With a rainbow tailgate and the proclamation “Not all country boys are bigots / Happy pride month,” a man’s pickup truck in Hulbert, Oklahoma, has made national headlines while drawing attention to supporters of LGBTQ rights in rural America.
Cody Barlow made his Facebook post June 6 for pride month, and it has been liked more than 100,000 times shared more than 68,000 times:
“This is important to me, not only because I have family and friends that are LGBTQ+, but also because countless people have dealt with hatred and judgement simply for who they are, and/or who they love, for far too long,” Barlow wrote. “Obviously doing this isn’t going to change the minds of those who are intolerant, but hopefully it can help drown out the hatred with love.”
Living in Hulbert, a community of about 600 people west of Tahlequah in Cherokee County, Barlow said he is surrounded by small towns.
“I’m sure this is not a very welcome message around here, but this is going to be displayed on my truck for the entire month of June in support of pride month,” Barlow wrote. “I don’t think it is necessary to say, but for all intents and purposes I am a straight man that grew up here in Oklahoma. I love taking my truck mudding, going fishing, swimming at the lake, floating the river, and several other ‘country’ activities.”
LGBTQ support ‘has always existed’ in rural America
Roughly 3 million lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered people live in rural America, according to a study by the Movement Advancement Project released earlier this year. The study — which notes it “did not explicitly compare rural and non-rural communities” — offers interesting insights into the perceptions of LGBTQ community members in rural America.
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As might be expected because rural America largely embraces a more conservative identity, the study found that support for LGBTQ equality and legal protections was lower in rural areas than in urban centers and suburban communities.
“But rural public opinion is still more LGBT-friendly, and diverse, than it’s imagined to be,” the study’s report notes on page 52. “Though rural residents are generally less likely than urban residents to support LGBT legal protections, it is also true that in many cases, a majority or significant portion of rural residents support these policies.”
The study’s report (embedded below) lists statistics comparing urban and rural populations on three LGBTQ issues:
- Support same-sex marriage: Urban 64 percent / Rural 52 percent
- Support nondiscrimination protections: Urban 72 percent / Rural 62 percent
- Oppose businesses refusing service: Urban 63 percent / Rural 54 percent
Pages later, the study’s report notes its public opinion “bottom line.”
“The complexity of public opinion in rural America illustrates that it must not be written off as opposing equality for LGBT people,” the report states. “Certainly, the public opinion landscape may be more challenging in rural areas than outside them, but support for LGBT people exists — and has always existed — within rural America.”
Still, the Movement Advancement Project offers low overall scores for Oklahoma’s public policies relating to LGBTQ protections.
A better type of national headline
In Oklahoma, Cody Barlow’s Facebook post stands in stark contrast to the type of social media statements about LGBTQ issues that sometimes make headlines in rural communities.
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In August 2017, word spread of anti-LGBTQ harrassment allegations by a former Hitchcock city employee who ultimately filed a lawsuit against town leadership.
In August 2018, residents of Achille, Oklahoma, made national headlines when transphobic comments in a private Facebook group were made public. Some parents in the local school district made threats against a middle school transgender student, who ended up moving.
Almost halfway through 2019, it seems that Barlow’s Facebook post is the most prominent LGBTQ topic to come from rural Oklahoma this year. After its reception, it will be interesting to see if any other rural Oklahoma pride displays pop up on social media this month.