And so I took myself off to Harper Adams to study land management, I didn’t feel comfortable to come out at university and so distracted myself with socialising, event organising and overeating!

Having spent my placement year working in the Scottish wilderness, I settled north of the border for work post-uni. I eventually realised that I wasn’t going to find someone if I wasn’t open to myself, friends and colleagues. I was terrified, but it got easier as I told more people. I also learned that you shouldn’t come out to people when out on a bike-ride, it ends in a hospital visit and a scar.

At about the same time, I had the opportunity to move to live and work in central Edinburgh. It took a while to become comfortable in myself, and it defiantly helps having friends from a broad walk of life. I’d say that I’ve been treated no differently since coming out, but actually, I think I receive more respect now, even from those I thought would be the least accepting. I’m now happily in a relationship and am enjoying having someone to share the good and the bad with. I try to spend as much time out of the office as I can and we enjoy making the most of the great outdoors at weekends but sadly don’t get home as much as I’d like.

My sexuality is just part of me and I now don’t tend to dwell hugely on it and I didn’t feel that a campaign like this was necessary. However, someone I manage recently came to me, terrified of how their colleagues would react to their sexuality. I hope I was able to offer them some reassurance and it made me think that there still is a need for awareness in the rural workplace. I’ve also been fortunate to visit some developing parts of the world and I’m reminded of how fortunate that I am and that collectively we shouldn’t take our rights for granted.

When did you first realise you were LGBT?

Probably aged about 14

Who did you tell first and what happened?

I told my best friend when I was 23  I’d flirted with the idea of coming out at 17, but didn’t want to be ‘different’

How did you start making contact with other LGBT people?

Spoke to a few openly gay friends, Apps can also be good to know you’re not alone, but be cautious!

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

I didn’t want to be defined by my sexuality – now I realise that it defined me and held me back

I feel completely accepted, no different and regret worrying about people’s reactions. Coming out also helped me shift some serious timber!

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

Rural communities might appear hostile, but actually they look after their own and whilst you might have the odd comment, it’s usually out of ignorance!

Matthew NaylorGareth Taylor
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Jon Hunt

Jon Hunt

Relief Milker

It has taken me many, many years to get the courage and confidence to realise my dream of working in agriculture.

Since the age of 18 I have tried my very best to be part of the industry in some way or another. It took a long time, but by the time I was 27 I had finally created enough contacts and a concrete base to start from. What area of farming I would take? The conclusion, Dairy.

I’m now 3 years in and, at the age of 30, I have gained lots of experience carrying out relief milking shifts on various dairy farms. It wasn’t plain sailing or easy though.

In the early days of the job, when I was lacking confidence and skills,  the biggest weight on my shoulders was knowing what I would say when asked, “What does the missus think of you farming?” or “Do you live with your girlfriend?”

I have always been ‘out’ to my friends and family so I was comfortable in myself and who I am. But I didn’t have the confidence to share this with the farming industry.

One of the first places I milked on was a 72-point rotary parlour, in which I was asked one of these very questions. I remember stumbling over my words and trying to cover it up. I remember just thinking that it wouldn’t be accepted in the industry. But while I was stumbling over words, it just came out.

“I’m gay” and I continued to put on units.

To cut a long story short, I was straight away ‘accepted’ with the words, “Oh nice one. A gay farmer on the team”. I did wonder what the others would think after the news spread, but all I received was positivity, kind words and, to be honest, a lot of support.

This has also continued on many other farms which I have relief milked for, and it has become easier to tell people. Everyone who I have worked for has been extremely accepting of my sexuality and made me a hell of a lot more confident in who I am. There has not been a single negative comment, joke or slur.

That big step 3 years ago and being honest and not covering it has made my journey into dairy a lot easier. I have made some incredible work colleagues and friends from the farms, and have learnt a lot in the time I have been doing this.

While writing this I am doing some work on a dairy farm near me in Gloucestershire which is run by a gay farmer which clearly shows how open the industry is to everyone.

Following the Agrespect feeds over the past 12 months, created an extra boost in my confidence and encouraged me to take part in my first ever Pride event (Gloucestershire Pride). I wore the Agrespect #OutOnTheFarm t-shirt and carried a giant soft toy cow. It was amazing to take part, be myself but also be myself as an upcoming farmer.

I am currently cutting down on days on my other work and dairy is rapidly becoming the main job. It’s a career I love. A career I am learning in. A career that I am showing new skills.

My advice – Be who you are and don’t hide from it.

#TeamDairy #OutOnTheFarm.

Matthew NaylorJon Hunt
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Jan Pieter Rijpma

Jan Pieter Rijpma

Farms Technical Director

My name is Jan Pieter Rijpma, born and raised on a farm in the very Northern part of the Netherlands.

I am 34 years old and currently enjoying a sabbatical, after I spent nearly 10 years in Russia working for a large agroholding growing cereals, oilseeds and sugar beets. This sabbatical has turned into a quieter and more boring period than I had in mind due to the Corona crisis. Frankly spoken I am not allowed to complain, since I am healthy and live with my boyfriend in a house with a garden in the countryside. The restrictions imposed by the government can be coped with fairly easily here.

My life started in 1985. I was born in a lucky farmers family: dad working as a crop farmer, mum as a maternity nurse. I always had and still have good relations with them, including my little sister, who is one year younger. Only at the age of 29 I came out being gay: in spring of 2015 I announced it to my family and friends. It has been the largest moment of happiness, the biggest relief in my life. A heavy burden dropped from my shoulders. My secret vanished just like early morning August dew when the sun climbs the sky. How come it took so long? And what was the trigger?

I am not the kind of person who has known his entire life that he was gay. Only at secondary school I started to find out very slowly that boys were probably more interesting than girls. During gymnastics I looked at other boys and little by little the idea got created that they look more attractive than girls. However, it did not eat up lots of my attention. Whereas other guys started flirting with girls, I just did not care about this whole thing. I was very much indifferent. I was a very serious schoolboy, working hard to get homework done. I played football and the locker room was only a place to get showered quickly: I was not obsessed by any of my teammates in any way. Life passed by: I got good grades, had nice friends and I lived a relatively quiet and boring life. (The latter I only found out after I moved on to higher education and university.)

In our countryside neighbourhood, I did not know any other gay people. With two exceptions: one of the members of church council was gay and secondly, we had three openly gay teachers at school: two men teaching respectively Geography and French and one woman teaching English. You would think this would somehow help to create an atmosphere in which it would not be too difficult to come out as gay, but in fact this whole gay thing was not something that kept me busy or caused sleepless nights. I was probably a kid growing slower to maturity than average, whatever that average might be.

At the age of 17 I moved out of home: I went to Higher Agricultural Education. At that age, I really started to develop feelings for other guys. Feelings that popped up from time to time, but never distracted me really from the studies I had to fulfil. Gay feelings became more intense over time and to “calm them down” I started thinking it would be a temporary thing: my feelings for girls should appear at some point in time, that is at least what naive idea I had in mind. Seasons passed, time flew by and gradually I started to realize I was carrying a secret with me. A secret that I felt I could not share with anyone. Not at agricultural school, nor at university I knew any fellow gay students or gay teachers. Gay people in the showbiz world or at television were known commonly but could not be of any help in the sense of being a role model to me. I was left alone. Luckily, I never felt lonely, I had and still have a very cool group of friends. I had and still have a warm family. But no one to talk to about my secret.

One year I after graduated from university where I studied Financial Management, I moved to Russia: the country of incredible opportunities for anyone who has a desire to make a difference in large scale farming. First of all, Russia offered the opportunity to combine practical field work with analytical office work. Secondly, it offered the perfect excuse for not having a girlfriend! Russian women are among the most beautiful women in the world. However, work would eat up most of my time, everyone would understand why I would still be single!

Years passed by, I very much enjoyed my work and lived a happy life, but the secret in me grew bigger. I really started feeling lonely. Weekends with beers and shisha were fantastic. And yes, friends and family are fun, but I needed to have a companion in my life. I wanted to have someone near me, someone whom I can trust and share my moments with. I had to come out of the closet and tell the world who I really was. But how and when?

The trigger was a book of football player Robbie Rogers. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf announced that Robbie Rogers was going to retire from football after he came out as gay. I googled the guy, read his book “Coming out to play” in spring 2015 and decided for myself: his story will be my story. I am going inform the world about this part of Jan Pieter that is unknown so far.

And so, I did: after returning from sunny holidays at Gran Canaria, I first told my very best friend about my secret at a railway station in the Netherlands. He embraced me, told me all is fine, and nothing would change in our friendship. I was the happiest boy on earth: the first hurdle was taken. Then I told my nearest family and afterwards my closest friends. My family reacted in a pretty neutral way: most of all they wanted me to be happy and live my life freely. The coolest remark came from one of my closest friends: a friends group will never be complete without a gay. So positive, so heart-warming, so sincere!

“Conquering” the Western world – meaning my friends and family – was one thing, but how to deal with this issue in Russia? My mind was blown… I loved my work so much; would this mean I had to leave this beloved farming place? While enjoying a weekend night out with my best Russian female colleague, I told her my secret. With her great skills to “read” people, it was no surprise to her. She was so happy I was finally open about this gay thing, and I was even happier! It took some more time to tell other colleagues: I was really afraid I was risking my authority and therefor my job.

In the end I decided everyone had to know who I am, to live my life fully: I informed many of my colleagues during our end of the year corporate party. It was not an easy thing to do, but the reactions were overwhelming: “We accept you as a person for who you are, how you treat us and how you deal with us. Sexual preference is independent from all of that.” I could never dream that the outcome would be so positive. Of course, working in a farming company with a 1200 people work force would never allow me to tell everyone personally. Rumours spread quickly, so also farms found out about this one characteristic of their Technical director. I have been so grateful that I never felt any negative attitudes towards me. Reality showed me that every day normal people in Russia are not as homophobic as media tell us. You will be treated the way you treat other people: with dignity, respect and friendliness. When I left Russia, one tractor driver said: “Jan, you arrived here as a young beautiful boy. You leave as a beautiful boy.” Who could imagine such a valediction in the Russian countryside?

I have moved back to the Netherlands in the summer of 2019: simply because I wanted to find a Dutch boyfriend at some point in time. That would have been too difficult being away most of the time, spending occasionally some weekends in the Netherlands. The deepest wish is the father to the thought and will make things happen in reality: I have found a great boyfriend. I am enjoying a beautiful time of as we speak. Hopefully I will be able to complete a long bike tour through Europe this summer and then I would like to move on with some job in international agribusiness.

I really hope this story will inspire others to be frank and open about oneself. Life is so much brighter when you flourish the way you are. And my experience in Russia shows that just because an environment can look unfriendly to LGBTQ people, the individuals in can very positive and accepting when we give them the chance to be.

Matthew NaylorJan Pieter Rijpma
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