My Blog

Richard Lumgair

Richard Lumgair

Farmer and Events Venue Owner

I had the usual country upbringing in quite a conservative part of Scotland, so even considering coming out as gay in my early-mid teens was inconceivable to me at the time.

I went to school in the city, but even then there was only one guy who was openly gay, a few years above me and, sadly, he got bullied quite a lot.

It was only in my second/third year at uni, studying agriculture, I decided to act on my feelings and dabble a little on the gay scene and, before long, there was no looking back, if you’ll pardon the pun 🙂

I went on to travel and work abroad for a number of years and ended up studying journalism in Australia, which took me away from a career in agriculture. I worked as a broadcast journalist back in Scotland for eight years and then moved in to business and opened a Japanese restaurant in Edinburgh.

A few years ago, after a family reshuffle of farms and land, I got the opportunity to take on a farm of my own near St. Andrews in Fife and jumped at the chance. Initially I was a bit reluctant, as I’d been openly gay for the best part of 15 years and the thought of keeping it hidden again was a definite no-go. I’ve now diversified the farm in to an events venue and farm the land with the help of a local contractor and I’m pretty sure everyone knows of my sexuality and I haven’t had any problems whatsoever.

If anyone’s reading this and is struggling with their own sexuality I’d honestly say, in my experience, the struggle is mostly internal and everyone around you will be more concerned with their own problems and dilemmas, than worrying about who you choose to love.

Matthew NaylorRichard Lumgair
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Stuart Chutter

Stuart Chutter

Farmer

I am a Canadian farmer and one of likely many rural guys who have believed for too long that it’s not possible to be a gay farmer.

I assumed that to be a farmer I had to hide the gay, or that to be a gay I had to move to an urban center and hide the farmer. Building a farm business was my obsessive dream and main goal, so choosing to be the farmer took priority. For whatever reasons, I didn’t realize it was fine to be a rural guy who likes soil, forage crops and livestock and also be a guy who likes guys.

I took a long time to figure myself out and even longer to be ok with it. I spent my 20s convinced I was completely non-sexual and non-relationship oriented and that I should just be alone forever.

I’ve since come to understand that loneliness is simply a feeling – it is not who you are or how you need to live forever just because you are feeling it. I told the first person that I am gay just over a year ago at 33. While it took me a long time to talk, I haven’t had a negative response yet and other people’s opinions have not been the struggle I expected. It was my own thoughts that were the biggest obstacle. I definitely had stereotypes in my mind of what reactions I’d get from rural neighbours or farming peers, but they’ve confirmed for me that it really is the people within Agriculture who make it the best place to be.

My main insecurity now is questioning what took me so long. Coming out seems like something done in a persons teens or 20s, not afterwards. I am somewhat embarrassed and ashamed for how long it took me to figure things out and accept myself and I do wish I could have been a fearless young gay.

I grow diverse, multi-species forage mixes on my farm. It’s easy to see in nature and in farming that diversity really is resilience. Chicory was a part of last years forage blend, but I was so disappointed in its early development. In year one I had written it off and had no expectations for it. Year two was a drought with little to no spring moisture. All the other plants were stunted and suffering but the chicory started poking through and producing. Unknowingly to me, it had been setting its roots and developing itself underneath the soil in the first year so that when it needed it, and when there was a time of stress, it had the root system to grow and thrive. There’s now a spot in every seed mix for a late bloomer, and I can appreciate there’s nothing wrong with building yourself and taking your time.

I’ve learned so much from farming and nature that has really helped me understand myself, or at least accept what I still don’t. But it’s also easy at times to resent my farm. It’s required so much personal sacrifice to build my farm business and I’m sure I could lay some blame on it for what took me so long. I also suspect an isolated, rural life was something I sought out when I was so uncomfortable around people. My farm has definitely been my crutch and its easy now to hate it for that.

But the reality of a crutch is that you get one when you need it. A crutch really is what holds you up and keeps you moving. While my farm has often consumed me and taken too much, I needed it to and I’m thankful I had that place to pour myself into and find joy and passion when it wasn’t anywhere else.

I’m so glad no one ever forced me out or asked too many uncomfortable questions while I dealt with myself. That chicory couldn’t have been forced to grow – a bud picked open will just wilt and die. I’m glad I was given that patience and care by those close to me, even those who likely knew enough to know.

I’m also thankful for the timeliness of more open discussion about mental health in agriculture in the last few years. While sexuality struggles is likely not perceived as a leading farm issue, it is one on a long list of rural issues – isolation, weather disasters, commodity and financial crises, consumer attacks and production risks – all leading to increasing levels of depression on farms across the world. American rural suicide rates are 45% higher than in urban centers. The reasons and struggles vary but this new, open discussion among farmers is likely our best way to support each other when we don’t have easy access to urban mental health resources. Social media agvocates who’ve opened up online over the past few years have been really helpful for me to understand that it’s ok to not be ok.

Through social media I’ve also been able to peer in to the lives of other gay farmers around the world. I’ve been able to see them successful, respected, capable and happy. There’s such a stereotype of what a farmer needs to be and while obviously not all farmers are gay, we’re not all in overalls with pitchforks either.

I’m glad my rural discussions so far have been well-received because agriculture really has to be an inclusive industry where diversity is visible. Not only because it’s the right way to treat each other, but also to fill labour gaps and to support farmers who might not see themselves in traditional agriculture roles. In Canada our agriculture labour shortage cost us $2.9 billion in lost revenue in 2017, so we absolutely need every capable and qualified job applicant to feel welcome. In Canada we’ve lost 70% of the number of young farmers under 35 in the last 25 years, so we absolutely need every aspiring farmer to know they can be a farmer and be themselves.

We will need all of our farmers to keep our food systems efficient and to maintain vibrant rural communities. There’s a place for conventional farmers, organic farmers, small farmers, niche farmers, female farmers and urban farmers… and, while it’s taken me a long time to understand, I know there’s also a place for the gay farmers.

Matthew NaylorStuart Chutter
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Miles Whitfield and Philip Green

Miles Whitfield

Caribbean Flower farmer

That old cliché is true, life never goes as planned, mine certainly hasn’t.

Like millions of gay children, from my earliest memories I just knew I was somehow different from other children. I was basically a happy and content child, but felt unsure of myself. As I grew into my early teens, I began to dread that I was different, and I also was scared to death of that growing ‘desire’ hidden in the recesses of my soul.

By my mid-teens, the pressure from family, society – and probably hormones -were starting to take a growing toll on my joy. I was beginning to realize the weight of being the last and only male child in a family that has farmed for 400yrs in the rural American South. This ever-present weight of family history told me I had no choice but to follow in what was a so called ‘normal’ life and work in the family’s agricultural business. I was growing more frustrated by the day with my lot in life, but still too scared to change my safe and comfortable fate. I hid behind a face of painful smiles.

Miraculously, change finally came to me in the form of University. I was offered a taste of glorious freedom away from my family’s eye and their conservative so called ‘Christian’ community. I knew I was finally ready to tell my family that I really wanted to becoming an Architect and that I was damned determined to turn my back on a rural life and dirty farming forever.

Dreams of New York and London were calling me, and that was all I could see.

As college progressed, I could feel a new joy: that my life was actually getting better. My self-confidence was slowly but steadily growing stronger. Though to be honest, I was absolutely scared of the ‘gay scene’. All I could see were gay bashings and the AIDS crisis exploding all around the World.

By my senior year at University, I finally gained the courage to overcome my fears and come out of the closet as gay. I sensed new friends around me were also struggling with being gay. I now look back and realize just how lucky I was to have some friends in similar situations and kind supporters who helped me realize it was OK to be gay. Regrettably my family wasn’t there for me but fortunately my college friends were.

Not 6 months later the single greatest event in my life happened.

I met and fell head over heels in love with the man of my dreams, Philip. A mutual friend set us up on a blind date. It was love at first sight, and we are still together after 30 yrs. At last, I honestly felt free and happy with myself, my sexuality, my relationship, and lucky to be an architect. I was also somewhat satisfied with my family’s attitude towards me. Being gay in a religious Southern family, especially in the 80’s, could have been an explosive situation. I guess I was ‘lucky’ that my family just chose to basically ignore my gayness and my relationship.

Fast forward 25 hectic and stressful but successful years in architecture. I could feel the growing call of a more peaceful rural existence. My partner Philip and I were still together, but had gone through several very difficult times. I could sense we both were longing for something to change in our staid existence, but would that change be opening Pandora’s Box? My fear was that Philip was just tired of me. Growing anxiety developed as I feared our perceived ‘perfect’ life was about to shatter, and I was now more troubled than ever.

Luckily, my Philip is a brave and kind man. His peaceful nature has always been a calming tonic on my soul; something of a Ying and Yang relationship. We did have similar childhood issues, like many gay Southern boys, but somehow he was born with a tranquil mind to handle problems more easily than most. With mounting pressure on us, he finally took the lead by telling me to admit to myself that I was unhappy with my life, my home, and especially my career choice. He could sense all my fears, but he wanted to reassure me that he still loved me and that we would find a way to bring joy back into our work, and most importantly our relationship.

But what and where would our new life be, and what the hell would we do for careers? All I knew was we both shared a common love of traveling around the Caribbean and gardening, hardly grounds to build an income from.

Out of the blue Philip said, “LET’S BE FARMERS”

I was gobsmacked!

Blessed with ‘green thumbs’, I knew we wouldn’t starve, but FARMING? What should we grow? Could we even handle the hard work of being farmers? So to the great shock of many clients, friends, and family, we threw caution to the wind, and left our very comfortable urbane life in Charleston, South Carolina. We even said goodbye to the States, decided to buy a small windswept seaside farm on the little Caribbean Island of St Croix to grow pineapples, and maybe open a little inn. God, were we naïve about the hard work, but it didn’t take us too long to get adjusted and for our love of gardening to develop into a love for farming.

Even though our pineapple farm didn’t prosper, we serendipitously stumbled upon a latent talent for growing orchids. So the winds of change blew again, we decided to move 75miles west to the Island of Puerto Rico. We realized if we were to become orchid cut flower farmers, we now needed more land, and a rainier climate to grow our Vanda orchids successfully.

So here we are today in the lush mountains of beautiful Puerto Rico, ‘La Isla del Encanto’. We are usually up with the rooster and covered in sweat by noon, but feeling happy and proud to now call ourselves gay farmers in the Caribbean.

Miles, Philip, and SipSip the Parrot

Note: The Caribbean Islands of Puerto Rico and St Croix are very friendly and usually welcoming to the LGBT community. Both Islands are Territories of the United States, and have sizable gay communities that happily welcome visitors or those seeking to relocate to a lush tropical paradise.

Matthew NaylorMiles Whitfield and Philip Green
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Alex Pope

Alex Pope

Farmer

I was born into a farming family going back generations, a career in agriculture was always something I wanted.

My grandad owned our family farm and it passed down to my dad following his death. Sadly my dad decided to sell up following the harvest of 1998.

I was always on the farm given any opportunity growing up. After school, weekends, holidays; you name it, I was there. This resulted in me getting a part time job on my dad’s neighbour’s farm just down the road. This ended up being my step dad’s farm.

Upon finishing school and college, I made the decision not to go to university. A decision I now look back on with a hint of regret. Not necessarily for the degree, but more for the experience.

Following this decision, I was offered a full time job at the farm where I still work today as the manager. We farm around 1800 acres, growing cereals, grass, oilseeds and potatoes. We also have a small herd of beef cattle and a flock of breeding ewes.

I was 13 when I realised I was different to all my peers at school. I wasn’t really sure what the difference was but I knew one was there. It wasn’t until I reached 16-17 when I embraced this and came out to my friends at college. This came with all the fears and worries of not being accepted for who I am.

But I managed it and I got through. Yes, I’ve had some negative comments along the way but I suppose it was a learning curve. It has helped me develop a thicker skin.

I didn’t tell my parents, my work colleagues or any other family members I was gay until fairly recently. It was always something I consciously kept hidden from people in my life down to the fear of their reaction. Agriculture is renowned for its outdated views on sexuality and it was hard to avoid letting the mask slip.

It wasn’t until I met my partner, Sam, aged 23 that I came out to these people in my life.

It actually happened completely out of the blue one day, when my step dad and I were stood in the barn doorway. As the rain poured down hampering our plans, he turned to me and said “Can I ask something fairly personal? I don’t know whether I should or not but what the hell. Are you gay?”

I was totally unprepared for this but in the split moment I thought “Why lie?Here’s my opportunity.” So I took it and replied “I am, yeah”

His reaction was not at all how I had expected. He said “Thought so. It doesn’t change anything, you know. No one will think any differently or act any differently, there’s no need to hide yourself away from it.”

Following this, the “news” spread at a regular pace through people I worked with and other farmers I know. Some brought it up in conversation to assure me that they didn’t have any problem at all with it and some acknowledged it but never brought it up. I’ve not had any negativity directed at me from anyone in my family or the industry. It made me feel a little daft, having worried about it for years, to it then all being out there with no negativity.

My family and work colleagues have been fantastic. They made me feel at ease with myself. I often think where would I be now if my step dad hadn’t have asked me outright that day?

Just because my experience has been a pleasant one, it doesn’t mean that everyone else’s has or will be. I believe and feel passionately that this experience should be a positive one and that we need to support one another.

I’ve met a few fantastic friends so far through this experience, and I would love to be able to help other people in a similar situation. I am looking forward to meeting new people, making new friends and promoting and raising awareness of the LGBTQ+ people working in agriculture. Our community is not mentioned nearly enough and it should be! “Coming out” really isn’t as much of a big thing as we all believe it to be and gradually we want it to become the norm.

We all get one life, so let’s live it how we want to live it, and love who we want to love.

Matthew NaylorAlex Pope
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Carl Atkin-House

Carl Atkin-House

International Farm Management Consultant

I grew up on a small arable farm in the Lincolnshire Wolds during the 1980s. It was a fairly isolated place without siblings at home and in a village with few other young people. The only experience that most of the inhabitants of the locality had of gay people was seeing Boy George or Julian Clary on television or reading in the Daily Mail that gays were all dying of AIDS. An era of positive and diverse role models in mainstream media this was not

I attended school locally and thanks mostly to the encouragement of my Great Aunt, I was the first person in my family to go to University. In 1997, after Sixth Form, I decided to enrol on an agriculture degree at Newcastle University, spending three years drinking, socialising and experiencing city living, as well as learning a bit about economics, management and animal and plant biology.

I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after university, but I knew I wanted to experience ‘normal’ University city life – and it was one of the best periods of my life. I made some lifelong friends who I still see regularly – despite it being almost 20 years since I left – but my social life was limited to drinking beer and watching rugby. I wasn’t yet comfortable with who I was and certainly not enough to come out to others.

Whilst some of my fellow graduates went on to be farmers or farm managers, some entered the supply chain and some went into ancillary careers including accountancy, commodity trading and the City. I decided to embark on a career in agricultural consultancy and headed south.

Moving to Cambridge after university for my first graduate job I was introduced to a more liberal and cosmopolitan environment in the south east of England. Being 45 mins from London on a fast train meant I was a frequent visitor. Over the coming years I made a number of great LGBT friends and became more confident in who I was, and I was able to be open with friends. After a few years I was out at work, though I never made a big deal of it. Coming out to my family was harder – but after a difficult few months we worked through it.
In 2010, along with two colleagues, I co-founded an international agricultural management and consulting business and started to travel a lot more – working mainly in Poland, Romania, Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East. I clocked up a lot of air miles but also a lot of interesting experience – both of agribusiness – and of attitudes to LGBT people. It made me realise how lucky I was to live in the UK where, despite issues remaining, attitudes towards LGBT people are generally very progressive.

I met my husband Rob, a lawyer, in 2013 online (millennials eat your heart out; this was old school desktop computing stuff – not fancy apps). We bought a house together in north London in Summer 2014. We married shortly afterwards and adopted three wonderful boys who have been with us for just over three years.

Now we enjoy spending our time between London and the family farm in Lincolnshire, where we have a cottage and spend many weekends and school holidays. Rob, despite being a city slicker his entire life, has embraced outdoor living and the boys love pestering Grandad (my father) for tractor rides and helping with odd jobs on the farm. I’m sure we’ve created a good bit of gossip (“those gays from London are here again)” when we turn up at Church and village social events – but everyone has been hugely welcoming, and attitudes have most definitely changed. It is nothing like the attitudes I remember growing up in during the 1980s and 1990s.

My work takes me to many parts of the world, working with farmers, growers, investors and supply businesses on a range of agribusiness consultancy projects. For about three years I spent the majority of my time in Russia helping to manage a 250,000 ha farming company – a very different work environment, and a very difficult one for LGBT people. I’ve also spent time in the Middle East, working with investors on food security and international farmland investment projects. It’s worth remembering that in many of these countries being LGBT is still illegal. I also get back to Newcastle for a bit of guest lecturing to the final year agriculture students – and I sit on the Industrial Advisory Board of the agriculture school and I’m now a non-exec director of the University Farms. I’m very lucky to combine an interesting job with an exciting industry – and to be able to share it with my family.

When I was first approached by Matt Naylor and asked to get involved with AgRespect, I was initially quite nervous. Though I haven’t hidden my sexuality for many years, I’d never made a big deal of it either, especially in a work context. However, after reading the stories on the website and then attending Pride in Brighton – it convinced me that organisations like AgRespect have an important role to play in helping others in agricultural and rural communities. I’ve been in several pride marches with different groups over the years – but having thousands of people chant “We love you farmers” was definitely the most emotional Pride experience I’ve had!

If you’re reading his story and nodding and smiling – but haven’t yet got in touch with Agrespect – then send a message and get involved. Let’s continue to build this network at home and abroad and demonstrate that our industry is indeed a modern and inclusive place to work!

Matthew NaylorCarl Atkin-House
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Frank Griffies

Frank Griffies

Sheep breeder and relief milker

I always knew I was gay.

Although I had a few “experiences” in my teens, it wasn’t until my late 30’s that I really allowed myself to connect with the feeling that I was gay.

I spent a long while feeling guilty and conflicted. I believed that so long as I didn’t do anything, then I wasn’t gay.

Trying to hide myself made me very unhappy even, at times, suicidal. My dad took his own life when he was 56. His death wrecked my childhood and it tore the family apart. This experience is what taught me that I had to be strong enough to work through my own situation.

Eventually I rang the “Gay Farmer helpline” and through this I met Keith Ineson. We talked and he advised that I should see my GP and get some help.

I must say my GP was fantastic. She got me on anti-depressants and booked me in for counselling.

It is now six years ago since I came out. Last year I appeared on the Countryfile feature about gay farmers and talked openly about my feelings. There were a couple of negative comments but mostly I received a lot of great feedback.

All my work colleagues know about my sexuality and it is accepted. There is one of them who has to keep telling me that he’s OK so frequently that it makes me wonder if he actually is. He also refers to other gay people as “one of your lot” which isn’t ideal. I try not to let it offend me.

So here I find myself, aged 65. I’m still single and looking for a partner. I have to admit that most of the time it can be very lonely but I have a good network of gay friends. There is Facebook group for gay farmers and this has been a good way to make new friends.

I have bred pedigree Texel sheep for 35 years and have many good friends in the sheep world. My hobby is breeding British Short Hair cats. I love helping to bring the new kittens along. It is fun to meet the people who buy these beautiful kittens. I am even thinking about starting to show them.

Matthew NaylorFrank Griffies
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Sam Cooper

Sam Cooper

Trainee Solicitor – Planning and Environmental Law

I am 27 years old and in September I qualify as a Planning and Environment Lawyer at the international law firm Gowling WLG.

I grew up in rural Norfolk and despite now being city-based for work, I spend as much time as I can out in the countryside, be it with my boyfriend, who is also from a country upbringing, or shooting with my friends.

As much as I loved my childhood and growing up in the countryside, it wasn’t exactly an environment teeming with diversity. I didn’t know any gay people growing up and even when I moved to Birmingham for university, I soon found myself in a bubble of friends who while amazing, were all straight.

It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally felt confident enough to come out to my friends and family. While I’d known from the age of about 15, I didn’t see how being gay could fit with my lifestyle and the people I knew. Fortunately for me, my concerns about not being accepted by my friends and family were unfounded, and in fact it was one of my friends who is a farmer who took it upon himself to write me a letter expressing his support for my decision to come out.

While I love the countryside, it’s still a place where I’ve more commonly encountered casual homophobia. This has never been directed at me, but it is something I’ve noticed comes out when I’m around people who don’t know I’m gay.

Contrast this with my workplace, for example, which has a thriving LGBT network and even a float in the annual Birmingham Pride parade. It’s recognised by the firm that people perform best when they can bring their entire selves to work, and this always makes me reflect on how much time and effort I put into hiding who I was, rather than concentrating on more important things.

This highlights the importance of Agrespect as it’s just as true in rural communities as it is anywhere else, and anyone who has spent time in the closet knows how much effort it takes, effort that can be directed into so much more productive activities. If people in rural areas are more likely to be in the closet, then it can only be the case that a more inclusive environment will lead to a happier and more productive countryside.

Matthew NaylorSam Cooper
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Partheeban Navaratnam

Partheeban Navaratnam

Vet, RAU Lecturer and Founder of BVEDS

Here is a guest story from Theeb, one of our allies. He explains the challenges faced by non-white people working in agriculture and demonstrates the value that diversity can bring to an industry

During my summer holidays, since the age of 7, I would spend time with my uncle who was a vet working in East London. To begin with, the fun was playing with the inpatients and having McDonalds for lunch but soon I started to wonder what he was talking about in the consult room or doing in surgery.

This interest grew and I was soon sitting in all day with him watching, listening and learning. When I finally decided I wanted to be a vet, I went to work on beef and dairy farms to gain experience. Not coming from a farming background, this was a new experience but something I really enjoyed. The farmers, in most cases, were really keen to get me involved with the day to day work they had to do.

Once in university, I started to gain a passion for the farm animal side of veterinary work and was something I was keen to pursue. One big doubt in my mind was if I could ever be a farm vet due to my lack of an agricultural background. In my finals, after completing an equine exam, one of my professors asked me what I would be doing after qualification. I said that farm was my interest but that I had no chance due to my background. He turned around and said that he is currently one of the top equine vets in the country with half his time spent in the UAE but he had never sat on a horse until he was 19.

His words “you can do anything you put your mind to” had never rung so true to me and he was my inspiration for everything I have done ever since.

I have worked in veterinary practice, industry and academia within agriculture. Talking about and working with cattle and sheep has been a dream come through. Most farmers have been very supportive and I truly am passionate about this industry. Some of the best experiences I have had are working with farmers for a common goal such as reducing disease on farm, teaching farmers new skills, learning about the farmer’s experiences and being made to feel like part of the farmer’s family.

However there have been some experiences which have been difficult to deal with such as a farmer not wanting me on their farm based on my skin colour, a Farmers Weekly reader writing to me to tell me that I am not British, some qualified vets justifying the use of racial slurs and being treated as a foreigner.

At first this is difficult to take and being an ethnic minority, one feels isolated in these situations. What I did was to seek help and reassurance. I rang helplines and spoke to other people who may have suffered similar problems. It is difficult to find other BME people in agriculture but is something I am trying to help improve.

Due to my passion for agriculture and veterinary medicine, I want these to be open for others to experience. I am trying to help make these industries more inclusive. Businesses perform and thrive with a diverse workforce. We need this in agriculture.

A colleague and I set-up the British Veterinary Ethnicity and Diversity Society (BVEDS) 3 years ago, which has really helped to start the conversation and get the process for change started. We support those wanting to or currently working in the veterinary profession with issues of race, ethnicity, diversity and discrimination. In agriculture, this change needs to happen.

The big restrictions on getting a wider spectrum of people into farming are the lack of role models, financial restrictions and the lack of access to experience. These all need to be tackled to help our industry thrive. To make British agriculture something we are proud of, we all need to be part of it.

Matthew NaylorPartheeban Navaratnam
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Dee Vickers

Dee Vickers

Director, Landbased at BCA College.

Working in the arboriculture and forestry industry isn’t perhaps the natural environment to come out as transgender.

Typically seen as a bastion of macho culture, the industry is changing and has become equally diverse and inclusive.

At the time I publicly came out as transgender, I’d been hiding this side of me for 40 years. That’s 40 years of keeping a fundamental part of you hidden from view, 40 years of being careful what you said when asked ‘what did you get up to last night’ at work, 40 years of not being yourself.

During that time, my first marriage had fallen apart because of it and I lost just about everything.

Pressing the <SEND> button on the email informing all my colleagues at the college where I worked that I was transgender was the hardest thing I ever did.

It was also the best thing I ever did.

I received many responses of support and was taken aback when people that I didn’t know would tell me personal information about themselves or their family – it seemed that opening up to people allowed others to open up about their fears and anxieties. That was possibly the most liberating thing about the whole experience – finally being able to connect to others.

It wasn’t until early 2018, when I started to work for BCA (Berkshire College of Agriculture) that I took the decision to work full-time presenting as female. The support and acceptance that I’ve received from staff at the College has been truly inspirational. It’s allowed me to be who I am, to be more productive at work and get more involved in the workplace.

When I started at the College I was assessor/trainer, writing and delivering the arborist apprenticeship. I now head up the team responsible for of all the apprenticeships and our short course provision and I truly feel that is, in part, because of the freedom to be me.

No more hiding. No more secrets. The College is an amazingly inclusive and diverse place to work and study; I love working here!

Matthew NaylorDee Vickers
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Ryan Came-Johnson

Ryan Came-Johnson

Agronomist and Sheep Farmer

‘Those who matter don’t care, and those who care don’t matter’. Life is for living, so give it your best shot!

Growing up just outside London, I was never destined for a career in agriculture and it was never my intention. I have had a bumpy ride to get to where I am now but I couldn’t be happier and the journey has taught me so much….

In my teens, my family all moved to far West Cornwall for a bit of the ‘good life’. I went through school and college in Cornwall whilst staying very much ‘in the closet’. I knew who I wanted to be but fear of rejection, gossip and bullying stopped me. With an older, but severely autistic brother and a younger sister I felt a huge pressure to conform and produce grandchildren to carry on the family name. In my mind, this was never going to happen but how was I ever going to tell my parents that?

I’d always said to myself that I’d only come out if and when I needed to. I never felt the time was right to come out until I met my partner, Steve, 10 years ago in Cornwall during the first holidays of University. I hadn’t told anyone before that, not even my closest friends and it took most of them by complete surprise.

Mum and Dad were sat down and I said those few terrifying words. Initially it was taken well, or so I thought. Dad was great and said ‘as long as you are happy’ but Mum sat quietly. She avoided me for a few days and then encouraged me to go back to Uni long before term was due to start. Her view being that I would be able to see out this ‘phase’ there.

We didn’t speak for a good 6 months and I think she was more worried about what other people thought than I was.

That being said, Mum and I sorted our issues and now have a very close relationship. Her fears, I guess, were ultimately because she loves me and wanted me to be happy, with a successful career – something she didn’t think I would be able to do as a gay man.

Her reaction shocked me and everyone around us. My parents both met and worked in the city in their twenties and you’d expect a little bit more of an open mind and acceptance of diversity. If someone from the city couldn’t accept me, how on earth were the agricultural Cornish community going to accept me?
My Dad and my closest friends at Uni were my rock through it all and put up with a lot of tears and I will never forget the support and love that they gave me when I needed it the most!

My stepfather is a farmer, growing potatoes and brassica vegetables and the rest of my Uni holidays over the next couple of years were spent helping him out on the farm. Planting cauliflower, harvesting potatoes and generally getting in the way. This sparked my love of agriculture and pointed me down the path I now follow. I enjoyed the science behind growing the crops he grew and I learnt what an Agronomist was.

After university I landed a job as a trainee Agronomist in Cornwall, something I had never considered as a career but one which I absolutely love. I am conscious that I live in a very rural area which is somewhat old-fashioned at times and for that reason I don’t tend to shout about being gay, especially at work. But if someone were to ask me about it, I will never lie. My local team at work all know and I feel totally accepted by them.

My love has always been livestock and animals, my teens and early twenties were spent showjumping my horses all over the country, alongside keeping a few pet lambs each year, reared for the freezer.

In 2016, aged 25, Steve (a marine mechanic) and I fulfilled the dream securing the tenancy of a small farm locally to where we lived. The small existing sheep flock which we ran on small blocks of rented paddocks expanded rapidly to where it is now at around 250 breeding ewes. We keep Pedigree Lleyn, Blue texel and Suffolk sheep as well as a flock of commercial sheep. Our ‘hobby’ keeps us very busy alongside our full-time jobs but we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Our new neighbours, all farms like ours, have been completely accepting of ‘the only gays in the village’ and are considered good friends – we thank them for that.

It’s taken me a long time to accept myself and my sexuality but marching with Agrespect at Brighton Pride recently was a huge turning point for me. I felt inclusion, acceptance and love. To hear 500,000 people screaming ‘we love you gay farmers’ as you walk the streets next to a tractor dressed in the rainbow flag is an amazing feeling and to meet other likeminded farmers who I now consider friends was exactly what I needed.

There is, I feel, a long way to go in gaining ‘acceptance’ of the gay community from most of the agricultural world but as people learn and generations change, so do peoples views and ideas.

One day we wont need to put our stories up on platforms like this to be accepted for who we are.

Matthew NaylorRyan Came-Johnson
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