My Blog

James Horswell

James Horswell

Sheep Farmer

Coming into the farming community as an outsider is no mean feat in itself, but coming to it as an outsider and gay was an even bigger challenge.

As a young boy I always had a dream of being a “farmer”, often to be told by my grandmother that there was no money in it and it was a hard life – she was correct on both counts! Never the less I did my school work-experience on a dairy farm, and well and truly got the bug. I left school at 16 and threw myself into college at Hartpury to pursue my ambition to get into this industry.

Going to college with 25 mainly farmers’ sons, knowing that you liked boys more than girls was challenging to say the least. I experienced an overwhelming amount of pressure to fit in with the “lad” culture, putting any thoughts or feelings I had towards men to the back of my mind in an effort to fit in. I have often found in the farming industry that not having come from a farming background, people almost treat you like you have some kind of disability and that you clearly won’t be as good as someone that is. I felt that was a bigger issue to overcome before addressing the fact that I was gay. Never the less I soldiered on, and keeping the fact I was gay very much under wraps, completed my 3 years.

I finished college and then worked locally to home for a while. Away from the environment where I felt I needed to fit in, I met up with other gay guys. In doing so I felt it was the right time to tell my family and friends, some of whom I had spent the last 3 years with. They all took it very well, even the friends I had made within the farming community. They were all very supportive and like many people I felt a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I applied for jobs and ended up shepherding for a family in rural Leicestershire with 600 ewes. We now run 1800 and very differently to when I started with them 10 years ago. I treat the farm and sheep like they’re my own which I think is the only way you can when you work with someone else’s stock.

I don’t shout about being gay, but I am happy to share it with anyone and don’t hide away. Initially I used to worry about what people thought but I think as you grow older and wiser(?!) you realise that if they’re worried about your sexuality they obviously lead a very boring life – always try and remember this week’s gossip is next week’s chip paper!

I personally know people within this industry that have come to me as they don’t feel they can come out because they’re ashamed or think their families will be. There are so many supportive people out there and others that often surprise you. The way I always look at it is that does it really matter to me what they think or what they say? Obviously that’s sometimes easier said than done but surround yourself with supportive and loving people and the rest can do what they want. I am very lucky to have an amazing family, partner and network of the best friends. As long as they’re on my side I feel I can take on the world and will continue to strive to achieve my goals and ambitions.

Elizabeth ElcoateJames Horswell
read more

Emlyn Evans

Emlyn Evans

Volunteer Gay Farmers Helpline

I grew up in a small rural market village in West Wales, where it felt like everyone knew everyone else’s business. Being surrounded by fields and farms, cows and clover, Henry Fords (tractors) and hardy farmers, conformity and conservatism (with a small c) – the thought of being attracted to those of the same sex was not something that you warmly welcomed or confided in others. Unlike Little Britain’s character Dafydd, being the “only gay in the village” was not something to shout about.

I now wonder was I the only one? There were farmers whose sons never married, much to the disappointment of their parents in their offspring’s failure to provide an heir.  Rumours were rife when two “brothers”, two “sisters” or “cousins” moved from over the border to live in remote cottages in the hills. Married farmers, with faraway looks in their eyes, who swiftly looked away when their gaze was caught.

That’s was then, but this is now!

The village has changed and so have I. Gay couples no longer attract attention or become the subjects of gossip.  A local chapel has been given a licence to officiate same sex weddings. The shy, insecure and wary teenager has now grown up to become a confident man. Comfortable with who and what he is, accepting of his sexuality, recognising that it is only a part and not the whole of him.

Now I have a partner, who being a Town Clerk in a rural market town means occasionally accompanying him as his “better half” to official functions.  Do we raise eyebrows? Certainly not! (Apart from the time I embarrassed my partner by asking the County’s High Sheriff at an official dinner, whether she had her six shooter with her that evening! Hasten to add I was stone cold sober! It was just my warped sense of humour!) Heaven forbid if I don’t attend those functions, my absence would be commented upon and questions asked as to why I wasn’t present.

Although a farming life was not for me, I ploughed a different career furrow that meant I moved away. Yet, I still remain a country lad. I may have left the countryside but my rural heritage still runs deep within my veins, and that will never change.

I now volunteer for the Gay Farmers telephone helpline, befriending and supporting others to come to terms and accept themselves for who they are.  Several of those that I have befriended have become good friends having taken the positive step to be the individuals who they were meant to be, often realising that they made more of an issue out of it than their family and friends!

As to my rural skills? I’ve discovered a hidden talent for making walking sticks, which still provides for me that important connection with my roots!

Being gay in the countryside is not easy and it is still a challenge for some. Just as the seasons slowly change from one to another, people’s attitudes in the countryside have. The formation of Agrespect is a massive step in the right direction and it deserves to receive the support of us all to make sure it succeeds!

If you would like to find out more about the Gay Farmer Helpline you can call 07837 931 894 or can visit their website at

They are able to talk through your situation in confidence and can offer help and support

Elizabeth ElcoateEmlyn Evans
read more

Tim Scarborough

Tim Scarborough

Farm Assurance Assessor

Agriculture has always been a big part of my life. Having grown up on the family farm and been surrounded by farming ever since I can remember, I have always felt a job in agriculture was on the cards. I currently work as a farm assurance assessor, meaning I cover a large area of the country and meet a number of… well lets just say farming “characters”.

School wasn’t the easiest time for me. A lot of the time was spent hiding in the toilets and just waiting for the end of day bell to go so I could retreat back home to the farm. Whoever said school days are your best days clearly must have been on something very strong!

After school, I moved onto Riseholme Agricultural College which turned out to be great for me – finally studying something I was interested in and actually making some decent friends. I feel at this point I definitely knew I was gay. I suppose I should have known from the age of 13 really, with my bedroom plastered with posters of David Beckham – still to this day… his eyes!

Then I moved on to Harpers Adams University; I have so many great memories of my time here, which I will hold onto for life, along with some great friends. At this point I yearned for the feeling of acceptance and wanting to fit in, and so I kept my sexuality to myself, but it was becoming harder and harder to keep it in the back of my mind. I remember thinking it’s only a matter of time.

After completing Harper I then had a stint milking cows in New Zealand. Again, a great experience mixing with different people from all over the world. Once arriving back in England, I managed to get myself an assistant managers job on a large arable estate in Lincolnshire. Now I was settled with a decent job and a house I thought it was time to be true to myself, this then saw me talking to a rather dishy young fella (apologies, no one says dishy anymore) and I remember thinking I need to come out now or I’m never going to bag this one!

So coming out and dropping the GAY bomb wasn’t really planned as such or a great success really. It was a very short conversation with my parents, resulting in little or no contact for several years. Thankfully at this challenging time I had the support of my then partner and his family who were great and I can never thank them enough – they have definitely moulded me into the person I am today.

Coming out does feel like a weight has been lifted. It felt like I had achieved something, similar to the feeling you get when you’ve just finished combining before its about to rain. I think it’s just relief!

Thankfully today I am pleased to say I have a lot better relationship with my family. The parents haven’t quite got to the stage of flying a rainbow flag at the end of the drive yet, but they are slowly getting their heads around the idea.

Work wise as a farm assurance assessor I meet a number of different farmers of all ages from a large area of the country and I haven’t  had any negative comments to date. I had a couple of comments about how skinny fit my chinos are, but hey – that’s a small price to pay to look on point! But on a serious note, I am very open if any farmer asks me about my personal life, and I do feel it is becoming much more accepted in recent times, which definitely shows we are heading in the right direction.

It is very important to be true to yourself. I know it is a lot easier said than done, but finding that confidence has definitely changed my life for the better. My thirteen year old self hiding in the school toilets at lunch time would not believe where I am today. You would be surprised how much support there is out there.

Elizabeth ElcoateTim Scarborough
read more

Conor Westbrook

Conor Westbrook

Poultry placement student at HAU

During my time at Harper Adams I’ve learnt that my sexuality doesn’t have to define me, it’s just a small part of who I am. I get in more arguments with people about how poultry are raised than I do about gay rights; but just because people don’t encounter homophobia on a daily basis doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

My sexuality was something I’d avoided thinking about for the majority of my childhood and teen years. I knew there was something different about me but didn’t want to think about it too much for fear I might become “the gay cousin” that everyone seems to have. I thought that being gay was a choice, and if I chose to be straight and convinced myself I liked girls at school then I would be straight, and end up having the wife and kids my mum dreamed of me having. But I didn’t like girls, no matter how hard I tried; in reality I probably just liked their hair. This pattern of pretending to like girls but it never lead anywhere would continue until my second year of university when I finally came out.

My love of animals took me to Berkshire College of Agriculture to study BTEC Animal Management. Despite being a very accepting college where people were free to express themselves, I still denied to myself and my peers that I was gay. I didn’t grow up on a farm like many of the people who study at Harper Adams do, and like countless others who say they want to work with animals I was told to become a vet.

Surprise surprise, it turns out vet school is hard to get into and despite a distinction star in my BTEC, my abysmal AS Level results meant it would be futile to even apply. So I started to search for other options and discovered Harper Adams University through a friend on my course. After I found out about their BSc (Hons) Bioveterinary Science degree and attended an open day, I fell in love. Harper was the university for me. I didn’t even consider how going to an agricultural university and being surrounded by farmers, who weren’t exactly known for being pioneers in the LGBT+ community, would affect me because I was still in denial about who I was.

The rise in LGBTQ+ characters in TV shows helped me accept myself, with Christian on EastEnders being where I first learnt that it was possible to like the same sex. With more recent programmes such as How to Get Away with Murder and Orange is the New Black where, unlike the majority of TV shows that feature a gay character, helping me to realise that the sexuality of the individual doesn’t have to be a major plot line but more a small part of their personality.

When the time came, and I finally did come out it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. First I told my housemates (cheers Bry and Liv, you’re great), then the rest of my friend group, and after that I didn’t care who knew. It wasn’t a big secret anymore or the big deal I’d made it out to be in my head and in reality, nobody cared, my friends liked me for me not because I was “straight”. Harper has been a thousand times more accepting than I thought it would, times are changing and the younger generations are becoming increasingly accepting of the LGBTQ+ community, despite how small the community at Harper may be. 

Placement year came the next challenge, sure a bunch of 18 to 23 year olds were accepting of my sexuality, but would employers and co-workers be the same? Having spoken to others in the agricultural sector before about their unwillingness to come out, I thought there must be a reason behind it. After a long search I was accepted into a placement working at the university’s poultry research farm and became chicken obsessed. In hindsight, I don’t know why I was so worried; my colleagues have potentially been even more accepting than my peers. The hardest part about being gay is the internal struggle and self-acceptance, I’ve come to realise people are much more concerned about their own issues than who you sleep with.

I think it would be a great shame and the agriculture sector would lose out on many hard-workers if LGBTQ+ people were put off working in farming due to preconceived ideas about the industry. Admittedly I’ve met more than a handful of young farmers my age who had never met a gay person before, let alone been friends with one. I don’t think people are inherently homophobic, they’re just uninformed and scared of what they don’t understand. We have come a long way since the AIDS crisis of the 80s, and it’s important not to forget that. Just because same-sex marriage is now legal in Great Britain (it’s still illegal in Northern Ireland) and there’s more than one gay character on EastEnders doesn’t mean homophobia doesn’t exist anymore, the comments on any BBC Facebook article about gay rights will tell you that in an instant. However, being open and honest about who you are is a great way to help combat this and reduce the stigma.

Elizabeth ElcoateConor Westbrook
read more

Adriana Vaux

Adriana Vaux

Rural Chartered Surveyor

I am Adriana Vaux a 31 year old Rural Chartered Surveyor and Agricultural Valuer living in Herefordshire. I work for a small Chartered Surveyor firm in Shropshire and in my spare time I enjoy riding my horses with my partner (Jacqui) and parents. I also enjoy walking my mini dachshund Elphie.

I spent the first 22 years of my life growing up in Kent in a very small rural village within a very stereotypical quiet country village life, with myself and brother being the only “non caucasian” people in the village. My brother and I were adopted from 2 different parts of Central America, I was just 3 months old when my parents came to collect me to bring me to start a new life in England. Growing up was very idyllic almost a bubble world within our little village, walking to the local primary school, riding my horses around the rolling hills and not experiencing anything other than a quiet country life. Even as a child I remember school kids would use the word “gay’ as a bullying name, at primary school age I had no idea what this meant so I expect I too used it thoughtlessly.

From primary school to the end of GCSEs I spent my time at a private school where I completely didn’t fit in, I knew from year 7 that I was different, never taking an interest in boys or what “cool” girls should be interested in. I was far too interested in riding my horses and spending time on my family friend’s farms where I either wanted to milk cows, round them up on horseback or quad bike, help lamb or ride on a tractor. I was also unable to learn or study throughout my school years much to the frustration of myself, teachers and fellow peers, I therefore left that school with grades which could have been a lot better.

For sixth form I chose to go to a boarding school, after not being able to continue in my previous school due to the prediction that I would not get high enough A-level grades for the school. At my new school I was able to undertake my British Horse Society exams alongside my academic work. This route meant that I didn’t obtain A-levels but did an equivalent, the Btec National Diploma in Business and Finance with Equestrian studies, it was a far more practical way of learning and I found this route easier after the school helped me work with my newly diagnosed learning difficulties.

After years of difficult school life I took a year out to be free in the countryside and set up my own business walking people’s dogs, house sitting and teaching riding. After a year out of being able to wind down, I then started at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, it was over these 3 years that I really began to realise that I might be gay. I tried to make myself fancy guys because I wanted to be normal, for my whole life I had never come across anyone else who was attracted to the same sex and this continued for many years, however I became very much in denial of the realisation that I was gay. Even my best friend would ask me and I would get incredibly defensive and upset saying that she was being ridiculous.

I didn’t come out as gay until I was 26 years old, this was after doing a Master’s degree back at the Royal Agricultural College so that I could train to become a Chartered Surveyor. The first person I told was my best friend from uni who had known all along. I was so scared to tell anyone else because all my friends had been brought up the same way as me, such a white British rural upbringing, so no mention of gay or anything other than “normal” however all of my friends either said yes they know or were not shocked and so accepting.

I then told my mum who surprised me by saying what is the big deal she has known all along and the same for my dad, it was the easiest coming out situation and I am so grateful to all of my friends and family for not making a big deal out of it and just accepting me for who I am.

The next mammoth task was trying to meet people, here I began online dating which was a mine field and incredibly stressful, after a while I just thought I was going to live single for the rest of my life and had even reassured myself that this wasn’t the end of the world, I found it incredibly difficult to find like-minded people.

Now 5 years on I am happily in a long term relationship with my amazing girlfriend Jacqui, I work for an incredibly supportive firm who welcomes Jacqui with open arms and I happily live in a rural community where Jacqui and I can be open about our relationship and everyone knows we are a couple. I have found that people nowadays are more open minded and accepting but I am still always apprehensive about correcting people who assume when I say partner I mean a guy.

I have been so blown away by the support and acceptance I have received and genuinely shocked as I was always of the assumption that I would never be accepted or able to live my life in the open. Growing up I had been made to feel so different and that I was weird not just because I was never interested in guys but because of the colour of my skin, my energetic personality and my struggles with learning. Even into my 20s one of the first things a guy on my uni course said was “What is it like studying a uni course here when English isn’t your first language?”.

The one thing that I have learnt in life is that communication is the most important element, if I had communicated with my parents at how hard I found school, changes could have been made. If I had communicated with my parents at how I felt about not finding boys attractive I could have avoided going through the difficulties of being in denial about my sexuality for many years.

I communicated with my work about Jacqui from the start rather than hiding the fact that I had a girlfriend which has meant that I feel treated like any other person bringing their other half to work events.

No matter how hard the situation or how simple, always communicate how you feel or what you want to say as making assumptions can be so unforgiving.

Elizabeth ElcoateAdriana Vaux
read more

Joshua Wright

Joshua Wright

Pig and Arable Farmer

I am currently in the process of taking over the tenancy on my family farm. We run a small pig breeding unit and will eventually be farming 120 acres of arable land. We farm on an estate just south of Leeds.

Being a farmer is all I have ever wanted to do. From the age of 3 that was my dream. Every school holiday was spent on the farm helping my grandad with whatever he was doing. And like most farming lads as soon as I could reach the pedals I was driving whatever machinery I could get my hands on.

I am just about to realise my dream. I’m in the process of taking on a new tenancy, for the family farm, with extra hectarage. This wouldn’t have been possible of course without the help of my grandfather, and I realise how lucky I am for the opportunity.

We currently run a pig breeding unit and grow wheat and winter and spring barley. Some of which we sell out; the rest is used as feed for the sows.

When I left school I enrolled at Askham Bryan College, initially on a Countryside and Environment course but then I transferred onto the degree course in Agriculture with Land Management. Realising that if I wanted to fulfil my dreams I needed a relevant qualification in Agriculture.

I graduated from Askham with a degree in Agriculture and needed to get a job away from the farm, as the farm wasn’t big enough at the time. So I landed myself with a job at a local feed mill; running the press machines making compound feeds.

I guess I knew I was gay from the age of 13 or 14 and I spent most of my teenage years battling with myself. I used to tell myself that if I wanted to be a farmer I couldn’t be gay. Farmers can’t be gay.

I didn’t come out until I was 22 and I’ll always remember the day I told my mum I was gay, it was far from glamorous. I hadn’t been myself for weeks and although I didn’t live with my mother, she knew something was wrong. They always know when something is wrong. To cut a long story short, we were on our way to Aldi, and I thought that was the perfect moment to say those three words I had wanted to say for so many years.

It instantly felt like the weight of the world had been lifted from my shoulders and the knot in the pit of my stomach was instantly untied. The relief was unbelievable.

I’ve never really had “the conversation” with the rest of my family which is one thing, looking back, I regret. I wish I had told them myself instead of letting them find out from other people.

Not long after I came out I met my current partner and we’ve been together 5 years, which has passed by in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

Everyone has accepted me for who I am and I guess for that I am pretty lucky.

I’ve never had any negative comments directed straight at me, there are probably comments made behind my back but they’re behind me and I can’t hear them. I think my confidence in who I am as a person has helped me greatly with this. I know who I am and who I want to be and I’ve battled long and hard to get that confidence.

I always remember a friend of mine – who I met whilst I was on jury service -saying to me “You found it harder to admit you were a Conservative than you did to tell us you were gay!” Although I never shout about the fact I’m gay, if I’m asked I never lie. I will always tell the truth.

As my grandad always says; it takes a lot to make a world. If we were all the same it would be a boring place to be.

If you find the confidence to be true to yourself, your life will almost certainly change for the better. The people you need in your life will always be in your life no matter who you choose to love.

Elizabeth ElcoateJoshua Wright
read more

Matt Naylor

Matt Naylor

Managing Director

Naylor Flowers Ltd

I run a small group of companies. We grow flowers for supermarkets, manage commercial property, produce renewable energy and have a labour and recruitment agency. I’m a Farmers Weekly columnist, a director of Oxford Farming Conference and I’m on the managing committee of the Marshal Papworth Fund.

I can remember, I was about 10 years old, being at my grandparents house when an item came on the news about gay rights. My grandad, who was not a liberal man, switched the telly off and said “If a dog did that, you would shoot it”

I remember wondering “Would you? You’d ACTUALLY shoot the dog?”

I grew up on a farm so I knew that dogs were always doing stuff like that to other dogs. All dogs are on the LGBT spectrum somewhere. Some dogs would hump a cactus.

I then started wondering if my grandad was going to shoot me for the thoughts that I was having. I had been through a Damascene moment in the school changing rooms. I was a sensitive and well-behaved boy who didn’t want to offend anyone so it was a bewildering time. These were the days of the Thatcher government. There were people in her cabinet who made my grandad look like Gandhi.

So, fast forward to when I was 15 and, just as it was assumed that I was straight, it was assumed that I was going to be a farmer. I left school to go to work with my gay-dog-hating grandad and my father on a 120 acre farm in a depopulated and unprosperous bit of South Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom.

1970s San Francisco it was not.

I was kept busy hoeing things, sweeping things, shovelling things and, occasionally, driving things. Mostly old, unreliable things. I developed a hatred of sugar beet, my only prejudice.

I coped with the circumstances by listening to the Smiths pretty much non-stop on a CD Walkman for five years before plucking up the courage to tell my best friend, Melanie, that I was gay when I was 20. I imagined that there would be some magical reward for this bravery; a parting of the clouds and a boyfriend with angel wings fluttering down from the heavens.

If you are yet to come out, I regret to inform you that this isn’t what happened. The opportunities to act on my newly-declared impulses were very scarce. These were the days before the internet and mobile phones; if you rang someone, their mum answered the phone and yelled up the stairs relaying your business to the entire household. Grindr probably wouldn’t have been so successful under those circumstances .

When I first came out, I had never actually met another gay person, certainly no one who identified themselves as gay. I hadn’t even seen a credible or positive gay character on the television. The idea of being in a happy same-sex relationship was almost an abstract concept. I threw myself enthusiastically into the only available social scene, the young farmers. It was busy and fun and I made lots of friends but being unable to be authentic made me alternately depressed and frustrated.

I slowly confided in my friends and began a long and slow journey of reconciling my two conflicting identities. Thankfully I had friends studying at universities and the occasional trips to see them gave me access to another, brighter world.

Just after my grandad died, I steeled myself for my personal Everest – coming out to my parents. My mum has a strong catholic faith while my dad’s beliefs are in the bawdy sensibilities of the 1970s. To say that either of them greeted the revelation with unbridled joy is to wildly overstate their response but it was OK. It took a while for them to make their own sense of it but eventually they got back to being irritated with me about other stuff instead.

Once my parents knew, I didn’t mind who else found out so I told the gossipiest person in our Young Farmers circle under a vow of total confidence. This saved me the admin of making an announcement and the whole world awoke to the news the following day. The reaction wasn’t universally welcomed but in these circumstances you only lose bad friends. It’s a bit like de-cluttering your house but for bigots.

The joyous thing is that once you come out, all those mildly homophobic remarks that you endured at social gatherings stop being made in front of you. Well, not all of them. A few people forget themselves but they choke on their drink and flush like a beetroot when they realise that you are in the room. This is your reward. After you come out, your social discomfort becomes their social discomfort instead.

My farming career progressed alongside my personal one and now they have both converged in a happy place. Growing up gay in a straight world gave me a strong desire to prove myself and business has been my focus. I started producing cut flowers when I was in my early twenties and the business has grown and grown. Now we produce 70 million stems of flowers on 250ha for a range of supermarkets. The business has expanded in a few other interesting activities like property, energy and recruitment. Don’t underestimate the power of “velvet rage” particularly when it is combined with “small man syndrome.”

The growth of the business and the excellent team around me have given me the time and freedom to do lots of other interesting things. I’ve been a columnist for the Farmers Weekly for fifteen years, I’ve been a director of LEAF and I am going to be chairing the Oxford Farming Conference in 2020. In all of these roles I have  been open about my sexuality and it has never been an issue. My teenage self would be astounded by this.

Finding your true identity and being your best self is a life journey for each of us. Gaining the confidence to be “real” in an industry as hidebound as agriculture is a challenge for lots of people regardless of their sexuality. There is a strong expectation that people need to conform to be accepted in the farming industry. This isn’t true at all. As more of us open up about who we are, it will get even better.

It really thrills me how much the views in our society have changed on LGBTQ+ issues in the West in the last couple of decades. I have occasional pangs of regret about the opportunities that I missed in my adolescence but I feel blessed to live in the time and location that I do now. Those of us who believe in liberal values should never take them for granted. Intolerance, oppression and bigotry need to be fought wherever they rear their head. There are still many LGBTQ+ people living in fear and persecution and we must keep fighting for equality on their behalf.

Elizabeth ElcoateMatt Naylor
read more

Perry Fleet-Blay

Perry Fleet-Blay

Arable Farmer

I run an arable farm in partnership with my eighty year old grandfather in Hampshire.

We grow a mixture of different cereals such as wheat, barley and linseed. I also make hay in small conventional bales which are sold to local equestrian yards. On top of that I contract a neighbour’s arable land, around 350 acres in total.

From the age of about 3, every weekend, school holiday and sick day would be spent on the farm with my grandparents, 90% of the time with my grandfather in the back of his David Brown 1390 with a piece of foam on the tool box for a me sized seat.

My school years weren’t very easy, I wasn’t the most academic child and knew I just wanted to be a farmer. I think I was around 10 when I noticed I liked boys. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I plucked up the courage to tell a few of my friends. Word soon spread around school and it wasn’t long before a boy decided to humiliate me in front of the class. By 16 I had left school to work full-time on the farm.

I didn’t come out to my immediate family until I was 19. It was a big weight off my shoulders to finally be myself with them. I don’t come from a family that talks about feelings, but it hasn’t caused any problems and I feel comfortable.

I’ve avoided the conversation with my grandparents hoping that they would simply work it out on their own. To date we’ve still not had ‘The Conversation’ but they’re of a generation where they don’t talk openly about things, and I’ve chosen to respect that. My boyfriend lives on the farm so it’s pretty obvious and they’ve been very welcoming to him so I can only see that as a good sign.

It took me many years to be open about who I am in the farming community. I tend not to talk about my sexuality but if asked I will always answer honestly. The odd comment or snigger is still made every now and then but times are definitely changing.

I believe the farming community is a little behind with it’s acceptance of the gay community but lots of the negative stigma stems from ignorance. Informed people make informed choices. That’s why I believe platforms like this are a way for people to listen and learn.

Elizabeth ElcoatePerry Fleet-Blay
read more

Julie Robinson

Julie Robinson

Agricultural Lawyer

Brought up in Yorkshire in England, I’ve spent a lot of my adult life in cities, mainly London. For several years I’ve been back in the countryside. I’ll take village life over the city any day.

My first job was in the Foreign Office. It was the early 80s. It wasn’t “OK to be gay”. That was made clear on the job specification, and the rigorous security vetting included homosexuality along with drugs and debts.

The line was that if you were gay, you had something to hide and if you had something to hide you were a potential security threat. I decided I would be straight from then on, but I was terrified that security checks would throw up a relationship I’d had with a woman back home in my late teens. They didn’t, but I was on guard and playing straight wasn’t easy.

I moved on from diplomacy; how much the dread of a double life influenced that I can’t say; I felt it deeply at the time, the more so because I was on my own “coming out to myself” journey. I’m now an agricultural lawyer, working for farmers and other landowners. That suits me a lot better; I spend my time getting people onto land to grow stuff. I’m also out.

My clients don’t care who I choose to spend my life with, as long as I deliver on the job they’ve given me. That’s important. Being a lesbian isn’t my selling point when it comes to earning a living; being good at what I do is what counts.

Invitations to dinners, weddings and shows – from colleagues and clients alike – include both me and my partner Victoria. Seriously, hardly anyone bats an eyelid. The worst thing that happens is a mixing up of names – which is which? Janet and John are easier to nail with a mixed sex couple…

The question is whether I’m a better lawyer because I’m a lesbian; wouldn’t it be great if that were true? It isn’t true, but having to come to terms with being different, having to work up the courage to talk about “my partner Victoria” to colleagues and clients has undoubtedly helped build my confidence over the years; no small thing.

I recently heard someone on the radio say that no matter how liberal a society we live in, we are still bound by our worst secrets. I’m privileged to be out; some people may not be comfortable with that, but they can’t hold it over me and my sexuality hasn’t been a bar to getting on with life at work and life in our village.

For those women who don’t have that freedom, whose lives and careers would be jeopardised if people knew they loved other women, courage. Things will change, slowly maybe, and together we can help bring about that change.

Elizabeth ElcoateJulie Robinson
read more

Ben Andrews

Ben Andrews

Organic Tenant Farmer

I’m a mixed, organic tenant farmer from Herefordshire farming around 600acres of top notch land – my family has been farming it since the late 1930s. With my dad we fatten beef for ABP, grow lettuce, kale and other bits of veg for Abel and Cole and local wholesalers and cereals for whoever wants to buy them.

I never really set out to be a farmer. Growing up I was no good at rugby, couldn’t drink my body weight in real ale and didn’t fancy girls – which seemed to be prerequisites for being a farmer.

I loved everything that farming involved – learning to drive in a Land Rover as soon as my feet could reach the pedals, counting cattle, repairing fences, grading potatoes. All of my childhood memories involved farming yet I felt I didn’t belong.

The overt “jokey” homophobia of the rugby club, parents’ dinner party conversations about whether homosexuality was natural and the dangers of AIDS, the whispers about the bachelor farmer who lives with his “friend”. All this contributed to a sense of isolation in a community I was not only linked to by time and place but also by blood.

The desperate attempts to fit in, get a girlfriend, settle down were futile so I packed my bags aged 18 for an Ag degree at the University of Edinburgh which was as far from home as possible to give me space to figure things out.

Over 4 years I learned more about myself than I did about agriculture (although I can make a killer spreadsheet) and was the time I came out to myself, my friends and most scarily my family. I can’t pretend it was all love and kisses but we worked through it and I am now a partner in the family farming business.

Speaking of partners, in September 2016 I married my boyfriend of 10 years, John (or Stevie as I call him). To get married to another guy, on the family farm, surrounded by all the people important to us was something an 11 year old me never thought could happen and the 16 year old me always dreamed of.

Elizabeth ElcoateBen Andrews
read more