My Blog

Fiona Connor

Fiona Connor

Geotechnical Engineer

I am a 28 year old geotechnical engineer working in the Midlands. Living the dream in a cute Cotswold cottage with my partner Emma and our Siamese cat Jemima. I’m passionate about the countryside and farming and a total soil geek which has accidently led to a career in construction not agriculture!

I come from a farming family, my grandparents were farmers, my parents met whilst my dad was on placement from college at the farm my mum’s father managed. My mum was a member of her young farmers club, my grandad’s four brothers are employed in farming, and part of the rural community in Derbyshire. The path seemed always set for me to follow in their footsteps.

We moved to the south of England following my dad’s career progression, to manage a large mixed farm down there. I am an only child and having to move schools a fair amount as a child meant although I did make friends with children from neighbouring farms I didn’t have strong friendships. I therefore very happily I was content in my own company. I was fortunate to have various unruly ponies to keep my occupied over the long summers, spending many hours independently exploring the farm, and helping my dad out with chores.
Due to being an only child I took the full impact of my mums enthusiasm for creating the ‘perfect child’ insistent I must get straight A’s and perfect spelling test results etc.

Moving again in my early teens we relocated to the Midlands, once again requiring new friendships to be made, I predominantly focussed on school grades and working at local horse yards. I was forbidden from accessing the internet throughout out my youth, it being seen as a dangerous distraction, so once again isolation was a theme of my happy but naïve teenage years.
We moved again when I was in sixth form, and I ended up going to a town centre 6th form college, everyone already had their own established friends and I felt very different, being from a rural background.

I following encouragement from my parents attended a young farmers meeting, I think for the first three times I attended I didn’t utter a word to anyone, but slowly and surely at 18 I finally felt like I had people I could truly call friends. I entered flower arranging and baking contests, failed epically at sports, went to parties, rallies and generally started to enjoy carefree final years of my teens.

There was a realisation over these years that I was different, young farmers was at times very much about lads being laddish, the forming of relationships, alcohol fuelled dancing. My mum used to comment ‘oh he’s a nice lad’ or my dad would say ‘as long as you bring a guy home who has a family shoot’. Safe to say I didn’t bring anyone home, I just assumed I just ‘hadn’t found the right guy’ when I departed to university.

At university, now well practiced at making new friends I found myself a great group in both the university riding club and with people in my halls. I knew members of the LGBT+ community at university but still the penny didn’t drop. I had a great time at uni, and ended up dating one of my male best friends, we were on and off for about four years, there were great times and happy memories, but I still kept circling back in my mind to feeling that there was something missing.

It came to boiling point at age 22, and the realisation that if it wasn’t working out with my best friend who could it possibly work out with?! There just wasn’t the spark that was needed, and ended being up, on my side at least, very much platonic. I think over my teen years there had been niggling thoughts that I might be interested in women, and now looking back there were glaringly obvious signs but it genuinely never really occurred I could be a lesbian. I had just assumed I had to be straight, fit the predefined mould.

It took about a year of life evaluation and much googling and watching of LGBT web series to figure it out. All my friends, moving back to the countryside following graduation, were made through sharing horses or going to young farmers again, none of which I felt very comfortable about discussing my sexuality with.

A leap of faith had me join a dating website for women, and after almost losing confidence and accepting life eternally single, I met my now girlfriend. Emma and I have been together for 4+ years, and life is better than I could have ever have hoped and imagined.

We live in a cute Cotswolds village, we have a cat (of course!). We found we have so much in common, both from rural communities with parents and family working in agriculture. I would have never have met Emma, without the assistance of online dating, there’s zero visibility really of the LGBT+ community in rural life.

Coming out to my family and friends was stressful, but the thought was far worse than reality so I’ve been very lucky, as they have all been very accepting. I am confidently out to my work colleagues now, although that was a process that took time. Being involved within industry groups for LGBT+ people working within construction helped a lot, finding out there were people like me (although not that many) gave me the confidence to be my authentic self. Aside from several poorly judged jokes by a couple of guys on site (which was nothing I wasn’t used to coming from having young farmers as friends) being out on site has been a positive experience.

Living in a rural community, being in a lesbian relationship, we haven’t been treated any differently than a straight couple might, but I haven’t really come across many other LGBT+ people. I have recently returned to university part time to undertake a MSc, and the culture shift towards acceptance and openness of sexuality and gender constantly surprises me, so much progress has been made in the 10 years since I was first at university, giving me hope that this may progress through other areas of society and industry in the years to come. Hopefully allowing many more visible role models to be out there for the next generation to relate to, as I know I certainly would have benefitted from some as a young person growing up in the countryside.

Matthew NaylorFiona Connor
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Stuart Henderson

Stuart Henderson

Rural Police Officer

I am a Police Officer working in North Yorkshire. When I tell people this I normally get asked, “Is it like the TV show Heartbeat?” Whilst we have definitely moved on in terms of technology and modern ways of working, there are times when it isn’t far from the truth when policing a rural area!

I am also the co-chair of the North Yorkshire LGBT Police Network and support a number of projects inside and outside the police.

I grew up in a mining town in a neighbouring county, away from the rolling hills and countryside of North Yorkshire. However my love for the countryside and farming was founded at an early age, when as a family we would frequently spend time in the Yorkshire Dales and at a farm in Cumbria.

In all honesty, I have never had a coming-out conversation with my parents – somehow they just knew. Although it some ways I feel lucky that I have never really had to have “that” conversation, I also feel like it’s a big part of your identity, having that coming-out story to tell. I have always had acceptance from my parents and I would say I was more worried about what my friends, and friends of our family, would think. Over the years I have come to realise that I made it out to be more of an issue than it actually was, or even is.

Prior to joining the police I had been with Michael my partner for five years and we were living together in a small village. When I joined the police, despite being excited that I was embarking on a career that I was passionate about, I was worried what my new colleagues and supervisors would think and whether or not there was a place for a gay officer in a rural police force. I was always a big fan of The Bill and I remember watching the episodes featuring stories of a police sergeant who was openly gay at Sun Hill and how he was often bullied and ostracised because of this. For myself I thought, nobody will know, and I don’t have to tell anyone that I’m gay.

Week 1, Day 1 came, and along with a number of other new officers we met at the front of Newby Wiske which was North Yorkshire Police’s headquarters and our training centre at that time. We were shown into our respective classrooms and began our inductions and introductions. I was sat between an older colleague and a guy who was the same age as me. We began chatting about our journeys and home lives and completely out of the blue I was asked, “Oh and what does your wife do?” With butterflies in my stomach, and not knowing what to say next, I said, “My wife’s called Michael and she’s actually a he.” All three of us were a little lost for words, but after some nervous laughter, everything was ok and I was “out”. I made the decision from that day that I wasn’t going to hide who I was, and if I was asked about my sexuality I was going to be truthful. It truly was a decision I have never regretted. Wherever I have worked within the police I have always had acceptance from colleagues, and I have found the police to be a very accepting place to work.

Whilst some might think that rural policing would be a walk in the park, it’s actually a very unique and exciting challenge. If I was to describe my role as a rural police officer, I would say that it was exciting, exhilarating and funny – but at times also frustrating, difficult, emotional and lonely. Thankfully most of the time the positives outweigh the negatives, and I have some great stories of being a rural policeman. However, for some people, rural areas can be lonely and isolated places. Combine that with personal difficulties, and it can quickly seem even more isolated and a hopeless place to be. It’s at these times that visibility is important and it is the reason why I believe we should highlight and talk about differences, and embrace these in our farming and rural communities. Sometimes it really is the little things that matter. I have a deep-rooted passion and care for the countryside and those who work and live in it.

Over the years everyone has come to know me and who I am. I have forged some fantastic professional relationships with people across local communities, including farmers, gamekeepers and business owners. It really makes the job enjoyable and worthwhile. I believe that these have only been possible through my own personal values of being open and honest with people about myself and who I am.

In 2014, Michael and I got married at City Hall in San Francisco, California and we were lucky to be joined by our family and friends. Another major milestone for us was in 2016 when we adopted our little boy. As we live in a small village it became common knowledge very quickly that our little boy had ‘two dads’ but it has been truly amazing how much support and acceptance we have received from everyone. As we have gone through the process of adoption I naively thought that we would be the only same sex parents, however I quickly came to realise that we weren’t and many same sex couples are embarking on the amazing journey to become parents and a family. It’s often highly amusing when we are out as a family our little boy calls out “Daddy!” for my partner and I to respond; seeing the number of confused parents faces around us for them to then quickly realise makes us smile. I’d be lying if I said parenting was straight forward; however it’s incredibly rewarding and to see our child turning into the most loving, kind and cheeky little boy is incredible! Whether you are a single parent, two dads, two mums or a mum and dad what really matters is love and the ability to provide a safe loving home for a child.

For the past four years I have been involved with and currently co-chair the North Yorkshire LGBT Police Network. The network is part of the wider National LGBT Police Network covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland police forces. The aim of our Network is to support staff inside the organisation, but to also be a contact point for members of our LGBTQ+ communities in North Yorkshire.

The network has made some great progress over the years and has been instrumental in a number of projects both within and outside the organisation. The network had an impactive and well-received presence at both York Pride and Harrogate Pride, which was met with rapturous applause from our communities – an extremely proud moment for those involved. Prior to becoming involved in the Network I was somewhat ignorant to matters affecting LGBT+ staff and communities. However, the more I have become involved in the work, the more I have come to realise the positive impact that support networks have on organisations. There are many motivators for people to become involved in supporting LGBT+ staff and communities, but for me it has been the acceptance that my partner and I have had from our parents and friends. Early on I came to realise that not everyone has this and can stand up and be proud of who they are. As somebody who has an accepting home life, I feel it is my role to advocate and support these individuals who are less fortunate.

It isn’t untruthful when I say it is a privilege to be able to work in the county of North Yorkshire. As I have realised during my service, when anybody calls upon the assistance of the police, the response and service they receive matters far more than the sexuality, colour, gender or belief of the officer that comes to deal with them.

Matthew NaylorStuart Henderson
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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine


I was born in 1961 and grew up in Oxford at a time when the LGBTQ+ environment was very different from today.

When I was 12 years old I was taken on a family holiday to a house on a sheep farm in Somerset; it was Easter and we arrived just as 800 ewes were starting to lamb. The first night the farmer asked if any of us would like to help with lambing. For some reason, neither my parents nor my three brothers were interested! However, I got up at 5.00am the next morning, stayed out until well after the sun went down, and did exactly the same every day for the next 2 weeks! I hardly saw my family for the entire holiday! That experience generated a profound interest in working with farm animals, and every Easter over the next few years I went back to the same farm to help with lambing.

By the time I was 15 years old I knew I wanted to be a veterinarian, and so in my last year at secondary school I applied to study veterinary medicine at Universities across the UK. I was fortunate to be accepted at the University of Glasgow Veterinary School. Culturally, this was a very different environment from the one I had grown up in and I struggled with home sickness for the first year. However, the following four years were immensely enjoyable.

In final year I knew I wanted to work overseas with livestock when I graduated. However, I could find nothing suitable. Then, totally out of the blue, one of the professors at Glasgow University asked if I would like to go to Nairobi, Kenya for 6 months to work on a tropical disease of cattle. Without hesitating I said yes! I ended up staying for 12 years and was fortunate to be involved with livestock projects across Africa. I greatly enjoyed the work and life in Kenya. In addition, I was very involved in a local church. However, throughout the entire time I lived in Africa I never dated.

In 1997 I moved to Canada, just outside Toronto, to teach in the veterinary medicine programme at the University of Guelph. It is now 2019 and I am 57 years old. Seven years ago, after being single all my life, I acknowledged I am gay. The 3-4 years prior to coming out were a rough time; I became very unhappy, started having suicidal thoughts and buried myself in my work. However, the suicidal thoughts got worse – so I started seeing a counsellor. At each visit I was asked why I was so depressed; every time I blamed the stress of my work! Not once did I seriously consider anything else might be the issue. And after a few visits I started feeling better.

However, only a few months later it all started again. But this time I started questioning my sexual identity. After many painful months, and not speaking to a counsellor, I came out to a gay friend – it took ages to pluck up the courage! I always thought that coming out was something you did once and that was it! However, for me, it was like getting on a slow train that never stops! The night after I came out for the first time I woke suddenly at 3.00am with a massive panic attack – the same happened for the next 5 nights and it terrified me. I had no idea what was going on and knew I needed to speak to a gay-friendly counselor. I found one in Toronto; we met on multiple occasions and that helped immensely.

One of the things that also helped was watching “It gets better” videos on line. An additional video that had a significant impact was by Rick Mercer, a Canadian comedian. It was a rant about a Canadian teenager that had been bullied after he came out, then took his life. Rick finished the rant by asking how many more of these suicides have to happen before we as a society start doing something to address the underlying problems. He finished by saying “Kids need role models….so, if you are gay and in public life you don’t have to run around with a pride flag, but you can’t be invisible, not anymore”. And so, that was why I helped set up an LGBTQ+ group for the students at my veterinary college and why I have been the faculty advisor for the club ever since. This has also included taking part in the Toronto Pride Parade every year with the students!

In all honesty, over the first year or so after I came out, I struggled greatly with my sexual identity. In particular, I questioned whether I was really gay as I did not see myself in any gay media. I spoke to both a friend and my counsellor and both encouraged me to get involved with a LGBTQ+ group; I decided to join to Toronto Gay Hockey Association, the largest gay hockey league in the world! I will never forget sitting in the changing room with my team for the first game of the season – for the first time, I saw myself in others and recognized the community I am part of. Playing regularly in that league over the next 5 years helped me immensely, to accept who I am – my hockey skills have also slightly improved!

So what about now? I am still coming out but have experienced almost no homophobia. In particular, my parents, brothers, friends and colleagues at work have all been great. Most significantly, I am now happier than I have ever been – just ask my parents, friends and the guy I have been dating for the past year!

Matthew NaylorAndrew Peregrine
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Amie Burke

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
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Frank Buffone

Frank Buffone

Partner – Ernst & Young

Living in the UK for almost 20 years, I was born in Canada and of Italian origins. Growing up in Canada, my father had a farm, where he raised sheep, goats, pigs, cows, chickens and a few horses.

As a child I treasured going to the farm after school and on weekends to help out with the various chores that needed to be done on the land and with the animals. I’ve always really loved animals and use to spend as much time as I could at the farm. I knew very early on that I was different than other kids and being at the farm was a welcome escape for me, it just took me away from the pressures of having to try and fit in.

My partner and I decided to move to London in 2001, predominately because we loved England and because we had work opportunities. As a gay man, England has been very welcoming and it has been a great place for us to set up home.
The move from London to the country in West Sussex took place some 6 years ago. It was driven mainly because of our two Weimaraners, Zephyr and Jack. When living in London, we use to drive and spend most weekends in the country side walking and hiking with the dogs. After some time, we decided it was time to have something more permanent and we bought a small cottage in the country. The cottage was nestled at the foot of the Downs in West Sussex. It initially started as a place to come on weekends. And over time, we found ourselves spending more and more time in the country side and less time in London. After a few years of that, we decided to make a permanent move in the Downs and bought a small hold, with an old 1700s home and some 10 acres of land where we now have sheep, a few rescue horses, our two wiemy’s Zephry and Jack, and our parson Russell terrier to add to the mix.

Initially, I was a little apprehensive about moving to the country as a gay couple as I didn’t know how people in the area would react. I really did not know what to expect and I did find myself building up ideas and thoughts in my head. But reality was very different and the truth is, that it has been a very good and easy experience. We feel very well respected it the community and have made some very close friends and never did I feel out of place.

I think the advice I would give gay people thinking of making the move to the country is make the effort to build relationships with people. Key for me was respectfully reaching out to neighbours, supporting local businesses and taking part in local events. In doing so we have become good friends with owners of businesses we frequently go too. They have been great over the years in connecting us with various workers and farmers in the area for things that we needed doing and that was important for us given the regular work required with our small hold. A farmer which we particularly now know well, has helped us tremendously with the maintenance of our paddocks and his advice with the land and animals has been invaluable to us. We see him regularly now and it’s just great having that close relationship with him.
We have also become great friends with our neighbours. We found the relationship very easy and we love the fact that we share many of the same interests. And it was through our neighbour who is an equine vet, that we have the privilege of taking care of these two lovely retired horses.
Much of this just naturally happened over time really. At no point did it feel awkward or difficult, and it’s great to feel part of this community and living in this lovely area of the Downs.

When I look at my life today living in the country, I value what I have learnt as a child on my father’s farm. It’s remarkable how some things just come back really quickly, even though you have not done any of this in years. But best of all, the things that I use to enjoy as a child and I can continue doing as an adult on our small hold, reminds me much of my father and our times at the farm together. This one’s for you dad.

Matthew NaylorFrank Buffone
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Robin Tamblyn

Robin Tamblyn

Rural Payments Agency

I’m Robin and I’ve worked for the Rural Payments Agency (RPA) in Exeter for nearly two decades. I currently process Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) claims – working with farmers from across the country.

Of equal importance though, I mentor new and less experienced staff in carrying out their duties. This helps to ensure the RPA makes timely and accurate subsidy payments to the farmers. Personally I find this aspect of my work the most fulfilling.

I am a heteroromantic asexual woman. This means that I’m attracted romantically but not sexually to men. I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum condition, in early 2016. Some studies have found a link between autism and asexuality, with as many as 20% of autistic people also identifying as asexual.

I am a member of the DEFRA LGBA&T (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Asexual and Transgender) network and am on the DEFRA Neurodiversity staff network’s steering group. This supports colleagues with neurodivergent conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Attention Deficit Disorders (ADD/ADHD) and Autism Spectrum (Autism / Asperger’s Syndrome). I am also the author of five self-published gay-themed books, including a Formula One novel.

Before the internet age, few people had even heard of the term “asexual” in relation to human sexuality. Our community has grown in strength since the late 1990s, with many ace-related sites now online. The most prolific and well-known of these sites is the Asexual Visibility and Education Network (AVEN), which was founded in 2001 by David Jay and now has over 70,000 members. The asexual community has also adopted its own Pride symbols, such the asexual flag, which consists of four horizontal stripes: black, grey, white, and purple. The black stripe represents asexuality, the grey stripe represents the grey-area between sexual and asexual, the white stripe sexuality, and the purple stripe community. Some asexual people also wear a black ring on the middle finger to symbolise their orientation (mine has a dove in the centre and I sometimes wear it during Asexual Awareness Week in late October).

I am fortunate not to have experienced any discrimination on the basis of my sexuality (acephobia) at work. Sadly, dating as an asexual person is a different story, since asexuality – like homosexuality – is still regarded by many people as something that can be “fixed” or “cured.” There are many misconceptions with regard to asexuality: when I discussed possible future wedding plans with one colleague, he asked: “But how can you get married if you are asexual?” (I haven’t met my life partner yet, but I’m hoping they are out there somewhere!)

From a personal perspective, there is still some way to go before asexual people achieve full visibility and asexuality is regarded as a “valid” sexual orientation. Many lifestyle surveys both inside and outside the workplace do not include “asexual” in the dropdown options for sexual orientation. However, as there are proposals to include “asexual” in the options on the next national census and the Office of National Statistics monitoring data I am hopeful that in the near future it will no longer be necessary to tick the “other” box. #AcesAreNotOther!

Matthew NaylorRobin Tamblyn
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Robert Bowden

Robert Bowden

Chocolate Maker

I suppose being a black, gay kid growing up on a rural farm could be the plot of a really bad horror film. However, its just the opening sequence of the musical known as my life.

I grew up an only child in the deep south so farming was just what you did. Everyone I knew raised something; pigs, crops, cows, horses even emus. I was a teen before I realized that everybody didn’t live on large acreage with most of your extended family or have to feed the animals before school and after school.

Born and raised in Duncanville, Alabama we were officially a part of Tuscaloosa but the nearest street with a sidewalk was about a 15 minute drive from where I lived.

Each person in my family contributed to the running of our homestead even if they had “city” jobs. We raised pigs, cows and fruit trees. My grandmother had 3 large fields she called her gardens that provided enough food to feed the 4 immediate households. Most of the grandkids helped her.

I was well aware I wasn’t exactly like my cousins but I figured that was because I was an only child. I started raising chickens at the age of 5 selling eggs became my first business and by the time I was 10 I had well over 200. My father was a professional horse trainer so I grew up riding and competing. I was an odd mix of interests I rode horses and liked to dance and sing, raised chickens and act.

I’m sure my family figured out I was gay a long time before I knew “Robert is rather “ARTISTIC”” which was true so it never bothered me. When I first realized I liked boys I was about 12 years old, it wasn’t really that odd, I mean I knew guys that were in relationships with other guys. I was still more interested in beating them in the show ring than kissing them.

As I grew older I never felt pressured to date girls or that I had to hide who I was, it was just a non-issue. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in Theatre at the University of Alabama – ROLL TIDE! – that I realized I didn’t have a coming out story.

People in my class were sharing these dramatic, sometimes painful stories about coming out of the closet and when it came my turn I had nothing. So after being berated that I must have been hiding or avoiding the issue I came home and told my dad that I liked guys, his reply “Is this supposed to be news?”. My moms response was similarly lacklustre but more affirming “As long as you are happy, I’m happy” and that was that, I went back to feeding the horses.

After college I became a professional horse trainer and had a successful career that spanned almost 20 years. Of course I received ribbing from my coworkers about the guys I dated but no more than others about the girls they liked.

I am often asked if it was hard growing up black and gay on a farm in the south and honestly no. I loved my childhood, I was a rough and tumble kid that loved to ride horses and sing at the top of my lungs. My family wholeheartedly supported me and let me be me. I learned a lot about life and how to take care of myself on that farm and training horses is truly one of my life’s passions.

Now that I have a whole new career in the cocoa industry I still keep my focus on the lives of the farmers that produce cocoa beans. As the owner of Viveré Chocolates and board member of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund I realize a lot of the people regulating the industry have never farmed a single day in their life. Because I’m able to relate from experience I understand the sometimes unique challenges farmers face that can’t be explained with spreadsheets and charts. More importantly I hope to be an empathetic ear for the LGBTQ farmers in developing countries that often get overlooked.

Elizabeth ElcoateRobert Bowden
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Nick Hiscox

Nick Hiscox

Livestock Farmer and father to Ben (pictured right)

We are (as they say) a normal family; Nick and Jane and then 3 kids Ben, Sam and Abbie. We live and farm in Somerset, however the kids have little interest in making farming a career despite their love of our home and the farm on which we live.

To be honest we didn’t give a 2nd thought about Ben, Sam or Abbie being “gay”, then again we didn’t give any thought to them being “straight” – the idea these things have to be thought about or declared sort of baffles me a bit, I also don’t understand why vegans must declare they are ‘vegans” so maybe that’s just me.

The reality is we never spoke to any of the kids about any of these issues because we simply didn’t, not because we didn’t want to or know how to, we simply didn’t realise or think it was something we needed to do, instead we brought the kids up as best we could. I must confess I use to seriously worry that I was ‘a good dad’ – was I fair, too fair, too tough, too stupid, too out of touch etc to be the good dad our children deserved – Jane tells me I was and still am, I just hope this to be true.

Ben (on the right in the photo) gained a place at Westminster on a media course, he landed one of 50 places from over a 1000 applicants; Ben’s bright, he’s clever, he is determined and good at what he does. But he has to work at it because he doesn’t get out, if he doesn’t put in, unlike his brother Sam who – as an 8 yr old – could chat away with his friends in class to the despair of the teacher who had been trying to teach, and when instructed to repeat what the teacher had said over the past 5 minutes, Sam could repeat it word for word!

So Ben went to Uni in London and we missed him on a serious level; until then there had been 5 of us in our family and we (the other 4) had driven him to a strange place, dropped him off and driven away! But after a bumpy period he got into the swing of things and made a great group of friends from all over the country, many of whom we now call our London Kids!

So each Spring the tribe would turn up at Castle Cary station, on buses or in a menagerie of old cars. They’d sleep in any space, drink, eat and laugh as they were ferried to the pub in the cattle box. There were a good mix of girls and boys and all simply friends with the odd relationship thrown in, and I suppose Jane and I would wonder who we would see Ben getting together with but at no point did we think too hard about it, why would we?.

Anyway the annual pilgrimage to Somerset was planned, but Ben said he was coming down for the weekend before to sort a few things, nothing odd despite him never doing that in the past – Jane and I are a tad slow on the uptake from time to time! To be honest we really liked having him to ourselves for a few days before the rabble arrived. However the weekend he came down was simply full on with all sorts of stuff going on around the farm etc, so we never actually got a quiet moment to chat for an hour without some other interruption.

Jane and I had a friends 40th on the Saturday night and Ben had to be back in London, so we dropped Ben back at the station and headed home to scrub up! Now the kids have (god knows why) better mirrors in their rooms than we do, so dressed to impress I popped into Ben’s room to check myself out, and there on his bed was a note that went like this (extract).

“Dear Mum and Dad, leaving a note seems a bit gay! But then again appropriate perhaps because I am gay, I haven’t needed to tell you before now but as I have met someone I think I should, I hope you’re ok if I bring him next weekend….”!

I called Jane down, she sat on his bed and read the note, looked up and said “Oh my, I always thought it would be Sam”!

Now for me the concerns about being a good dad took over with multiple questions kicking in “Why had he not told us? Was he afraid to? Why wait so long etc”, so I rang him, he was just pulling into Paddington.

He answered with his usual cheery “Hi Dad” – I told him we had the note and asked him one straightforward question “Were we the sort of parents that he was worried about telling ”? He replied without hesitation that he hadn’t been worried and he knew he could tell us when he needed to! I remember telling him I loved him more that day than the day before, but not quite as much as I would the following, and with that we went to our party the happiest proudest parents possible.

The following day we were having a Sunday roast with Sam and Abbie, we told them Ben had told us he was gay; Abbie said she knew! How did she know I asked? “I found the note first” was her reply! As is with the world, within 24 hours she had found Ben’s partner on FB and they were “friends”!

But Sam’s response was probably the most telling part of the difference between generations, he simply said “You lot (our gen) think about these things too much”! How right he is, because despite Jane and I actually not giving it much thought, it was a sense of huge relief to us we had enabled our son to live his life without concern. Ben’s Gran felt the need to “announce” it, whereas the gran kids generation simply didn’t bat an eyelid. Although I do recall one of our “London girls” after a glass of wine or 6 saying “Why the fuck did it have to be Ben?!”!

So the kids all turned up from London and we greeted them at Cary station, around 15 of them alongside Ben’s partner who had never been to Somerset, never been on a farm and unfortunately had parents who didn’t make his life quite so easy – we had no time for that nonsense, we had a wonderful weekend of the usual stuff, the only difference being there was a new face amongst us and he was very welcome.

So the kids all dragged their weary legs onto the train on the Sunday evening, Ben’s partner got an overdose of hugs from a Somerset farmer and off they went! Back at home, my brother (Ben’s godfather) was erecting a shed on the farm, I told him we had the best weekend and had met Ben’s partner. James’ reaction to Ben being gay was something I will remember, “Ah, is he ok – you know – happy etc?” I confirmed he was to which James replied, “Good, now what colour roof sheets do you want?”!

Ben parted with Callum after 4 years or so, that was a tough time, nothing to do with being gay, just that horrible relationship, heartache break up stuff we all go though.

So where are we now? Well Ben met Camilo early in 2016, they currently live and work in Montreal, have bought their first property and are possibly heading off to work in South America early in 2019.

But more important than that, more momentous than anything else next year – Ben and Camilo will be joined by their family, friends and our London kids to celebrate their wedding on our farm here in Somerset!

Live your lives kids, it’s your time, forgive some of us oldies for being a tad slow with keeping up with the world in which we live. You are loved.

Elizabeth ElcoateNick Hiscox
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Stephanie Crowe

Stephanie Crowe

Psychology Masters Student

I’m a 26 year old full time Psychology Masters student in Dundee, Scotland. A queer city girl who now knows something about farming! I’ve been on the combine, I’ve fed the lambs, chased the sheep and been to the Royal Highland Show. I would say for a city girl, that’s pretty good!

It took twenty-five years and a Tinder session in Rome for me to tell the world that I am queer and proud. I initially came out as bisexual; that was a term which people understood. Being perfectly honest, I thought you had to choose a label of straight, gay or bisexual!

Now I describe myself as queer, partly because I love the idea of owning a term which was once used as an abusive word but, more importantly, because I love a person, not a gender. Bisexual covers attraction to just male or female and my sexuality is more than that.

The problem with labels such as bisexual or queer is that people assume you are confused and many refer to you as “greedy”. As you can imagine, this doesn’t make coming out easy. In the past, I only had serious relationships with men, so I hid my queerness where no one could find it. Even to myself.

It was only when I came to meet the love of my life that I came out fully to my family. Unlike some others, I don’t have a tragic coming out story. It took my mum a couple of months to come around and it was a little confusing to my dad but both are now supporting me entirely and both adore my partner. My 90 year old Nan was not the easiest to come out to, that one took a few months sitting with “I have a girlfriend” on the tip of my tongue, but she too is here supporting me today.

You shouldn’t have to “come out” but for now that is how it is and it takes a lot of confidence. My new found confidence has allowed me to really express myself this past year and to go on to make big changes in my life.

So, you are probably wondering why I opened this blog with a reference to my trip to Rome. Well. Before I left to go back to education and do my Masters I worked for four years on a farm near Dundee, part time in the first year and full time for three years. In the first year I worked for a consultancy company supporting farms venturing into tourism and in the last three I managed a tourism business on the farm.

I didn’t tell anyone at work that I was bisexual, because it didn’t make sense to make a deal of it when I was only dating men. What’s more, I also wasn’t sure how people in agriculture would receive it. You didn’t hear of many gay people in that sector. It wasn’t until I went on a trip to Rome with my boss and colleague that, with a few glasses of wine down them, they decided to take over my Tinder!

Well, a minute into their fun and games my boss exclaimed, “Oh, you get girls on here too”. Awkward silence, combined with my visible red face and the penny dropped. “Oh I see!”

She and my colleague then continued to swipe, picking girls and guys for me. I am not sure either of them knew how much that night meant to me. Both of them were born and raised in farming but they acted as if nothing was different and it put every ounce of confidence in me with regards to being a queer woman in the agricultural community.

Today, my partner and I are invited to work and family events and the family on the farm where I worked have been so supportive. It was heart-warming when my boss told her 13 year old son that I had a partner who happened to be a woman and he responded with “That’s great, she looks so happy”.

This, my friends, is the new farming generation and they too are not seeing any reason to look differently at someone’s sexuality should it not be heterosexual.

I feel compelled to also mention that my hometown, Dundee, had its first ever Pride event last month and it really did bring me to tears. It was astonishing to see the encouragement from people at the sides of the road during the march shouting their support for us. It was all just so beautiful – the people in the march, with their signs and flags, under this cocoon of love and acceptance. In the run up to the march, so many local shops changed their window fronts to support the LGBTQ+ community and people raised money throughout the community.

Becoming a student again has allowed me a front row seat to the younger generation. These people don’t blink an eyelid when I am with my partner, nor do they react when I say that I am queer or bisexual.

The farming community and my university and peers have accepted me. This gives me the courage to go on in my career as a queer woman. Being queer is not all of me, but it is a part of me that I don’t wish to conceal.

I don’t like labels and prefer not to label myself but for the younger generation trying to discover their own sexuality, it’s always helpful to understand other people’s feelings and experiences so that they can understand themselves and continue on in life with great self-assurance.

Elizabeth ElcoateStephanie Crowe
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Sean Hopkinson-Dunderdale

Sean Hopkinson-Dunderdale

Director of Programming, Lincs FM

As a journalist, I’m used to asking others to share their stories – this is the first time, I’ve been asked to tell my story. Indeed, the first time I’ve ever spoken publicly about my sexuality. That’s not to say I hide it away. This isn’t some great “coming out” story on Agrespect. Those who know me…know me. It just hasn’t really been an issue within my role as either Director of Programming for the Lincs FM Group of radio stations, or as presenter and producer of The Farming Programme. At least, I don’t think it has.

I was, actually, quite late to the party, in that I didn’t actual come out to my friends and colleague until I was in my early 30s. I’d known I was attracted to people of the same sex since my teenage years – indeed, I first knew something was different when I was 9 years old and a friend and I were playing a daft game and ended up laying on top of each other. Nothing happened, we just lay there giggling and were too young to realise what was happening, it was just silly fun – but I knew I prefer boys to girls.

I’m from Scunthorpe, a big steel town and my father was a steelworker who liked a drink, so I certainly kept my feelings to myself, when at home. Indeed, I kept up the pretence quite well for some time, dating some very beautiful women and even getting engaged to three of them – although non ended, thankfully, in a trip down the aisle! At least three of them knew my preference and I was quite open to them that I was bisexual – attracted to individuals, rather than any particular sex. They were cool with it and I’m still in touch with most of those I dated – one still has our engagement ring! Another was my “best girl” at my marriage, three years ago, while two others later revealed they too were conflicted at an early age and are now living happily in same-sex relationships themselves.

I guess the main reason I kept my sexuality a secret for so long was because of my grandparents. I idolised them. They were, effectively , my surrogate parents but were from a very different generation and while I’d hope they would have accepted me, it would have been quite challenging for them. I wasn’t prepared to risk it not working out. They saw me as the perfect grandson, so I wanted to live up to that aspiration. Get a good job, find myself a wife, settle down have children blah blah blah.

My grandfather was German. He ended up in this country as a prisoner of war, working the land – where he met my Nanna. It’s where my interest in farming first started, as her family were farmers. Now, history tells us very clearly just what the Nazi view of homosexuality was. My Grandad was the kindest, sweetest man, I’ve ever met and while he disagreed violently with the Nazi regime, he was forced in to war as part of the Hitler Youth organisation. Being captured, he later said, was the best thing to happen to him. He sat out the war, did what he enjoyed most – working on the land – met my Nanna, fell in love, settled down here and never went back. However, when the so-called sins of homosexuality have been drummed in to you, over-and-over again and – in the 70s/80s as I was growing up – the only gay men you ever saw were the stereotypical camp men on TV, then changing that attitude is quite the hill to be climbed.

So, I didn’t! Only after he died did I finally decide to reveal all.

Another relationship (with a woman) had ended and it made me question just what I was doing, to confront the real reasons why these relationships weren’t really going anywhere. I’d also become close to a friend who was, himself gay, and seemed happy in his life. Nothing happened between us – indeed (being an only child) he’s the brother I never had and was my best man…alongside my best girl…at the wedding. Seeing how he led his life made me realise that there was no shame in it – if shame is the right word. I could be happy in a same-sex relationship. I remember it well. I had planned a holiday to Portugal and spent the week on very long walks, thinking about the future. I decided that when I stepped off the plane, back in the UK, that would be it. I would be gay and I wouldn’t care who knew. I wouldn’t turn up at work in a rainbow suit, shouting from the rooftops in great detail my sexual preferences – but I would sit down and tell those closest to me, including my colleagues. I was nervous. Especially about one or two friends but, without exception, all were brilliant about it. It helps that radio is part of the creative industry that has more than its fair share of openly gay people working for it.

A couple, I was told, were talking behind my back saying that they couldn’t believe it and were in shock. However within a few weeks they discovered that, actually, to quote Theresa May: “Nothing had changed.”

I was still the same fool, playing pranks around the office. We shared the same daft conversations and I was – ultimately – the same person I’d always been. I was, perhaps, a little happier within myself and it did give them extra ammunition if they wanted to poke fun at me but I always gave as good as I get and none of the jokes crossed the line into being homophobic. Maybe I was lucky with my choice of friends and colleagues. I’m sure others aren’t as lucky.

I’m now happily married, to Daniel, who – along with my Cavpoo dog Mitzee – completes the family.

Has it affected my role at The Farming Programme? As far as I’m aware, no-one has declined to appear on the programme because of who I am. It’s fair to say, unless they follow me on Twitter or Facebook, most wouldn’t even know as it’s not something that comes up in our weekly round-up of agricultural discussions. Those that do know certainly don’t have a problem with it – or with me.

In one way, every day I find I could be “coming out” to someone. The joy of Facebook means former school friends, and even family members who I’ve lost contact with, will get in touch. They’ll then see my photos and my updates and realise that I have a husband – yes, he’s a man!

Likewise, when at events, I – along with most of you reading this – will face the inevitable questions: “Are you married?” “What does your wife do?” “Do you have children?”

Sometimes, I’ll answer vaguely and change the subject. It helps that Daniel – as “The Nail Male” – is a nail technician, spending his days doing working magic on women’s nails. So, if I want to be vague I can always say “Yes, I’m married.” “They’re a nail technician.” “No, I don’t have children…just a dog, which thinks it’s a child!”

I don’t act vague because I’m embarrassed but because there are just some days when you don’t want to get into such discussions. It also depends on the individual. It can be awkward for them, realising they’ve jumped to a conclusion that many make – and if I’m not going to see them again, it’s not important and I hate awkward situations. At other times, I’ll explain that my “wife” is my “husband” and then the conversation carries on as normal.

Would I change anything? I have very little regrets in my life. Everything that has happened, happened for a reason and has made me who I am today. Had I come out sooner, I might have met someone else, and wouldn’t now be married to Daniel.

However, I do wish I’d been honest with my grandad. Thinking about it rationally now, I would have used, as an example, the horrific abuse and bias that had been shown towards him and my Nanna.

Imagine being a German, living in Lincolnshire (Bomber County, don’t forget) immediately after the Second World War. He was hated, called every name under the sun. Some of my Nanna’s family ostracised her, for dating – and later marrying – a “Jerry” after “all they’d done to us.”

He was a minority being targeted through no choice of his own. It wasn’t his fault that he was born in the life he was, in Germany under a mad dictator. He was still the same man. That gentle giant, who didn’t want any trouble. He didn’t choose to be German at that time in history, it’s just a part of who he was.

I’d like to think, if I had my time again, I’d turned this on its head. Explain that I’m still the same grandson. That I was born into this life. I didn’t choose my sexuality, it’s just a part of who I am.

If you’d like to contribute to The Farming Programme, then please do get in touch: You can hear the programme on commercial radio stations Lincs FM, KCFM, Compass FM, Rutland Radio, Ridings FM and Suffolk First every Sunday morning with previous editions of the programme available online here:

If you’d like your nails doing and live near Lincoln, then search for the Nail Male on Facebook.

Elizabeth ElcoateSean Hopkinson-Dunderdale
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